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TELEVISION 'New Girls on the Block' trans-focused series examines trans issues
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Lauren E. Childers
2015-03-31

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A new trans-focused television series, New Girls on the Block, is set to premiere Thursday, April 11 at 9 p.m.CT on the Discovery Life Channel. The show sets out to follow a group friends from Kansas City, Missouri, showcasing some of their past struggles with gender identity and how they navigate daily struggles and successes now.

Caroline Gibbs, a licensed gender counselor, not only cast the show but also helped each of the cast members through their transitions. Gibbs is the founder and director of the Transgender Institute that helps the girls through the therapeutic process as well as coaching them through vocal feminization and comportment. The Transgender Institute also has a mentoring program most of the girls were a part of as well as community advocacy opportunities.

As "graduates" of the institute, Gibbs was looking for further advocacy opportunities for the girls when she came across the opportunity to pitch a show to producer Mark Sloan.

"These gals are such natural advocators," said Gibbs although the feat seemed more than doable.

"My job was not to convince anybody, just to present an idea," Gibbs added. "And that's what I did because I knew what I was saying to them—I knew it would be the end of their privacy."

Gibbs reached out to a group of girls who had really succeeded at the Transgender Institute. These girls she chose were all in group therapy together, becoming a lifelong group of friends, making it the "natural choice," Gibbs said.

Sloan and Executive Producer Colin Whelan, now excited to take on this show, buckled down and did their "homework," as Whelan called it, to become educated on transgender identity and experience.

"We've done everything that we can to be responsible and accurate if everything we've done," said Whelan, including collaborating with GLAAD.

Upon presenting the show to the Discovery Life Channel, general manager Jane Latman was reportedly just as enthusiastic about the show concept and about the cast.

"It's so rare nowadays to have something like this happen but they pulled the trigger and went right to series," said Whelan. "It wasn't 'let's do a pilot' or 'let's do a presentation,' it was like 'we love them, let's do it.'"

Pleasantly, without any bouts of discrimination faced throughout production, the entire cast and crew expressed enthusiasm with the premiere.

"America is ready for this show as evidenced by the success of Transparent," said Whelan. "Our cast is relatable to everyone because everyone goes through relationship ups and downs or job issues and our participants just so happen to be transgender. I just think America is going to fall in love with this show and this cast."

The cast consists of six trans women, including best friends Kassidy and Chloe, who are learning to navigate the dating scene.

"For me [dating has] been a path of exploration and learning more about myself because for the longest time I didn't really get out to date. I lied to myself so how could I be honest with someone else," explained Chloe. "Through my transition I've had a lot more exploration and understanding of myself and what I want in this world and what kind of partner I'm looking for."

Kassidy also noted that "you really have to think about your safety when you go out on dates"—learning to work through the fears associated with dating such as when and how to reveal that part of her identity and wondering about the other person's reaction.

Chloe faces depression but despite its persistent burden throughout her life, she said, "Depression is one of those things for me that since I transitioned it has become very different: pre-transition it was a 24/7, on a scale of one to 10 I was either eight, nine or 10 as opposed to now I have moments of clarity and joy."

Robyn and Andrew have been friends for about eight years and have been dating for two. They've stuck together as friends and lovers through Robyn's transition and continue to work through family issues and their relationship as they move forward towards marriage.

"What I hope people take away is that we're human. We're just like anybody else; we have hopes, feelings, and dreams," said Kassidy.

"Being able to show people that trans people can be normal people too—hopefully to normalize the whole trans experience," voiced Chloe. "I always say I'm a weird person but I'm not weird because I'm trans."

"I get to be a part of a revolutionary event that is going to be on television to help educate people and allow them to peer into the lives of transgender people and help normalize the ideology [of trans identity and experience] that is skewed," said Robyn.

"It turns out to be indirectly educational so people are not slammed with a documentary," said Gibbs.

"Putting the 'real' back in reality television, we are thrilled to introduce these lovable characters to our audience without a filter, serving as an inspiration to live our lives freely and full of humor, heart, and hope," said Latman. "With New Girls on the Block, Discovery Life Channel looks to provide a bridge to a world of acceptance of the transgender community through our honest portrayal—and entertaining look—at these women's lives."


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