A Chance To Dress explores the complexity of gender expression through the story of MIT Professor Emeritus and open cross dresser Dr. John "Tephra" Southard.

The film follows the difficulties in coming out to his friends, neighbors and colleagues, but also his sense of liberation after a lifetime of secrecy.



76 year old Professor Emeritus John Southard recently came out to his family, friends and M.I.T colleagues as a cross-dresser after nearly 40 years of easy collegiality. His exuberant outing as “Tehpra” is reflected, in part, by his efforts to be finally accepted as a full person in the geology department as well as in society. But his efforts have been met with mixed reactions. He takes pleasure in dining in restaurants and shopping for clothes with his wife Jean, yet he’s aware of the stares from others when going out.  Jean is his happy accomplice, but tells him “you need to do it right”.  Together they find a style that he likes and feels pretty in, but despite all efforts, they realize that he doesn’t pass.  A Chance To Dress follows Dr. Southard’s challenges and difficulties in coming out but also his exuberance, his delight, his excitement and his sense of liberation after a lifetime of secrecy.  His coming out is bittersweet as he finds acceptance from some, but avoidance from others.  Ultimately, he only finds comfort socializing as Tephra at home, with Jean and close, accepting friends.  John's journey weaves a story that intersects gender presentation, acceptance, the immutability of established institutions and the ultimate affirmation of the human spirit.

Director's Commentary: 

Curiosity was the motivator in making this film.  I had so many questions about the nature of cross-dressing, and found that many others had questions too - and so I set out to answer those questions. Cross-dressing is not the same as transgender, and few people understand it, so my goal was to explore the phenomenon of cross dressing and then to “normalize” it.  Cross-dressing is very much a part of the fabric of our society and it should be understood as yet another way of expressing one’s gender identity.