A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the popular Canadian teen show, Degrassi: The Next Generation. Specifically, I previewed its Summer 2010 soap opera-styled block of episodes, collectively entitled Degrassi: The Boiling Point.
Well, this is the blog post where I eat my words . . .
Why the change of heart, you ask? Well, it has a lot to do with THIS GUY . . .
Meet Adam Torres, a sophomore, and recent transfer to Degrassi Community School. As far as personalities go, Adam’s got a pretty good one. He’s smart, funny, a little bit snarky, and a loyal friend. He’s also biologically female.
Up until this year, Adam was known to the world as Gracie Torres. And he looked like this . . .
By the way, special kudos to the Degrassi writers for not making the character’s birth name, Eve . . .
That would have been SO uncool!
From the time Adam was a little kid, he always knew he was different. Adam never felt truly female, thus making the person who stared back at him in the mirror each day a complete and utter stranger. In short, Adam felt as though he was trapped in a body that was not his own.
After much discussion and hand-wringing, Adam’s parents reluctantly agreed to let him start over at a new school, as a male. But in order to truly live the life he wanted, without judgment or prejudice, Adam had to keep his FTM (female-to-male) transgender identity a secret, while at Degrassi. And, for a little while, he did. But secrets have a way of coming out at the most inopportune moments. And Adam’s secret was no exception . . .
This week, Degrassi aired an hour-long episode, over a span of two days, entitled “My Body is a Cage.” During this hour, we watch Adam cope with the realities of living life as a transgender. In the first part of the episode, Adam’s secret is exposed to his classmates. The first to find out about Adam’s “origins” are his two friends, Clare and Eli.
Clare becomes suspicious that Adam is hiding “something,” when she bumps into him near the lockers, causing an entire box of tampons to explode on the floor.
(OK. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVED this episode. But come on! What high schooler carries around an entire box of tampons? Isn’t “discretion” one of the main benefits that tampons have over pads? Can’t you just stick one or two in the front pocket of your bookbag, and have them go virtually unnoticed? Wouldn’t you think, of all people, that someone who was trying to HIDE their female parts would be sensitive to this?)
Beware of the Telltale Tampon!
Contrivance aside, Clare handles the situation with class. When a group of guys pass by, and ogle the tampons on the floor, taking note of Adam’s proximity to them, Clare quickly improvises. “Silly me, always dropping my feminine hygiene products!” She sing-songs. (I love that she calls them “feminine hygiene products” – good ole’ Nerdy Clare!)
Later, Adam sits Clare and Eli down at lunch and reveals his secret to them, permitting them to ask him any questions they might have. “How do you know you aren’t just a tomboy or a lesbian?” Clare inquires. (A good question.)
“I just know,” replies Adam. (A highly unsatisfactory answer. But this is an hour-long teen show, where each story only gets 1/3 of the episode’s screentime. So, I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting here. . . )
Things don’t go nearly as well, later on in the day, when Adam unwisely makes a play for the school’s “Bad Girl,” Bianca, during a Ballroom Dancing class.
Bianca shows interest initially, placing her hand flirtatiously on Adam’s chest, as the two banter back and forth. But that’s when the problems arise. “What’s going on there?” Bianca inquires. “You’re too skinny to have man boobs.”
(Sorry, I’m not buying this scene either. The actress’ boobs weren’t all that big BEFORE they were taped to her body, and covered with three layers of clothing. I sincerely doubt this chicky would be able to detect them that easily under these circumstances . . .)
In one swift move, Bianca dramatically rips open Adam’s shirt. (Clearly, she’s got . . . um . . . experience taking off others’ clothes.)
This is what Adam SHOULD have been wearing under his flannel.
Upon doing this, Bianca spies the “hide the boobies” gauze wrap Adam’s got around his midsection. (Here’s where the “old sports injury” argument, might have come in handy. Just sayin . . .).
Bianca flips out. “I’ve seen freaks like you on Oprah!” She yelps, before stomping off . . .
Oh no, you didn’t, Bianca! You did NOT just evoke the Wrath of Oprah. Be afraid, be very afraid . . .
Bianca’s reaction to Adam, though definitely mean-spirited and b*tchy, was, to some extent, understandable. Unlike Clare and Eli, who were let in on Adam’s secret gently, and heard it “straight from the horse’s mouth,” Bianca was completely blindsided. She felt attraction for Adam, and then learned he wasn’t AT ALL who she thought he was.
Bianca must have felt betrayed, tricked, and manipulated. Her sexuality was challenged, and she felt threatened by it. So, she lashed out. And if things ended right there, I would actually have some sympathy for Bianca . . .
I know, crazy right? But, it DIDN’T end there. Instead, Bianca told the ENTIRE school, which led to THIS highly uncomfortable to watch scene . . .
Now, while I could slightly commiserate with Bianca’s initial reaction to Adam, the above-illustrated reaction by bullies, Owen and Fitz, absolutely floored me. After all, however you slice it, these guys joyfully beat up someone they believed to be a GIRL! (Isn’t that against Bro Code or something?) And yet, as awful as it was, I can certainly see something like this happening at a real high school.
Fortunately, for Adam, he isn’t without support. And I love how his relationship with his stepbrother, Drew, is portrayed in this episode.
Drew is the quintessential school Golden Boy, a popular “dumb jock,” in every sense of the word. He is even friends with the bullies who beat up Adam. And yet, Drew stands by his brother, without question. He is even willing to fight physically with his (former?) friends to defend Adam’s honor. (He gets his ass kicked doing it, but STILL . . .)
The second part of the episode, deals with Adam grappling with his parents’ inability to come to terms with his decision to live life as a male. They call him by female pronouns, and force him to dress up as “Gracie,” when Grandma comes to town. But things really come to a head, when Adam tries to deny his identity, by coming to school dressed as Gracie. Adam soon becomes so depressed and overwhelmed as a result, that he turns to self-mutilation, as an outlet for his emotions.
Despite the aforementioned doom and gloom, the episode actually ends on a relatively positive note, with Adam’s parents coming to terms with the “loss of their daughter.” They even going as far as to hold a bonfire, where all the material things that represent “Gracie” are burned.
A few unbelievable scenes, and a smidge of cheese aside, I thought this episode was pretty brilliant. It handled the issue of transgender identity believeably, without being heavy-handed or overly maudlin. The actress who plays Adam, was also relatable, and sufficiently understated. Watching the episode, I could definitely see how a lesser actress could have really “butched it up,” just to prove a point. Fortunately, that did not happen here.
You may recognize Jordan Todosey, the actress who plays Adam Torres, as little Lizzie, from Life with Derek, a Canadian sitcom about a Brady Bunch-esque blended family with a modern twist. (It still airs on the Disney Channel, every once in a while, in case you’re curious . . .)
She’s obviously very talented. I suspect this is not the last we will hear about her . . .
So, there, I’ve said it. With nearly ten years of episodes behind its belt, Degrassi still manages to surprise me, every once in a while. O’ Canada, I will never doubt you again.
That’s the crow I just had to eat . . .
Degrassi: The Boiling Point airs weeknights at 9 p.m. on Teen Nick. Have you been watching?