For the love of Channel 4…

Tenancy agreement renewed today: must be a week for signing documents. One year ago, exactly, I was packing, prepping and pooing myself ahead of the big move to London. (Pronounced emphatically as “Lun-den” round my hometown; which isn’t London, but Nottingham.) 24 hours ago, approximately, I was introducing the Coalition Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Equalities, Lynne Featherstone, at a glitzy and groundbreaking gathering of media producers, political figures and the country’s top trans activists. There were more MBEs and OBEs than you could shake a stick at and a bit of Hollyoaks glamour for good measure. Par-tay is not the word.

From left to right: Lynne Featherstone MP, Jennie Kermode, TMW Chair, Paris Lees and Head of Creative Diversity at Channel 4, Stuart Cosgrove.

But even more surreal than hosting a do with such an impressive guest list was the fact that we should even be holding it at all. Sure, it’s superexcellent (that’s definitely a word) that Channel 4 is on board with the Trans Media Watch Memorandum of Understanding. But isn’t it rather odd we need to campaign for the aims it promotes?

Accuracy. Dignity. Respect. Three journalistic principles which should be upheld in all forms of media production. You’re not meant to mock people because they’re different, and it’s rather poor form to report inaccurate facts and figures. It’s illegal. As ascending human rights lawyer David Allen Green notes, the invasion of trans people’s lives is more than simply a trans issue: it is a human issue. If a person has an operation on a part of their body, then that is a private matter between them and their health professional – not a news story.

I feel like a broken record saying this sometimes. I mean it’s simple huh? We don’t go around discussing other people’s genitals do we? You’d never catch me doing that, not even to make a political point through allegory.

Campaign groups from around the world have contacted TMW with messages of support telling us we are a model for their own activism. Our method is to work with and not fight the media. I asked Christine Burns at the MoU launch if she shared my feeling that something momentous was taking place. She should know. She agreed it was zeitgeisty; there was electricity in the air.

We’ve had bags of support at TMW. That’s why I know our message is a strong ’un, needs to be said – and it’s brought the trans community together like nothing I’ve ever seen. We’ve been working with Mermaids, GIRES, the Gender Trust, FTM London, the LGBT Excellence Centre, Christine Burns MBE, Roz Kaveney… and it turned out last night that some of these allies aren’t just little rectangles on my laptop, but living, breathing organisms. Ones that drink wine.

I love Channel 4. I grew up watching lesbos on Brookside; Ellen’s big coming out big party, Graham Norton being filthy on Friday nights. I just adored the voiceovers on shows like Equinox and Dispatches and seeing Nadia Almada win Big Brother 5 was a huge turning point in both my life and that of a close friend. It was the first time we’d seen a trans woman presented as a normal person on television and it revolutionised our perceptions of transgender people. I started to consider transition as a viable option. “I could still go to the shops,” I told myself. I could go to college. I could have friends, family; remain a functioning human being. Astonishing.

When I was little, my only knowledge of trans people was these men in wigs who’d occasionally turn up for everyone to laugh at or ridicule. Or incredibly alien beings in tired old ‘poor-tranny’ documentaries: the ‘brave’ ones sitting in hospital beds waiting for all-important surgery. Where did these people live? What shops did they go to, where did they buy milk? I just couldn’t answer those questions. The people concerned seemed so strange and far-removed from anything I’d come into contact with that the thought of actually meeting someone like them was inconceivable. So much so, I didn’t make the connection between their experiences and my own deeply-felt conviction of being female.

Well things are changing folks – it’s the only thing one can ever be sure of. You’ll always have idiots who think it’s OK to call someone a paki, or whatever current racial slur. Queer bashings still happen. But we’ve come a long way since the 60s and 70s. True, you could leave your door open back then and if someone happened to be passing by, well you’d ask them in for a cup of tea – so long as they weren’t black, bent or barmy. But in 2011 life is measurably better for many sexual and ethnic minorities, and the same progress can be achieved for the trans community.

We’ve met some great folks at Channel 4, people who really care about getting this issue right. And if nothing else, Head of Creative Diversity, Mr Stuart Cosgrove and his plucky wee assistant, Caroline Cawley, are great at organising canapés and flowing alcohol – nuff respect. Don’t imagine you’ve seen your last dressing-table scene though. And I’ll be a long time dead before transphobic violence and bullying disappear altogether. But our collaboration with Channel 4 is an historic step in the right direction – don’t you think? In big fat fuck-off fuck-me heels. Naturally.

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4 thoughts on “For the love of Channel 4…

  1. The PFC web site is down at the moment; otherwise I’d reach for historical references to pieces I wrote in the past to mark similarly momentous milestones:

    Having one’s campaign discussed for the first time in Parliament in 1995 — winning our first European Court judgement in 1996 –delivering a 10,000 signature petition to 10 Downing Street in 1997 — getting a Minister to make a policy move because of a Soap Opera wedding in 1999 — watching your legislation voted into law from the gallery in Parliament in 2004…

    Those are times where you just keep wanting to pinch yourself because you know that, whatever else happens, what you do tomorrow has been redefined by what happened today.

    And, yes, I can tell you that Monday 14th March 2011 was one of those.

    Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone described it as a ‘game changer’. I may disagree with her on other things, but I’d say she was on the money with that.

    Congratulations to you and everyone on the team at Trans Media Watch. You really know how to make a splash.

    All the very best for the future.

    Love Christine

    Spirit in the Wires
    by Christine Burns

    Disembodied, the disenfranchised
    File away their chains online
    Forging new links, stronger, wider
    Outlaws in the flesh combine.
    Souls connect with souls, and reason,
    Stretching out in space and time,
    Synaptic impulse, becomes magnetic,
    Electric purpose forms a line.
    Stronger now the souls, united,
    Challenge status so, in time,
    A people once imprisoned, frightened,
    Walk free of stigma, absolved of crime.

  2. Helen Wilson says:

    Undoubtedly this will change the game, its sort of like Crawley Town going to Manchester United and winning.

    I look forward to watching games ahead.

    Helen
    ~X~

  3. look below says:

    you are changing something. fantastic. thank you.

  4. jay stewart says:

    Hi Paris, was good to meet you the other day. Really looking forward to working with you for our Trans Community Conference on 22nd July. just reading through your blog. fab work! it’s such a shame I missed the launch at Channel 4. it would be great if you could come and visit our trans youth group. Our members would love to hear about your work and TMW

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