The six stars of Discovery Life’s freshman docu-series New Girls on the Block are the anti–Real Housewives. Many of the Kansas City, Missouri–based transgender women have undergone transformative surgery, but as a means of making changes that reflect the gender they identify with, not to stave off old age. They clash over matters of family, friendship, love, and loss, but soberly, and up against the constant judgment of a culture that still largely views them as outsiders. So why, then, would AiYana, Jaimie, Chloe, Kassidy, Macy, or Robyn open up their lives to the wider scrutiny of a reality audience? As Macy and her wife Sharon tell it, it’s because they’re the most authentic women they know, and New Girls reflects that.
“They basically just show us living our lives, and people can grab on to that and relate to it and respond to it,” says Macy, a longtime software engineer who lost her job while undergoing her transition. “Hopefully, people who are not transgender will have an understanding of what it’s like to be transgender, and as far as transgender people, hopefully they’ll see people who give them hope.”
If New Girls has a universal hook beyond gender identity, it’s the trials of being in a relationship. Macy had been married to Sharon for several years before opening up about being transgender; Robyn and her boyfriend Andrew were best friends as men before Robyn’s transition, and have been navigating life as a romantic item; Jaimie and AiYana went through their transition together; and though not dating, Chloe and Kassidy are roommates and close friends. Each pair endures obstacles to happiness and self-discovery throughout the short season’s five-week run (its third episode can be seen this Saturday at 7 p.m., and the prior two are available on-demand), but Macy and Sharon’s story is particularly compelling. Sharon, who owns a Kansas City–area jewelry boutique, ostensibly had to accept that the other woman in their marriage has been her husband. Macy, meanwhile, was a middle-aged black man in relatively conservative Kansas City who came out not only to his spouse, but to colleagues and the community as well.
Sharon’s acceptance didn’t come easy. The show features therapy sessions where she vents about feeling betrayed and taken advantage of, and scenes where she expresses resentment toward Macy for overlooking that they’ve both effectively been going through a major transition. “The person married me, and I feel, they already knew it,” Sharon says of Macy, in a joint counseling session. “They didn’t explain it to me, they didn’t tell me about it. It was extremely unfair.” Later on in the season, in an episode yet to air, Sharon takes the bold step of arranging a funeral for her husband so she can continue her life with Macy free of ill will. It’s an intense gesture, and an event Macy chooses not to attend out of respect for Sharon’s process.
“This whole issue is a two-way street,” says Macy. “Not only does the trans person expect people around them to understand, but the trans person also has to have understanding. As far as the funeral, to me, it makes perfect sense because it gives that person around you closure. It can be a send-off or good-bye or anything that gives them closure. I’m all for that.” And in case cynical viewers think the send-off might have been staged, Sharon clarifies, “This wasn’t a funeral for the show. This was what I wanted to do before the show was known to me. My husband is gone, he’s never gonna come back. So to me, my husband is dead, he’s gone. I need to say good-bye to that person.”
And while the subject’s not really been broached this season, it’s natural to wonder how Macy and Sharon, or any couple in their position, resumes intimacy and generally negotiates the romantic part of their life. They’re not naïve to that curiosity, but address it discreetly.
“I know lots of people are concerned about that,” concedes Sharon. “Macy can live her life as she chooses to live. She’s free to go, come as she pleases. She’s free to have any type of friendships she chooses, and I can do as I please and enter any type of friendships that I choose to have. That’s what we’ve decided to do, and that’s what we will do.”
“We’re always gonna be there for each other, and the love is not gonna change, but as far as how our relationship evolves, that’s something we take day by day,” adds Macy.
No one could blame Macy and Sharon if they were initially skeptical of the network and producers Jay James and Colin Whelan (who’d previously worked on series including Ice Loves Coco and Sarah Palin’s Alaska), but Macy insists: “We never got the impression they were trying to exploit us. We just got the impression they were trying to tell a story the best way they could in a positive and inspirational way.”
Once that trust was established, filming became not only an outlet for Macy and Sharon’s story, but a safe and powerful platform for public outreach. “I thought it would be an opportunity for me to represent women who’ve dealt with the same situation I have and never had an opportunity to say it to the world,” explains Sharon. “Even with relationships where they found out their husband might have been gay. And maybe they can reach out to me, and I can reach out to them, and we can talk about it.” At the very least, it’s created a growing and encouraging fan base for the ladies. People have tweeted at Macy complimenting her beauty, while Sharon’s received messages admiring her strength.
That isn’t to say they don’t anticipate mixed reactions, but they’re ready to moderate and set the tone for any exchanges that might ensue. “We expect there are gonna be people who give a negative response,” says Macy. “And of course we’re ready to have a dialogue with anyone that’s willing.” Sharon offers. “You just listen to what they say, and you can learn a lot about them. Some people are saying something because they’re just nasty people. Some people have other issues going on maybe personally or maybe they really don’t understand or have a great fear of something.” Macy’s optimistic that “the show has brought a little bit of understanding and lessened some of that fear.”