Meeting the Ladies of AsiaSF: Transcendent Ep. 1 Recap

“Me and my girlfriends work at a crazy cabaret club called AsiaSF where we dance and do our own thing.”

The premiere episode of Fuse’s Transcendent, a docu-series following five of the performers from San Francisco’s only transgender cabaret, aired this week. It’s short and rather to the point, introducing Nya, Xristina, Bambiana, Bionka, and L.A., a recent hire who’s just at the start of her transition, with lots of jump cuts around town. L.A. is introduced during a performance montage as a plucked-from-the-audience eagerness spreads across her face, quickly establishing herself as the show's heart.

Apart from Nya’s breakup and promotion, the episode otherwise consists mostly of stage-setting. There are definitely some strong moments, as when Ronnie, the ladies’ choreographer, throws some serious side-eye at the news that Xristina might not be showing up for their dance rehearsal. A scene between Nya and her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Bradley feels a little forced, however. The conversation about how to handle informing other people that she’s trans comes off as almost scripted.

But there’s a lot of candid humor, too: “How was your hormone shot? Did you cry? Did you feel bloated and fat and ugly?” Bambiana asks L.A. at one point. “I had no idea it was going to make me a bitch and a psychopath.”

Since so many trans narratives focus on the transition process — to the point where media watchdog GLAAD is politely pushing Hollywood to expand its focus — it’s good to see Transcendent move away from just the parts with the greatest potential to titillate. Seeing heterosexual transwomen date is interesting and positive and depicting it honestly and openly can do a lot of good. While L.A.’s transition will likely remain front-and-center, I hope there’s more to see of each woman’s personal life.

Sweetest Moment: Nya takes L.A. to one Doctor Crane, who’s “really well-known in the trans community.” It’s nice to see an exchange about hormones in a medical office handled respectfully and casually.

Funniest Moment: Bambiana, on her vagina: “Not only is it going to be chubby, it’s going to have a remote control, it’s going to glow in the dark, and you’re going to be so jealous. Mine is going to be an ultrasonic, megasonic, futuristic vagina.” And she’s celibate!

Tension: A didactic exchange when Bambiana scolds L.A. for referring to herself as a “gay boy.” “It’s a defense mechanism,” Bambiana says, ordering her not to do that anymore. (It’s pretty clear that when Bambiana tells you to do something, you comply.) This point comes back into focus when L.A. is on the phone with her dad, who refers to her as his son. (And Bambiana is more than sympathetic about this.)

Less Of, Please: Considering how short it is already, Transcendent feels a little padded with B-roll of our picturesque city. Fewer rapid jump cuts would also make things easier on the eyes.

More Of, Please
: The candid conversations are the show’s strength. A little more depth to Nya’s breakup with Bradley. And snappy one-liners are always welcome (“I’m a lady, I don’t do handjobs. Besides, my mouth gets jealous.”)

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