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For me, the real row on Channel 5 was not about benefits at all. It was in my own head.

 

So anyone tuning in to Channel 5 last night at 9.00 pm  and expecting some form of high calibre debate of the kind offered by Question Time on the BBC or The Agenda on ITV1 would have felt short changed, I expect.

A show entitled The Big Benefits Row is instructive in itself. Rows imply conflict, not a cup of tea and a cosy chat. Substitute the word row for conversation and you may end up with a more productive debate useful to everyone, audience and participants alike.

For me the first paragraph of this piece from the social commentator Laurie Penny is very telling and typifies the end result the programme makers wanted from last night’s debate. Laurie says, almost prophetically;

“The producer knocked her fists together in the dark backstage. “We want you to, you know…” She made the motion again, smiling sweetly, as my hired nemesis and I were strapped into radio microphones for a five minute debate on the evening news. It was clear what she meant. She wanted us to scrap. She didn’t want us to talk sensibly and work out our differences. She wanted blood on the floor.”

In part, this is understandable as all television wants to be noticed. It wants to create those so-called watercooler moments and talkability. Not talkability that lasts for a day or a week. More like a year. Programme makers want to create a programme in current affairs that makes you pick a side. You’re either Team Hopkins or Team Currie, for the bad cops, or indeed you may be Team Jones or Team Monroe for the good cops. As a viewer and a participant you are left in no doubt that you must pick a side. For the duration of that program you must pledge allegiance to either team. Indecisiveness or dissonance is not available to you. It is survival of the fittest: dog eat dog and we must buy into it for current affairs debates to work.

Now for me I was originally a refusenik. I had planned purposely not to watch the debate. Anything to me which gives Katie Hopkins airtime is not a productive use of a platform that many people would relish not least me.

What prompted my renewed interest in the debate, was the fact that Sue Marsh the renowned, ardent and brilliant disability campaigner had been dropped from the panel at the last minute.

Given that a sizeable number of those with disabilities depend on benefits to exist I was disgusted that they were left without representation on this debate. I still am. In fact I am seething. I have read through the commentariat’s responses today to the programme and only two have picked up on Sue Marsh’s bumping from it.

You see the thing is I know roughly what Owen Jones will say about benefits. I know roughly what Jack Monroe will say about benefits. The latter put in a sterling performance last night taking on Edwina Currie over her barbs towards her family and may have dropped an F bomb on Channel 5. Meanwhile Owen Jones compared the possibility of debating with Katie Hopkins to having a cheese grater rubbed in your face. I should confess at this point I do have a love for cheese and I want to be able to eat a cheese roll again without thinking of her.

But I find myself thinking as a person with a disability who eviscerated Katie Hopkins spectacularly in this blog for disgraceful comments she made about the former Paralympian Lady Grey-Thompson, I would welcome the chance to debate with her. I wouldn’t want to be placated and told I did not have to on the grounds of my own foibles. I would instead relish the chance and grab it with both hands. I don’t want this post to turn into a Hopkins themed diatribe.

I am always amazed by the paucity of diversity within the media. There is nothing the media relishes more than talking to itself about itself.

I am concerned about is there is a huge swathe of the population that is being excluded from this debate. That is those with disabilities. It is telling that the producers saw fit to drop Sue Marsh from the debate, allegedly because space needed to be made for other contributors. I put this question to you though. Which contributor could be more important than many of those who depend on benefits to live? I make no secret of the fact I would like a media platform across all media, television and radio and online. Why?  I have the qualities, I have the confidence and currently, somewhat regrettably I do not see myself represented.

The comedienne Ava Vidal was also ignored, despite pointedly shouting Matthew Wright’s name for at least enough time to induce laryngitis (maybe!)

When I switch the television on I see  nobody like me is telling my story. It is nothing short of a scandal that a programme about disability benefits had limits on the numbers of people it could take in wheelchairs.

I don’t want this piece either to be too hyper focused on one debate, because there is a wider debate to be had too.

You see I am also transgendered. But, in an affectionate nod to the words of the Natalie Imbruglia song I often find I’m torn.

Trans representation on screen is increasing. Paris Lees has been on Question Time, which commands huge audiences and is the premier political programme. So the trans community is understandably very happy about this.

But I feel conflicted. For disabled people are virtually invisible on-screen and I think this is wrong. I found it hard to celebrate when the trans community  were extra happy about Paris Lees  appearing on Question Time.

Essentially I feel torn between two minorities. Extensive progress on one hand and zero progress on the other. But I don’t intend to give in. I think it would be fantastic if for example a person with a disability was giving their viewpoint as an invited guest on Question Time or on the newspaper reviews on Sky News. I keep across the news agenda every day. I am a newshound if you like. I am also news hungry.

Radio is slightly more progressive in this regard. With the use of telephone communication, ISDN lines, and Skype of course, there is less need for people to appear directly in a studio environment. But on the other hand, why shouldn’t we appear “in quality?” Why shouldn’t that be an aspiration for radio producers?

I have no doubt that the commentariat as it currently stands make many well-meaning contributions and interventions in the disability debate. But in terms of people like Sue Marsh, it is not the same and cannot be equivalent to hearing it from the horse’s mouth ever. It is not good enough and the boat needs rocking.

I am perfectly capable of writing articles. Therefore I am perfectly capable of translating those articles and opinions into articulate speech. I should stress that I recognise fully that this is a privilege that not all of my disabled colleagues have. Therefore I feel it is incumbent on those of us who do have that privilege to use it for maximum effect and benefit.

I have to say too, I have enjoyed the few media appearances I have done. For LBC as a caller, and another for BBC Radio 5 Live for the Eastleigh by-election debate.

But just as some of the media has a race problem I think it also has a disability problem. I would applaud the efforts of Samantha Asamadu for her consciousness raising initiative Writers of Colour which gives people of colour the opportunity to write and have their work seen by thousands and embedded into people’s consciousness. Sam was inspired to start this campaign after noticing that there was a trend for all front pages to be white, as in stories related to white people.

But also, I wouldn’t just want to be pigeonholed into a disability slot. I have views and opinions like the rest of the commentariat, I wouldn’t just want to talk about disability. Indeed panel shows require versatility and people have to be well read and briefed on a number of subjects.

But by excluding one of the most important groups from a panel about benefits last night, Channel 5 failed as a broadcaster. Of course, the terminology specially invited audience implies some level of segregation from the outset.

People like Owen Jones, Katie Hopkins and Jack Monroe are panel show veterans. Media appearances are something they do regularly and often. I’m not asking that the able-bodied commentariat is and zapped and rendered invisible from our television screens by Team Disabled. What I would like to see is parity. I would like to see disabled people welcomed into the media sphere and their views sought. Not just on disability but on the multiplicity of issues a globalised world presents.

I would like the media to cast its net wider than the usual contacts book. Current affairs could learn a lot from the soap world in this regard.Coronation Street has the character of  Izzy Armstrong, played with aplomb by the actress Cherrylee Houston. Her disability is incidental compared to the rest of her character. The scriptwriters do not dwell on a disability, but rather they integrate it into her overall character.

Inevitably there would be initial shock at perhaps seeing the sofa in a different position on Sky News to let the paper reviewer in. But that would dissipate over time.

I knew what Katie Hopkins would say. However I did not know what Sue Marsh would say and I feel somewhat cheated because of that.

I am fed up of turning on the television and never seeing myself on it. Perhaps 2014 can be the year that changes. For my perspective is just as valuable as Owen Jones or Paris Lees. Sue Marsh’s perspective is just as valuable too, but programme makers will not realise this until they take a risk particularly producers.

Equally, we need more with disabilities involved in television, radio and journalism. Otherwise, programmes will never be shaped by us either. The input and who crafts it has a dramatic influence on the output. People with disabilities need to be a part of this at both ends of the spectrum, and I certainly want to be.

Also, I saw many friendly photos on Twitter last night after the debate. I was saddened not to see a disabled person in a single one. Producers, widen the scope of your guests on television and radio, and widen the range represented in your specially invited audiences. That will make for a much higher quality, less segregated debate. It is great for those like Paris, who are achieving greater representation for themselves. However, I still feel invisible. Five, four, three, two, one, run titles, and now it really is time for action. Yes producers, I fancied a drink in the pub after the debate as well. Mine’s a Malibu and Lemonade.

Whether people are still scrapping today or not, disabled people were underepresented. Maybe the media as a collective should think about that.

LINKS

  1. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/benefits-row-live-jack-monroe-3111253#.UvE_LGLudfR
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/owen-jones-on-the-big-benefits-row-the-hopkinsisation-of-political-discourse-9106227.html
  3. http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/the-big-benefits-row.html
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A Good Time To Be Trans

Do you know the feeling, when the weather is baking hot outside, and you rush to the fridge to grab an ice cold drink? Alcohol is of course optional. 

Then, you feel the catharsis as the icy cool hits the back of your throat and your thirst is quenched. It has a good effect on your body, and makes you feel good too.

Metaphorically speaking, that is what I feel like about being a trans woman at the moment. I feel  like I have drunk a thousand cold drinks and had my thirst completely quenched.

Of course, this is not to say there is not still work to do. I am, as is every human being, a work in progress. But the fact that my thirst has been quenched for now does not mean that I am becoming complacent. There is work still to do. Therefore, having had my thirst metaphorically quenched, it galvanises me to strive towards my goals.

At the moment, it feels like a good time to be trans.

I think that today, the trans community has much to be optimistic about. 

Lana Wachowski, the director of such iconic films as The Matrix, has today come out as trans. As a sentence in and of itself, learned readers will think, oh well, someone has come out, big  deal. But, let us consider it in context. I would hazard a guess that the majority of people have heard of The Matrix even if they have not necessarily seen it. Therefore, people involved in films in whatever capacity have a massive sphere of influence at their disposal.

The consensus amongst commentators today, appears to be that Lana Wachowski’s coming out will contribute a lot towards trans visibility, that is to say trans people in the public eye just coming out and living life. For my own part, I think it will serve to make the state of being trans and living as trans more acceptable, amongst would be trans people who have been in a state of struggle, and may be contemplating transition, or those of us who are younger and perhaps less able to be our own advocates. It provides hope, and hope can only be a good thing.

Musically, the presence of the trans community is being felt too. This year so far has also borne witness to the coming out as trans of Laura-Jane Grace, lead singer of punk band Against Me!  The fact that it ended her relationship is proof positive, if proof is needed of what being trans is not. It is not fetishistic, nor a choice, nor a phase. It is a life changing, defining, and altogether completely liberating moment in one’s life.

Some people do, but I have not gone between gender roles since my transition in 2005. I am one hundred per cent committed to my life as a woman, as it is the life I yearned and ached for, always.

In the world of broadcasting too, there has been a sea change. The trans predicament seems to be a hot flavour on the tellybox right now. More4, Channel 4’s more longitudinal catch up service, is now re-showing My Transsexual Summer first aired last year. It is capturing the imagination of a whole new audience who missed out on it when it was first aired.

But having the privilege of counting the cast as my friends, I know how much they have all grown and developed in that intervening time. I also know that many others have been touched, encouraged and helped by the sharing of their collective, and individual experiences.

That series was seminal, in making trans acceptable, as well as increasing visibility of us as a part of society, and not some othered fraternity.

A documentary on Ria Cooper too, showed that whilst being trans is not always plain sailing, and people forge their own path based on individual experience, it is possible still to attain and achieve a more authentic life for yourself.

This summer also, BBC Three will break new ground with their slate of programmes focusing on The Body Beautiful unveiled by BBC Three Controller Zai Bennett.

As part of that slate there will be the documentary Jackie Green: Transsexual Beauty Queen charting Jackie’s journey through the Miss England Contest. Now to have a trans woman entering the contest is wonderful. I shall be watching with interest, and would suggest that my readers do so too, of course with an open mind and heart.

Moving away from the wider picture now, I would like to talk about something pretty lovely in my own journey.

As those who know me will know, I am a party girl and do like a drink. I had the lovely happiness of being invited to the 25th birthday of Paris Lees, META magazine editor, trans activist, and lovely person as well.

I had an amazing time, and met some incredible people, and hope to meet them again.  However, I thought about something after I had slept a bit and the hedonistic mist of alcohol had evacuated itself from my brain.

I knew no one else there personally, although I had corresponded with some guests via social media. I began to mull over not only the macro changes in the trans landscape but the micro changes within myself.

One thing I believe in with a passion is writerly integrity. I never bullshit when I blog. If I did my words would have little credibility, meaning and impact.

So why the qualification? I am about to make a bold claim.  This is the sort of thing I would never have done, even with the best coaxing and cajoling available to humankind. When I think about where I could have ended up, possibly in a day centre singing bad karaoke, I shudder I really do.

I used to be ultra scared of going outside. It was a major effort to get me outside and on to the bus to go to Southampton.

A birthday party of strangers would have been unthinkable. I want to say two things here. Firstly, strangers can quickly become friends if you let them. Secondly too, all that was required of me was a change of mindset.

Instead of seeing being trans as a curse, I would rather see it as a blessing and an opportunity. After all, if you squandered it and wasted it, would it not be like flushing a gig ticket down the loo after paying for it? I would also like to see what I can give to people, as well as taking their wonderful support.

So in short, it is a good time to be trans. An opportune time even to bring about everlasting social change. That is to say, trans is for life, not just for Christmas.

We are becoming a visible force, and not only that, a force to be reckoned with too. With views, thoughts and opinions, expressed with eloquence and candour. 

What would I like to see going forward? Mainly less intersectionality I guess. Social movements are at their best, and effect the most change when we speak as one with a united voice.

I would also like more voice and prominence to be given to the thoughts, needs and narratives of those who consider themselves non binary. Their contributions too are valid, and need to be considered too. As a woman with a disability, I understand feelings of isolation only too well, and I think feelings of non binary and intersex isolation do exist.

I am not ending this on a moan. I just think that as the trans community is moulding itself into a really positive animal, the time is right to address these issues, whereas before it may have felt like too big a quantum leap to make.

Furthermore, I would not wish to re-write history or suggest that we in the trans community do not get bullied or victimised any longer. We do. It happens. But I think understanding is slowly beginning to trickle through to the cisgendered population.

In general, we also need to tackle prejudice. I heard a man saying to a woman on the bus this week, that just because he was single, it did not mean he was “queer or nothing”. Now, where did he get the link from and why feel the need to couch queer in a negative way? Sad.

Finally though, I feel society is moving forward. We live in times where trans people are becoming  more visible in the media and in the general social sphere.

So we have a chance to grasp a nettle. The nettle of campaigning, the nettle of greater equality, the nettle of creating, and the nettle of shaping, and bringing greater understanding and empathy of and towards one another.

But above all, do you know what that nettle represents for me? Being yourself, being authentic and being alive.

I long for a time when being trans is no longer tabo0 and pathological. When instead, it is just another facet of the rich and beauty tapestry of life, just like race or disability is. 

It is a good time to be trans, so let us grasp that nettle and grasp it now.

Ria: Diary of a Teen Transsexual – Judgement Day

So last night, Channel 4 screened a documentary entitled Ria: Diary of a Teen Transsexual about a young trans woman, Ria Cooper, about her struggles growing up as a young trans woman on the Longhill Estate in Hull, Humberside. It was described by the narrator as “one of Britain’s toughest council estates”.

We see her highs, and her lows as she navigates her way through the sometimes fickle and inconsistent world of being a teenager. No more and no less.

However this programme followed a very different route to say, My Transsexual Summer. It was gritty, it was honest, and it was tough, and it was annoying, frustrating, and angering, but in the next breath inspiring too. Does it mean that because it sent out a different message to other shows, that therefore it is less valid? No. I think that there is room for every story, and that Ria’s story needed to be told.

Here in this piece, I shall attempt to explain why, and draw some conclusions, as well as addressing the judgements, counter judgements and criticism that has been levelled at Ria.

I want to open by stating an absolute truth. Transsexuality does not discriminate. Transsexuals come in all shapes, sizes, disabilities, colours and creeds. They also come from a wide range of social backgrounds as you might expect. 

Historically, council estates like the one Ria lived on are viewed with some degree of scorn by those who are more privileged. However, they can be in many cases fulfilling and friendly places.

Many of Ria’s friends did accept her, in spite of the fact that their pronoun use was all over the shop. Underneath all that, they supported her aims.

However, council estates can be tough places to group up. They tend to be based, much like the animal kingdom on survival of the fittest and conforming to norms. 

However, being transsexual throws the majority of those norms out the window, so, you have to conform in other ways.

It was a telling point that Ria’s sister I think said that she had never heard anyone in Hull aspiring to be a lawyer or a graphic designer or a lawyer.

For the most part, council estates are microcosms. They become your world, and as such, not having the same cultural capital as people from a more privileged background (though you can gain it later) you get involved in what that world has to offer for a young teenage girl, which was in the case of Longhill, testosterone fuelled boys. All Ria was trying to do was to conform to the social expectations of her world, and what she perceived a girl to be. 

Yes she went about it in a perhaps more exaggerated and clumsier way, but do  not forget she was feeling her round a new, fresh world post transition. We are bound to as human beings make mistakes and we all do it, so we should not sit in judgement on Ria’s mistakes.

I got mixed messages from Ria’s mother and stepfather about the transition process. On one level they seemed to understand, but on another not so much.When Ria’s stepdad was speaking regarding boyfriends and intimacy, I just wanted to gently explain that it was not a boy panicking about someone discovering their trans status, but a girl.

One of the basic tenants of transsexuality is that it is a mismatch between body and brain.

You get so excited and you want to do everything other girls do, including sex and intercourse. Just because your body is mismatched, it does not mean that that registers with your brain. So your brain gets horny, starts thinking nice thoughts and then, oh fuck, I’ve got 99 problems and my d*** might be one.

So what do you do? Do you lie? Or are you honest? It is a difficult judgement call on which way to go here. If you really liked someone you might be scared it would put them off, but on the other you may just want your privacy to be intact.

For me, when this issue came up at the gay club, I told people. But I do feel it created an unconscious division between us. Being lesbians my friends did not feel they could have sex with someone with a penis. Their loss! I think Ria just wanted to feel normal for five minutes, and not be perceived as a freak. It is an inbuilt mechanism in  all of us to crave acceptance and love, and Ria Cooper is no different.

Let me turn now to the issue of blockers and Ria’s money situation. Let me say it like it is, if you have not been in that position yourself, you are in no position to judge.

During the period after the second visit to the Tavistock Clinic, Ria’s life seemed chaotic. But this is what early transition is like. On the one hand you have these medical professionals validating and confirming what you know, on the other you have people trying to re-learn you and make sense of you.

Ria perhaps did not take the blockers because she was not ready to, or was unable to process the consequences of doing so. However that does not in itself make her a bad person. It makes her human.

Cleethorpes I think, saw Ria at her happiest. For her and her friends, it was normal teenage escapism from the humdrum of estate life. And you know, I just knew she was never going to be able to keep to her friend’s no shagging rule.

I knew it was about as likely as the sky turning green, though the physical violence saddened me. I could empathise with her pain of wanting what every teenage girl wants, whilst at the same time, getting there was not going to be a straight, easy or simple road.

I also felt for her as stealth became harder to accomplish, as the full effects of a male puberty were felt. I hated mine with a vengeance, so I know only too felt how it is.

Now let me turn to sex. Yes kids, sex. Across social media today, Ria doing sex work to finance herself has provoked outrage, inside and outside the trans community.

Let me start by saying this right off the bat. Sex is normal, sex is enjoyable, and most of all nothing to be ashamed of.

But what has angered me and I mean really fucked me off, is how nasty and vitriolic and contemptible people have been about it. People have called her a slag, accusing her of giving the trans community a bad name.

Well pardon me but I do not think in any way one person can hold the perception  of an entire community in their hand.That is hyperbole and obfuscation of the very worst kind.

Ria is responsible for herself and her actions. You and I are responsible for ourselves, our actions, and how we react to her actions.

Let me be clear, sex is one of the most basic, primitive desires in humankind. We all need it, and we all want it.

But yet, we seem to go all Dickensian and intellectually snobbish when money is involved, and prudish.Why?

It is no different to sucking your boyfriend’s cock or licking out your girlfriend’s vajayjay. Except there is money, and as Sarah Savage pointed out in her earlier blog, some people may enjoy the sex.

With limited options available, Ria wanted to make money, and make money fast. We all, after all need money to survive.  This seems to be the motif I am left with when I think about Ria’s life; survival in a tough place.

Some of the vitriol that has been directed at Ria is shameful. Sex is after all, a passport to love and affirmation and internal happiness and authenticity. All I think is that Ria has gone via the scenic route to achieve her goals. None of us can know what we would do in her situation, but there is a demand for sex workers otherwise prostitution would not exist. I applaud Ria from the heart for being so honest and candid about her life, truly. What I would like to see is better protection for sex workers to make them less vulnerable, and proper legislation, with the objective of legalisation.

Then enter the vivacious, confident and loveable Paris Lees. She stated that she recognised a lot of Ria in herself and wanted to help. You see, the thing is, when Paris opens her mouth, you know she is doing it from a place of genuineness and honesty. She is a beautiful person who has been there, seen it and done it, and got the Transtar T-shirt y’all. Boom!

She was positive, non judgemental and oozed empathy from every pore.I tell you today, if more people were like Paris and less like the ill-informed idiots who have been abusing the privilege of social media to talk shit, the world would be abundantly better.

For the huge moral stigma around prostitution stink. Prostitutes are seen as scum, along with the homeless and minority groups. We need to change our mindset. Ria is trans. She needs support just like every other transperson. We cannot just support those narratives which conform to our sensibilities, or leave us warmed up like soup on a cold day.

As a community, we have a duty and responsibility to support everyone, regardless of our different backgrounds. What brings us together, namely the trans lived experience is far stronger than what divides us.

Concluding, I thought last night’s documentary was great, and an emotional rollercoaster. The response not so. What we saw in the reactions I feel was a very British response, to a very un-British warts n’all raw documentary.

Yes it struck a very different note to My Transsexual Summer. MTS was celebratory and positive.However, if you seriously think that every trans documentary following it has to be fluffy and rosy and in P!NK’s words Fuckin’ Perfect then you are sadly mistaken. This is because although the trans label unites us, all our lived experiences are different.

Just because one documentary by one production company sent out a very positive narrative, it does not mean that other narratives are then rendered redundant and become excluded. There is room for all narratives.

Any human being with a brain can understand and respect that, and we as the trans community should too. 

All that prevents people from doing so is their own prejudice. I hope over time this will change and people will reflect.

Yes MTS was fab, but it is not the only trans story that needs to be told. However positively we spin things, being trans at times is difficult if you do not have the right cultural capital, the right environment, and the right support, when you need it most. But in spite of adversity, with a true spirit of determination, Ria carried on.

Maybe her story made us feel uncomfortable, angry, sad, or with a bitter taste over our sex work prejudices. But Ria has friends, they pull her through, and because of that she will continue to thrive. Just because the documentary shone a light on a side of trans life we may not have seen, does not mean the documentary in turn should be seen and not heard.

Ria is part of a diverse trans community, and that is something we should celebrate. We cannot just stick our fingers in our ears when a particular diversity mystifies us. We must use it to allow our minds to be broadened, thus allowing education and empathy to take place.

The amount of value judgement I have seen disgusts me to the core. I hope I never have to see it again.

Why? Mainly because I do not live in a vacuum or a glass house and know how it feels to be judged.

Think what you like about Ria, but she is determined and courageous and I celebrate that. In many ways she proves how high transition stakes can be. She had no cushion, nor safety net. Her narrative is valid because she is a valid human being. She therefore has a right to tell her story. I for one am glad she did.

 

BBC Three: Snog, Marry Or Avoid?

Now, before I begin this post, I would like to make the following points. I am not a stereotypical Angry from Manchester, nor a BBC basher, and finally in no way shape or form, a serial complainer.

Nailing my own colours to the mast and being honest, I have done some work for the BBC in local radio, I love the BBC. It is a bastion of creativity and pushing boundaries. It is also very hot 0n inclusion, and being relevant to oppressed minorities, and this is something that people in the BBC are highly passionate about.

They believe in innovation and highlighting important issues, and along with Radio 1,BBC Three in particular believes in presenting issues of importance to other young people.

To be honest as well, I am glad we have the BBC. I would far rather we have democratic PSB than autocractic, Government led state run television.

I spoke when writing about My Transsexual Summer about Channel 4, and BBC Three’s ability to create compelling, and innovative documentaries.

I do not subscribe to the view that BBC Three is trash television. After all, they have handled such subjects as bipolar disorder and coming out with sensitivity, maturity, and integrity. This is what makes the following clip all the more surprising.

Thanks to my good friend Sarah for uploading this clip. How do you feel when you watch it? What emotions are conjured up?

Upon hearing this, my first emotion is surprise. It is only twelve seconds long, but what a televisual timebomb, and what on Earth are the Exec Producer, the Producer and the Director playing at? How would this stand up to scrutiny under BBC Editorial Guidelines and policy?

I was surprised because of the BBC’s good track record in minority representation in general. I would be delighted to hear the rationale for this part of the script, because transsexuality is not even pertinent to the show.

The BBC’s  Editorial Guidelines state that;

              5.4.38

“We aim to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom’s people and cultures in our services.  Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exist in societies worldwide but we should not perpetuate it.  In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc.  may be relevant to portrayal.  However, we should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified.”

As you will see from the part I have emboldened, the BBC have utterly failed to avoid offensive or stereotypical assumptions in this case.

The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines further state that;

5.4.39

“When it is within audience expectations, we may feature a portrayal or stereotype that has been exaggerated for comic effect, but we must be aware that audiences may find casual or purposeless stereotypes to be offensive.”

Again, I am sure you will agree that the BBC has roundly failed here too.

For them there is nowhere to hide. This was not a little F-Bomb the BBC forgot to bleep out. It was not even live. On live TV anything can happen. So therefore you can apologise, and hope it blows over, as was seen on The Voice UK  in respect of Becky Hill.

But this was not live, or as live. Snog, Marry, Avoid ? is pre-recorded and as such pre scripted. I do not blame the voice of POD. I blame the production team, who failed in their duty to check this script against the Editorial Guidelines. Remarkable really since it took me and Google all of five minutes to find them and reach the relevant section on portrayal.

But the fact that this script was waved through, shows me that the production team were well aware of what they were doing. This escalates it from a simple, naive mistake to complicit bullying. There is no other way to describe it.

With v/o’s there are two simple processes, scripting and directing. The producers will have in mind on any show how they want the script to be delivered. It could be as a straight narration, i.e just normal speech, or with certain emotions or characteristics, i.e exaggeration, sadness or sarcasm. Some narration involves saying the same thing in different ways?

It was clear, from the sneering tone adopted by POD, that the programme meant to cast transsexuals as joke figures, as little more than a bad pastiche or over exaggeration of the female form. This is inexcusable, since no two people, with the  exception of identical twins or triplets look exactly the same.

To reduce a minority group to a singular clone is an insult. To further describe them using an unbalanced crop of bad attributes further adds to that insult. All the attributes could be described as relating to all women. Have you ever heard of the term ‘bad hair day’ BBC? I know I have.

What also confirms the programme makers intentions is the deliberate juxtaposition of the contestant’s name Rachel, with a male name Richard. She too is a victim here, not due to being compared to a transsexual, but because the programme makers have allowed her to be used to make this insult stick. She was a pawn in a programme makers game, and she looked visibly shocked and upset. Yes she chose it, but would she have chosen that narration?

However though, there is a cynical, sinister side of this. Some programme makers, and producers love complaints. They give shows the oxygen of publicity, that bit of  edge, talkability, and notoriety.

Some shows even go through stages like that, where shows become known more for their off screen antics than what happens while the show airs.

POD is well known for satire, and this is within the spirit of the show. However, discriminating against a minority group in a crude, wholesale manner is not. You see, discrimination is a slippery slope. Replace the word transsexual with another oppressed minority and the backlash may be far greater. However, that does not make the impact any less.

The Queen of trans activism, Paris Lees has started a hashtag trending on Twitter, to show BBC Three that transsexuals instead of being singular are quite pluralistic and varied in terms of appearance and characteristics as all human beings are. #WhatTranssexualsLookLike is the hashtag you need, microbloggers!

What also was the Controller of BBC Three playing at? This happened on Zai Bennett’s channel, and he needs to take responsibility.

Minorities have a right to watch television, listen to the radio, or indeed browse the Internet without feeling got at, or victimised. That right was not just ignored here, it was trampled on by BBC Three getting too big for its boots, and not following its own Editorial Guidelines.

As I suggested at the outset, this saddens me. I do love the BBC, and it normally has a fantastic record of minority representation. Why allow it to be tarnished by a needless, unnecessary, irrelevant but highly discriminatory error. It is vile.

Would I snog BBC Three at the moment? Erm no! Would I marry them at the moment? No! But would I avoid them, no because they do produce high quality, gamechanging programming.

However, they need to remember that as part of the wider BBC, they are a public service broadcaster. Their target audience are impressionable, and malleable. Do they want to send out the message that bullying and victimising transsexuals is ok?

I hope BBC Three learns a lesson from this, learns it fast, and well, and further hope they never make such a crass mistake again.

Trans Mood Music

Paris Lees was recently interviewed by Stephen Gray for The Pink Paper.I found the interview very galvanising and encouraging to read. In it she talks about launching new trans magazine META, as well as the trans community in general.

But there was one quote in particular, which jumped out at me when I read the piece, as follows.

Tell us, what prompted META magazine?

“There’s a new mood in the trans community and we wanted to capture that, to provide something celebratory and aspirational.”

Then, Paris goes on to say when questioned about her work on Channel 4’s acclaimed series My Transsexual Summer;

You worked on Channel 4′s acclaimed My Transsexual Summer, how do you see the role of trans people in the media developing?

“I think we’re increasingly seeing a younger, louder, less apologetic generation of trans people in the media – and that’s great. There are infinite ways to be trans but we’ve been fed the same tired standard narratives for decades now. The only story that was being told, for about 40 years, was that of the “classic transsexual”, the male-to-female middle-aged misery narrative.

 “Of course, that’s a totally valid experience, which many trans people identify with, but it’s time for some fresh perspectives. Sadly, the media seem more interested in replacing the old standard narratives with new ones: so we get the “pregnant man” trope or the “child transitioner” repeated ad nauseum. These identities are almost always presented as freakish. What we really need now is for happy, healthy successful trans people to stand up and say, Hello world; I’m having a great life – what’s the problem?”


I hope as I begin this piece that I am representative of both the new mood in the trans community, not to mention the “younger, louder, less apologetic” generation of trans people to which Paris alludes. I will come back to this notion of being less apologetic later as I think I will have a lot to say. In this entry however, I want to talk about my childhood in a mismatched outside and inside, the bad mood, also my tentative steps towards transition, the good mood (good in the sense I was doing something about it) and the brilliant mood the present and recent past.

As you will see I have set this entry to music, using a soundtrack I have selected. I advise you to read with headphones or speakers on so you can feel the journey as well as read it. Seat belts on and off we go.

THE BAD MOOD

Creep, Radiohead

On January 17th 1981 a baby was born. They said I was curious to come and see the world. If I had known then what I know now, I would have waited until my due date.

I was born three months prematurely, so it was not exactly an auspicious start to life. I was also born with cerebral palsy which in simple terms renders me unable to walk, but in the present time, I have a real passion and zest for life.

But as soon as I became conscious of the world and my place within it, I knew something was wrong. Yes I played with cars and conformed to the social role of being a boy, but I just did not feel comfortable

Thankfully though I did get some chances to spend time around women at school. Even then though, in an almost millennial landscape, this was frowned upon. I loved my little table of friends at school, but then my tutor Mr G. ruined it for me.

Looking back, I am sure he meant well, and was trying to protect me. But truthfully and honestly you cannot protect somebody from gender dysphoria. The force is too strong, and eventually the truth will out. I just had no inclination to align to my birth sex, nor did I see why I should try.

So why is Radiohead relevant at this point?

Thom Yorke asserts in his poignant, heartfelt, gutwrenching vocal that he’s a creep, he’s a riddle, and he does not belong here. That sums up very neatly how I almost always felt in my pre-transition life. There were even times when I felt that I was trapped inside something that did not belong to me, that is to say, I could not take ownership of myself at this point, nor did I want to.

I just knew, knew, and knew even more that something was not right, and this flamer of knowledge never went out for many years.

The other resonances were the the desire for a perfect body and perfect soul. The perfect body is the simpler one to understand, for me a perfect body simply meant a walking one. A perfect soul on the other hand? How do you swap souls. With the inevitable passage of time, I have learnt that I do not need to, but all that was swirling around me at the time was a sea of confusion and mystery. I listened to Creep ad nauseum. When I listen now it reminds me of how far I have come.


Whilst still stuck in the sea of confusion, this song would have epitomised my feelings.  Founded by the frontman of Slipknot Corey Taylor, Stone Stour were an even darker proposition than Slipknot and their masks.

You see, early in transition, I felt different, and really low and lacking in confidence. Now this song did not come into my life early in my transition but it is frighteningly relevant.

I had better be honest and say that the lyrics I am about to post may be triggering and painful to some, and shocking. I decided to write this entry after someone said to me that people just don’t understand what we go through.

So I feel in writing this I have to, have to be honest. I know some people will be upset by that. But my integrity is important to me.

Of course, a way round that is the classic triumph over adversity trope. This is how I was, this is how I am now, all normally boxed off very nicely into a nice slot for the reader or the viewer.

But everyone has a journey, and it is that in between journey that journalism and the media rarely addresses. The beginning and the end is ok because that warms the cockles of the heart.

But here, I am seeking to tell you, the reader, some of what we go through so you can be better informed, and if you are a trans person reading this, perhaps it will help you.

But initially, taking the song title, “Bother” I did not know why I bothered. I had been in and out of counselling since the age of 16, for emotionally abusive stepfather issues, and for other issues as well. That is what I was really. An issue.

Wish I’d died instead of lived
A zombie hides my face
Shell forgotten with its memories
Diaries left with cryptic entries

Yes there were many times when I wished myself dead, many, and many times when I could see no colour, apart f rom a relentless black. I was sent to the college doctor at 16 with depression for fuck’s sake.

You see, people always rave on about democracy. But there is no such thing as birth gender democracy. There is not.

It does not exist. Which is fine for the cisgendered majority, but for the trans minority. Now you may look at me pejoratively and suspiciously and say, “You’re born how you’re born, live with it!”. 

Why though? That would be my response. Why live with a conflict between soul and body? Why live with crying yourself to sleep? Why live with suppression? Why live with double Jack Daniels at 1pm just to escape when you are at a sporty university and it is not just that you cannot be one of “the lads” because you’re in a wheelchair, as some would have it, but instead it is because you have no inclination, desire, or motivation to be something you are not.

I predict, using the best of my self awareness, that had I not acted on my gender dysphoria when I did, I would not be here now. There were many times when I too wished myself dead.

After all, why live a life that was given to you, rather than one you want to own and nurture? I was living inside a shell with a zombie instead of a human. Every day just seemed like pointless drudgery and tragedy. Why would you want that?

Where even your eyes do not want to be open. Why would you want that?

Another thing I detested was wearing boys clothes. Sorry to the boys, but men’s clothes really do not fit me at all. They are functional rather than fabulous and boring rather than beautiful. There are clothes nearer to the spanglier end of the spectrum, however it just did not sit right.

I think pre-transition, life is very hard and cruel. Mostly, the one piece of stability the cisgendered majority can hang their lives on is their gender. For them, there is no conflict between biology and Sociology. There is a truism here too. Psychologically, people deal with what they can see better.

At school, Mr G could see my wheelchair, but he could not hear the silent screams of gender dysphoria. Interestingly, a point worth making, I had had a lot of respect for him. It is never easy being the new kid, and he helped me to settle in well. But after that, well my respect for him ebbed away.

This trans narrative persisted throughout college and University too, and then came a turning point.

MAN IN THE MIRROR MICHAEL JACKSON

At my darkest time before transition, and at some point during, I knew something had to give. The turning point came when I confessed to C that I felt like a woman. To be honest, it did not exactly seem like a shock to her. So the process of disclosure went from there. It never really felt like changing a man in a mirror. It was more like becoming somebody I liked, recognised and seemed to fit me like a glove.

There’s a fantastic line in the Prologue of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. The narrator sings this.

If you think it, want it, dream it then it’s real. You are what you feel”

That you know is highly relevant to transition. It is a slightly childish sentiment. But a useful one. You have to dream to believe transition can happen for you.  That it is not some external thing, or an unreachable star. It is possible for anyone, if it is a path they wish to go down.

Asking a man to change his ways? Not really. More like allowing someone to fly and be themselves.

SKUNK ANANSIE AND SIMPLE PLAN

The first time I heard Twisted was at college, ad nauseum for two days, blaring from someone’s bedroom after she’d split up with her boyfriend. The strength of both songs Twisted for its pounding unapologetic and uncompromising guitar and lyrics, almost screaming. At my worst I thought Skin gets it, she understands me. Each and every day was hurting and in the world there was only black.

By the time it came to Simple Plan I was self harming. Please be careful reading further if you are triggered. As the skin pours blood, I believe the soul does too. The soul needs to bleed and mourn for the biology it suffered, and feeling physical pain is a way of doing that. But it is the same soul that will spur you onwards to a happier path.

 I want to be clear that being trans is not easy. It is fucking hard. You go through pain, grief, and what seems like neverending sadness. Bodily contempt, hatred, loathing. It feels like you have been made to put on a disguise that does not fit, and you yearn for authenticity of the self, ardently, obsessively and with real longing. It is not a fetishistic whim. Transition for me was a vital process. To the person who said people do not understand what we go through, I hope they do now. That was partly my motivation for writing this post, to get that message out there, uncut and uncensored.

BEETHOVEN’S MOONLIGHT  SONATA

Oooh classical!! Yes I am congruent in every way but perhaps the one thing I am a little secretive about is that I can be a classical music junkie sometimes.

Moonlight Sonata is perhaps the musical equivalent of the misery narrative Paris alludes to in her interview. It has been used numerous times on television to convey feelings of suicide, loss, guilt, grief and hopelessness.

I do not think I am being dramatic when I say that I grieved a lot for my womanhood, which I felt entitled to. I grieved mainly that I was not born with it. But then I realised I could do something about that.

GOOD MOOD

The second major turning point was meeting Tina. I am not going to reference every song from here on in, as I do want people to be able to read the entry before Christmas. Meeting Tina was a huge turning point because I had always wondered why my own reflection was somebody I did not know. She was able to put those curiosities into a non-sensationalist, non-freakish context, and walk with me calmly while my head spun at a million miles an hour with oodles of questions.

I also became stuck for a period of time, and enmeshed in childhood narratives of stepfather abuse. But Tina was kind and patient enough to stick with me through this, but also offer me tough love. Though I was shocked at moving out of candyville, I am glad the tough love happened. It made me a fighter and gave me rhino skin. It enabled me to love myself and to honour and follow my heart, plus make my own decisions.

I also made peace with my disability during this time. Granted, there are times when it pisses me off, as my transition would be easier without another variable, but I live with it.

Another thing I do struggle with is love. I hope I meet someone one day as I have a lot of love to give.

It is the one thing I think would complement my own big and vivacious personality. I know there are people who are much worse off than I am and I try not to complain too too much. However, this is an ongoing struggle.

BRILLIANT MOOD

This is I guess the part of the entry I would term as the present. So how is it now compared to the life of pre-transition? Indescribably and infinitely more wonderful, whole, congruent, colourful and more beautiful. The best thing in the world is to know your own reflection and think actually, in spite of everything, she looks good. 

I had a support network, experienced the LGBT scene, and I am now taking some time out to focus on my own stuff. 

What I feel though, what I can smell is a sense of optimism from the trans community. My Transsexual Summer was a watershed moment doubtless.

It was the very antithesis of the misery narratives Paris alluded to. Rather than allowing their stories to be told, each one  of them told their own. Yes, there were highs and lows, but they are a common feature in the life of every member of the human race, are they not?

Yet, nor were they victims. They were survivors. They are all individuals who embrace the challenges life throws at them  and aim for succes and dream big.

But also, they, like me, believe in themselves. No-one should have to  apologise for being trans. That is the bottom line.

Transpeople, like all people, are unique and special in their own way. But I believe people are beginning to become more savvy. They are learning the lessons of other minority groups. Rather than being spoken for, they are speaking for themselves. Loudly and proudly, and I include myself in that via this blog. Rather than being controlled, they are controlling their own narratives. Rather than being history, they are shaping, and reclaiming their own history.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that for a long time, I did not even want a narrative. Now I want to wake a shape our future in any and every way possible.

The turning point came when I was moaning and bitching about something, and Tina asked me what I was going to do about it? From passive to active in one easy question.  There was no religious-esque vision, and no miracle. But that question changed my life. My life. No one else’s. It was my life to win, and to own. 

I stopped caring what others would think, and began to live, and love living.

If any of this has resonated at all, whether the bad mood, the good mood, or the brilliant mood, I am glad. Even if life seems impossible at the moment, it is not. I used to think it was.

If life is good, I am happy and share in your happiness. For me it has been a battle, and one which is not yet over, but I am glad I came on to the field.

Also, do listen to the songs. The Jason Mraz one is particularly inspiring and like my good friend Hippy Clare, makes a virtue of living in the moment.It even has a hippy drum.

Let me leave the last words with a wise man.

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”

~Harvey Fierstein~