‘Born to Be’ Review: A Compassionate Doctor Changing Lives

In 2016, Mount Sinai Hospital opened its Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in Manhattan. The documentary “Born to Be,” directed by Tania Cypriano, follows the work of one of that center’s pioneering surgeons, Dr. Jess Ting.

Ting began as a general plastic surgeon; he only entered the field of transgender surgery 18 months before filming began. “Everyone thought I was nuts,” he says, when he stepped up to join the Mount Sinai center. Unlike too many others, in medicine and the world, he seems to understand transgender people and their needs on an instinctive level. Patient, good-humored and thoughtful, he’s always looking for ways to improve surgeries, none of which are depicted explicitly here.

It was not too long ago that transgender men and women were compelled to subject themselves to black-market procedures, getting plastics injected into them just to, as Ting phrases it in one scene, make the “external face and the internal identity match.” Now such damaging procedures can actually be reversed, and replaced with viable ones.

But it’s been a long journey. Kashmir, one of Ting’s patients, now in her 50s, takes the viewer on a tour of the now largely transformed meatpacking district, where she was once a sex worker. “Everybody in that tape is dead,” she exclaims in one interview, referring to the 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning,” which features her old friends. Another, younger patient, Garnet, struggles with self-harm even after a successful surgery.

Through it all Ting is an anchor, a presence of compassion and good sense. Anyone confused about transgender people will certainly benefit from a viewing of this picture.

Born to Be
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters and on Kino Marquee. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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