T Cooper, an author and filmmaker, has a new documentary that follows four men as they prepare to compete in Trans Fit Con, the only bodybuilding competition in the US specifically for the trans community. The contest rules simply state that everyone must identify as trans and as such they allow contestants to enter regardless at what point they are in their physical transition.
Mason is the most serious of the four and he has a strict diet regime. He is married but has still never been naked in front of his wife.
Rese was homeless when filming started. His mother who is raising his five-year-old son kicked him out. During the filming, he met and married a new partner, who is also trans, and they have moved to Baltimore together.
Dominic is a rapper from St Paul, has a fiancé Thea, and at the start of filming and with her support, he was about to undergo a double mastectomy. He is also on a journey to identify to find his biological mother who had given him up for adoption and who can reveal his true ethnicity at last. Dominic is the one who is most relaxed with his a real body-builder physique and pokes fun at the stomach he cannot quite get rid of.
Kennie is just about to start his transitioning journey. His lesbian girlfriend, DJ, is fully supportive of his choices but feels that this will probably signal the end of their relationship As the testosterone shots begin taking effect, Kennie’s sex drive increases. As his body changes, DJ becomes less attractive to him.
Cooper also gives brief bios of the other men who are taking part in the competition in Atlanta. or so men taking part and discusses issues they all face like the decision to wear a packer (a fake penis) to pad the front of their speedos.
The men proudly express that their bodies are at last matching their true gender but the fact that they are going one step further to be ultra-masculine as bodybuilders is not just for their own satisfaction, but so that society can really see them as who they really are.
The film is really more about how transitioning can affect the man’s personal relationships and if they can adjust sufficiently to meet their needs.
“Man Made” destroys stereotypes about body builders as it challenges the ideals of “traditional masculinity” inherent in the sport, showing how for four transgender men, bodybuilding is about presenting one’s true identity to the world rather than a drug-enhanced self-improvement model. The social complexities of the issues raised by each man are narrowed in order to focus purely on the human effect – the reaction of each individual and their wider families. The film is at its best when it sidesteps the entire bodybuilding premise altogether, and focuses on the personal stories that have led each subject to this moment.
Director T Cooper has managed to find the inherent humanity in the bodybuilding sub-culture through a diverse mix of men who destroy stereotypes.