Although it covers a very different topic, “Born to Be” reminds me of another doc that came out this year, “Aggie.” Like the latter’s protagonist, Agnes Gund, “Born to Be’s” Dr. Jess Ting is a person in a position of privilege who decides to use said privilege to help others in need. It’s such a simple choice, but one that makes a huge impact.
From director Tania Cypriano, “Born to Be” sees Ting building the Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York City, and advancing the field of gender affirmation surgery. This area wasn’t his original specialty; Ting was trained to be a general plastic surgeon. However, in 2015, New York State began mandating insurance companies cover gender-affirming medical care, and demand for gender-affirming surgery and treatment skyrocketed. There was a dearth of doctors able or willing to perform these procedures, so Ting stepped in to help fill the gap.
“Born to Be” was filmed over two years, chronicling the expansion of the Center, following several of Ting’s patients through various phases of their medical transitions, and offering a highly persuasive argument that the field of gender-affirmation medicine is in great need of funding, research, and professionals. Ting is making impressive strides, creating and improving upon surgical techniques for gender-affirming procedures, but he is also on his own. At least during the events of the doc, Ting doesn’t have other doctors to lean on. The staff and nurses at his office do the best they can, but most of the responsibility rests on Ting’s shoulders. If he gets sick, the jam-packed schedule of procedures comes to a grinding halt. It’s no wonder he struggles with burnout.
Of course, this isn’t just Ting’s story. “Born to Be” is also about the trans and non-binary folks who are empowered to live as they are, with Dr. Ting’s empathy and assistance. Some, such as Devin, who eventually changes her name to Garnet, have the whole-hearted support of their family. Others, like Cashmere and Mahogany, are mostly undertaking this journey alone. Most of the patients, at one time or another, have dealt with depression or other mental health issues. That’s one of the reasons Ting grows to be so passionate about his work: gender-affirming surgery isn’t necessarily the key to his patients’ wellbeing, but it certainly can help.
More than anything else, “Born to Be” is a clear-eyed, fairly prescient testament to the need for adequate health care, for everyone, and to trans and non-binary people’s medical concerns deserving the same respect, research, and resources as anyone else’s. “In this current administration, where health care is so fragile, we need to remind ourselves that our fight is everybody’s, and as a society we are stronger when we fight for everyone,” Cypriano told us, “because health care is a human right.”
“Born to Be” is now screening in virtual cinemas.
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