Last week I introduced Alexis Meade, a fictional MTF transsexual who came out in a highly publicized moment. Now meet Brody Rungy, a 20-something FTM transgender musician. Like Alexis Meade, Rungy is eager to publicize a personal transgender history.
If any of you are fans of TLC’s Strange Sex, you may remember Brody from the episode “Right Guy, Wrong Body” (Season 2, episode 10). In this episode Brody’s name is referenced as Nat (by himself and loved ones), which I presume was a modification of his given name, Natalie:
Jamison Green asks: “what happens to the transsexual man who ‘comes out’ and admits to having been born female? (Transgender Studies Reader, 499).” In the case of Brody Rungy, TLC over simplifies a complex history and coming out story in a twenty-minute segment on ‘strange’ sex. It’s arguable that Rungy’s transgender narrative should not even belong to a show on Strange Sex, but as Green observes: “the majority of our society have not learned how to separate sex from gender, and the use of terms interchangeably (most commonly the substituting of gender for sex in an effort to avoid intimations of impropriety) only muddles the waters” (505).
So, it is not surprising that the episode reveals Rungy’s story within a cheesy conventional framework. Even the title of the episode, “Right Guy, Wrong Body,” implies essentialist assumptions. The show exposes Nat’s childhood inclination towards male interests such as sports, boys’ toys, and boys’ clothing as evidence of his innate masculinity. His mother reveals: “it was always obvious to everyone that Nat was a tomboy.” Clearly the show’s dramatic music and voiceovers intend for this information to be shocking to its viewers, yet I think we can all agree that this sounds like a rather predictable narrative.
I found another interview with Rungy, which was filmed after the Strange Sex episode (I know this because in the TLC episode Rungy said he was 23, and in the following video he says he is 24). In this video, Brody is promoting both his trans history and his music:
I find it really interesting to compare these two accounts of Rungy’s history. In the second video Brody refers to himself as a “straight, heterosexual man.” Now why would a white, straight, hetero man appear on Strange Sex? He sounds pretty normal to me. Like Green, Rungy could pass as a ‘normal’ man with ease. He can grow a beard, he dates women, he lacks breasts, and he sings in a distinctly masculine voice. Although he could be “one more horned beast in the herd,” (436) as Patrick Califia puts it, Rungy publicly puts his pre-trans history out there, and says (in the second video) that he wants to be a voice.
Green demonstrates how transmen: “are supposed to pretend we never spent 15, 20, 30, 40 or more years in female bodies, pretend that the vestigial female parts some of us never lose were never there. In short, in order to be a good—or successful—transsexual person, one is not supposed to be a transsexual person at all” (501). Perhaps Rungy’s comfort in sharing his female past could indicate that there’s a new type of successful trans that does not rely on secrecy.