37. Sex Change

Jim Shelley has an identity crisis

Tapehead no 37

The thing about people who have sex change operations, at least the ones we see on telly, is they change sex but never really change.

From Thursday, A Change Of Sex covers a man’s transformation from George Roberts into Julia Grant starting with his first steps back in 1979.

It begins ominously with George telling the (impossibly bossy) psychiatrist who has to sanction the operation that he feels like “a woman in a man’s body” (original). Cue Russian Dolls adapted to look like George/Julia.

“I believe everything I do is feminine…” George says, as he comes stomping out of a ladies’ changing room, wearing a pink frilly dress that, frankly, doesn’t do much for his docker’s arms, dumpy gait, or rather extraordinary hairdo.

The sight of the hormones changing the shape of George’s breast has an unedifying, voyeuristic interest, but his self-absorption and neurosis quickly become quite boring. Only his hair – -a fascinating weave between vintage Rodney Bewes and an untamed Paul Merton – holds the attention.

George’s daily struggle wins some sympathy but by the end of the first episode (of three), Julia really only looks like George trying to look like a Julia.

Secret Lives also dominate this week’s Oprah Gold. Oprah, whose hairdo has also gone a bit Melvyn Bragg, yawns her way through the first two shocking secrets, “Raymond (his brother’s name) or John ?” asks Oprah of one secret life victim.

Tapehead, of course, has travelled through life as Tapehead, living a double life to put some of the people on Oprah Winfrey to shame.

Admittedly, one former priest faked his own death (cool) in order to get married. He went to his father’s funeral in disguise (though you might think “wearing sunglasses and standing at the back” is not much of disguise).

The woman whose husband was a woman discovered the truth after 16 years of marriage when/she died. They had never seen each other naked.

“What is going on in America ?” gasps The Big O.

Based on the photos, Tapehead is happy to pronounce Billy the greatest male impersonator who ever lived.

According to The Human Animal, a gap in our evolution (a minor few million years) between living with the monkeys eating fruit and nuts and coming out of the closet to become a meat-eating hunter, was filled by the Dryopithecus. The Beeb have re-created what the moonfaced monster probably looked like, and it looks like the primate equivalent of George/Julia.

Desmond Morris examines whether, in an evolutionary sense, we are what we eat. While we are hunting and gathering in Waitrose, elsewhere people are cooking caterpillars and raw Honey Ants (yum yum) in South Africa. The Masai tribesmen live off a diet of fresh blood and milk, coagulated on sticks for kids (“very high protein and no loss of livestock”). Not to mention the French.

Morris reckons “the ardours of the hunt” are now recreated at work (is he joking ?) and tries to prove it with traffic wardens and their prey. The rest of us, he says, “recreate the stages of the primeval hunt, the drama of the hunt” in football.

“There are the team tactics, the group co-operation, the long-distance communication, the physical risks, the skills, stamina, and bravery, the stalking and cunning, the thrills of the chase.”

Sadly, Morris illustrates all this with footage of Oldham Athletic. Only when we see Paul Ince and Roy Keane closing in on Mike Milligan like cheetahs about to take down an old gazelle, do we get any idea what on earth he’s talking about.


A Change Of Sex: Thurs, 9.30pm-10.20pm, BBC2
The Human Animal – The Hunting Ape: Wed, 9.30pm-10.20pm, BBC1
Oprah Gold – My Husband Was A Woman: Tue, 5pm-5.50pm, C4