"Specificity is the soul of narrative" is a thing John Hodgman likes to say when he's hearing cases on the smart and funny Judge John Hodgman podcast, and it's applicable to documentary film, too. Documentaries devoted to a topic with heft do better if they can find a particular angle, a particular way into the question. It's generality — "Let's just talk about this kind of person and what this kind of person's life is like" — that leads to documentaries that feel well-meaning but flat and toothless.
HBO's new documentary Suited, directed by Jason Benjamin, is about gender identity and transgender people. But it meets their stories at a specific place: Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn custom suiting shop that caters to people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming or nonbinary — people who, for reasons related to gender identity, have trouble finding suits that fit their bodies and feel congruent with how they want to look. (A note: If you heard the shop Saint Harridan profiled on Startup recently, that's a different store with some similar elements in its mission.)
Bindle & Keep is run by Daniel Friedman and Rae Tutera. Tutera grew up with the name Rachel and later had gender confirmation surgery resulting in a certificate Tutera reads aloud declaring a male gender, but who also says that of "she" and "he" and "they" as pronouns, none really feels like misgendering. As for Friedman, he says he never really anticipated this path — he saw himself making suits for Wall Street dudes — but he got to it through Tutera and has clearly committed fully.
Suited follows several Bindle & Keep clients from their first appointments. There's Derek, who needs a suit for his wedding; Everett, who's just started law school in Georgia and has been warned that being trans will present problems in his field; Mel, a gender-nonconforming cab driver who needs a suit for a 40th birthday party; Aidan, a transgender teenager whose grandma brings him in to get a suit for his bar mitzvah; Grace, who wants a suit to "run around in"; and Jillian, a trans woman attorney who's about to argue an important transgender rights case and needs a suit for court.
There's something very clever about the construction of the documentary, simply because of the close connection between the way gender identity functions in the film and the way fashion does. Gender expression, for most of the documentary's subjects, involves protecting what's specific and personal in their gender identities against easy classifications that have been constructed from the broad outlines of other people's experiences.