Born to Be is a documentary about the trailblazing work being done at the Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery.   

The film’s central figure is Jess Ting, a plastic surgeon who studied music at Juilliard before making a career switch to medicine.   Scenes of him with patients are interspersed with domestic clips where he is at home with his children and playing the double bass.  Just a few years ago Ting had never even performed a single gender-affirming surgery.  He is the first to admit that he did not expect his career to take this turn: “Essentially, they just asked everyone else, and everyone said no except for me.  Everyone thought I was nuts.”  Be that as it may, Ting appears to have found his calling.  In a short time, he has performed well over a thousand gender-affirming surgeries, pioneered new procedures, and helped to start a fellowship training program.  

The stories of several of the Center’s patients are interwoven with that of Dr. Ting.  One client, Cashmere, is a retired sex worker.  Years of botched silicone injections have left her face chronically swollen.   Now in her 50’s, she hopes to have the effects reversed, and to finally undergo the vaginoplasty she has been dreaming of her entire life.  Another patient, Devin, 22, goes through a transition during the course of the film, renaming herself Garnet.  Not withstanding strong family support, years of bullying in school have taken their toll as she struggles with depression. 


Born to Be is, of course, a film about some courageous transgender and gender non-binary people.  It is also a film about one caring physician.  It goes without saying his technical skills are excellent, but what makes Dr. Ting extraordinary is his ability to relate to his patients.  He listens. and treats them with dignity and respect, approaching each patient with the same composure and sensitivity he devotes to a Bach suite.   

We are saddened to discover, just as all seems to be going well for Garnet, that she has made a suicide attempt.  Despite the hopeful tone of the film, it is important to recognize that this population still faces significant health disparities, discrimination, violence, and victimization.  Anxiety, depression, and substance use are an ongoing concern.  Although it seems intuitive that the relief of gender-affirming surgery should reduce the prevalence of mental health symptoms, that still remains to be demonstrated (see ).  

Born to Be makes an excellent introduction to gender-affirming surgery for a general audience.  It takes a topic that some may feel uneasy about approaching, and with its compassionate and colorful depictions of patients and caregivers, brings it to life.


The film’s website contains general information, links to reviews, and links to virtual cinemas that allow the film to be watched from home.   

The website for Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery is 




Transformation Productions

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