I didn't know this programme was being broadcast until a friend mentioned it and so caught it on catchup to find out what all the fuss was about. I'll be honest even I found this a bit disturbing.
My main concern is that there was no attempt by the producers to explore the motivation behind the men who the programme describes as "Female Maskers". Are they Transgender? My impression was that most were not although the meeting in Minneapolis was reminiscent of transvestite weekends I once attended. However because transgenderism or transvestism was never discussed in the programme, it is difficult to make any judgements.
I have had a look at some of the comments being made on transgender forums and in the main most trans people were as uncomfortable with the programme as I was. A few did admit to having explored the idea, particularly those who felt that they were unable to look acceptably female when cross dressed. My primary concern is that people viewing that programme will assume a negative attitude towards all trans people as a result.
The problem many trans women face is that they tend to transition, begin living as women, quite late in life. I was past 50 before I told anyone, and that was motivated by fear. The only people who had known were my partners and when one ex partner threatened to out me to the world I decided that the only way to protect myself was to start telling a few people. That way if I was outed people would not be shocked and would be less likely to react badly.
What I had not prepared myself for was the fact that it was fear of being outed that was keeping me "in the closet" . Once the secret was out I was no longer afraid and within two years I had found the courage to come out completely.
The greatest fear human beings face, is the fear of ridicule, of loosing face, being humiliated. I knew people laughed at trans people; I knew trans people were harassed; I knew trans people were liable to be attacked by homophobic and transphobic men so I stayed in the closet. Once I discovered that many people were OK with my secret, that fear subsided.
As I began to visit clubs and go out cross dressed more, I also discovered that if I did a good job with my appearance, it was very unlikely that anyone would recogise me anyway. I had worked in the financial services industry for 30 years so when I first came out and attended a few insurance industry events I made quite an impact. But what was apparent was that until I revealed who I was, no one recognised me at all.
So back to the Living Dolls. Most of the men in this programme who revealed themselves as "female maskers" could with a good makeover, probably pass as a woman, at least when walking down the streeet. They would need to learn how to do that makeover or go to a professional, but they would quite likely pass. Wearing a mask, they do not pass. They are getting attention, but not because people are seeing an attractive woman, and we saw the looks of utter shock on peoples faces when one went out for a walk.
For 70- year of Robert the motivation seemed to be that the image he presented when dressed, was of a woman now unavailable to him. He sees in the mirror the kind of women he wants to have, but cannot, and masking provides him with the beautiful women he cannot have.
Of course underlying all this is the fundamental issue that is faced not just by some trans women and female maskers, but by many women as well. Society requires that women in their appearance strive for an unachievable level of perfection dictated not by women, but largely be men. I heard a story once of a gender consultant who refused to refer a trans woman for surgery claiming that she was not attractive enough as a woman.
So perhaps that is the underlying motive here; a strange version of The Stepford Wives; men seeking idealised perfection in women, a gross female stereotype, and finding they can only achieve that in becoming a living doll. Some of these female maskers I suspect may be trans, faced with the challenge that the only way they can become their stereotypical idea of the perfect woman is as a living doll.
And the message to us all is that this stereotype of a perfect woman is not real. It is exactly what it appears - A Mask.