TV is having a transgender summer.
“Becoming Us” (10 p.m. Mondays on ABC Family) is a vaguely titled reality series about 16-year-old Ben of Evanston, Ill., whose dad is transitioning from Charlie to Carly. As if that’s not enough to deal with, Ben is dating Danielle, whose dad is also becoming a woman.
“I am Jazz” (premieres 10 p.m. Wednesday on TLC) is about 14-year-old Floridian Jazz, who was born a boy but now lives as a girl.
The highest profile transgender show of all debuts July 26: “I Am Cait” (8 p.m. on E!), the story of Olympian Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce) as she becomes the woman she always wanted to be.
Viewers will see these trans people struggling to embrace a female identity in a world that can be hostile toward those who are transgender. Family members struggle, too. “I love my dad … mom … but it doesn’t mean I understand what he’s doing,” says Ben.
But there is a fine line between observing and exploiting.
In “Becoming Us,” Danielle’s father needs help bra shopping. Carly offers to come along. The twosome invite Ben and Danielle as well. Why would anyone take a teen boy on a bra-shopping expedition? The awkward scene smacks of producer manipulation. The series executive producer, by the way, is “American Idol’s” Ryan Seacrest.
“I Am Jazz” seems more natural — mainly because Jazz is so at ease on TV: charming and down-to-earth. Perhaps that’s because she’s been in the media spotlight before, as a frequent talk show guest, co-author of a children’s book and one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential teens of 2014.
“I would say I have a girl brain and a boy body,” Jazz says matter-of-factly. Hormone blockers and estrogen are forestalling male puberty and bringing on female traits. Like many teens, Jazz is insecure about her looks. But she’s remarkably poised. When two boys call her a “tranny freak,” her mom is ready to attack. Jazz says, “They’re not worth it. It doesn’t matter what they think.”
Will these reality shows change audience attitudes toward trans individuals? Will there even be an audience? “Becoming Us” premiered to 638,000 weekly viewers and has seen its numbers stall and slip.
“I Am Cait” will surely attract more viewers because of Jenner’s fame. It’s too soon to say how “Jazz” will fare. But with her humor and honesty, she’s a tough act for Caitlyn Jenner to follow.
Read more of Marc’s TV musings: