'New Girls on the Block': TV Review

Courtesy of Discovery
A thoughtful series that educates and entertains.

The five-part docuseries follows a group of women who have one thing in common — they used to be men.

We like to giggle at things that make us uncomfortable. Just look at how the tabloids are treating Bruce Jenner; there’s little regard for the fact that he is an actual human being going through something extremely personal.

When I heard there was going to be a reality show about a group of transgender friends, I was skeptical. The current state of reality TV doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Would the show be in the vein of Real Housewives?

Thankfully, it’s decidedly not. New Girls on the Block gives viewers an honest look at six women who were born male. In a nice change of pace for reality TV, the women are extremely supportive of one another. The premiere episode, which centers around 50-year-old Macy making her debut as a woman, educates without being condescending and brings viewers into these women’s lives without being exploitative.

The women speak frankly about their experiences and society’s reaction to them. “[People] start focusing on surgeries and genitalia,” says Macy. “The focus needs to be on our lives as people. We’re human beings, and our humanity gets lost in that cloud of confusion.”

AiYana, 27, says the first thing people always say to her is that they could never go through the surgery. “Well, that’s because you’re a boy. I’m a girl. See, there’s a difference,” she says.

The series also looks at how family and friends are affected. Macy was married to Sharon for five years before she told Sharon the truth. “There were so many moments when I should have said something to Sharon and I didn’t,” admits Macy. But, as Sharon explains, “Love doesn’t go away.” Sharon has decided to stand by Macy as she goes through her transition. “I want to see her through this. I don’t want her to be alone,” says Sharon. “It’s very hard.”

Robyn and Andrew were best friends before Robyn transitioned, and now they are a couple. While their dating backstory may be unique, their issues are not. Robyn’s lease is up on her apartment, and she thinks it’s time that she and Andrew move in together. Andrew thinks they might be moving too fast. Andrew’s parents are also not comfortable with their son’s relationship with Robyn. A man reluctant to take a relationship to the next level and parents who don’t like your significant other are very relatable and common problems.

Jaimie so wanted to deny her feelings about longing to be a woman that she enrolled in the army, hoping it would make her more masculine. It didn’t, and, with her mother’s help, she was honorably discharged. Jaimie still competes in triathlons but faces backlash from other competitors who do not believe she should compete in the women’s category. Jaimie and her girlfriend, AiYana, also face financial hardship after paying for their reassignment surgeries. They’re living with Jaimie’s mom, who has stood by her daughter.  Not all the women have supportive families, though. AiYana hasn’t seen her mother since she transitioned.

Kassidy and Chloe are friends navigating the dating scene. “Isn’t it great to look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'That’s freaking me now?' ” asks Chloe. “Finally, finally I’m the person I was meant to be ... it’s the best feeling in the world.”

As with many reality shows, sometimes the participants are very aware of the cameras on them. Some of their interactions clearly have that “let’s try to act natural for the camera” feel, and the conversations are, at times, stilted. But their emotions are genuine. You can't help but root for these women. There’s a common theme here — all the women tried to deny their true selves and were depressed before they transitioned. The series doesn’t sugarcoat how challenging transitioning is — both physically and emotionally. “You have to be prepared to lose everyone and everything,” says Macy. “If you aren’t prepared for that, don’t transition.”