Tag Archives: Trans Media Watch

Bad News, Russell Howard

Contrary to popular belief I, and my colleagues at Trans Media Watch, don’t actually control the British media. So, when a problem pops up, we just try and deal with it as best we can.

In the case of the now infamous Russell Howard’s Good News sketch, we sent out a condemnatory press release, which was picked up by Pink News.

Many people wrote in to the BBC, and we urged offended viewers to also contact Ofcom. The irony is that, though many people expressed displeasure with the piece, only 34 complained to the television regulator – probably because they thought: “TMW is dealing with it”. Well, we tried, but we still encourage as many as possible to take direct action.

We appreciate that not everyone was offended by the skit. However, a significant proportion of the trans community were, and we were eager to communicate the depth of feeling to the cisgender establishment.

I thought it might be a good idea to get a personal angle from someone affected by the programme – to show Ofcom and the BBC exactly why the trans community objects to this sort of content. I’m sad to say, a grandmother named Doreen contacted me with the just the sort of emotional story I’d been looking for. What made it the ideal case study is also the thing which makes it so completely tragic.

Doreen describes the “traumatic” experience of watching the RHGN sketch: “I was revolted and sickened by the way transsexual people were portrayed.” She adds: “It brought back memories of how this kind of programming had a suicidal effect on my deceased partner and soul mate, who underwent male to female gender reassignment.”

When they first met, her partner was close to suicide, something which Doreen blames largely on the media: “After receiving death threats, her car had been broken into and a noose placed on the dashboard. We were both subjected to constant abuse, often exacerbated by the way transgender themes were portrayed on TV. Most of the programmes we had seen were extremely voyeuristic, and this contributed to the feeling that she wanted to end her life.”

However, that decision was soon taken out of her hands.

“I remember worrying that my partner was not warm enough” says Doreen – of what she thought was an ordinary walk with the dogs. Health issues were a real concern: “She had heart problems and leukaemia and really felt the cold.”

Alarmingly, a man rode a bicycle between the couple: almost knocking Doreen over and resulting in an argument: “He had his fists in her face; trying to goad her into a fight. She was obviously having an angina attack, going blue around the lips and tried to show him the scar from a heart bypass.” His response was cruel: “I know what you want to show me … you want to get a better wig”.

Doreen stood behind the aggressor, asking him to leave. Eventually, after repeated requests to do so, he rode off. Doreen’s partner collapsed into the brambles at the side of the footpath – dying.

The pain stays with Doreen to this day. She says there have been many programmes which had a bad effect on her partner’s life, but that RHGN is worse than anything she’s previously seen. “[These shows] were bad news for us, as we experienced the behaviour of people influenced by such content.”

She now believes it’s time the BBC stopped encouraging transphobic bullying: “These programmes breed a mentality which can cause the type of abuse we were both subjected to”. Doreen, who is not transgender herself, said that children who called her “tranny” in the street didn’t understand what they were saying: “Watershed does not help, because we were verbally abused by children as young as 8 or 9, influenced by what their older companions had seen.”

Her view is that television ‘comedy’ precipitates much of the everyday harassment suffered by trans people and their loved ones: “Programmes such as Russell Howard’s Good News, where exaggerated genitals were exposed, are NOT funny. The result is taunts like ‘I’m a lay-dee’ are now being added to the vocabulary of the abusers.” Unfortunately, Ofcom doesn’t take the issue as seriously – as evidenced by its disappointing response to our complaint. It says the show hasn’t broken any part of its Broadcasting Code.

Doreen is thinking about not renewing her TV licence. “Why should I, when the fee is used to incite low-lifes to violence or verbal abuse towards a minority – who suffer enough without the BBC broadcasting such revolting rubbish?”

For the makers of the show – who defend the sketch on grounds of comedic context – Doreen has a simple final message: “I hope you can rest at night… I can’t.”

Russell, I hope you’re reading this.

*

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No Fear No Hate No Pain No Broken Hearts

I’d also suggest “No lying in bed for a week because you’re so ill,” but sometimes you don’t have much choice.

Maybe it was the stress of helping to organise such a big event. Lowered immunity. Leaving the house in nothing more than a skimpy wee dress and some red lippy… But whatever it was; it knocked me out of action.


Stuck in bed I also starting to get a bit sick of all the negativity coming from sections of the (blogging) trans community. I see where they’re coming from – I’ve certainly not held back on my thoughts regarding 4Thought.TV, in which I appeared. (Well, starred.) But while I tried to stick to constructive, (deserved) criticism of a well-intentioned series, others seemed a bit too eager to write the MoU off completely and, in particular, C4’s good intentions.

I’ve already had a few heartfelt apologies, so I’m really not having a go at anyone in particular. People can say what they want. But I simply must speak up for Channel 4. They should be showered with praise; I’m not ashamed to say it.

Channel 4 – like most of the British media – may be indulging Peter Kay’s transsexual character this weekend, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to turn a blind eye. As Natacha Kennedy points out, changing such a large media organisation is like turning a plane around. And no matter how long that takes, we need to be on board.

C4 put their money where their mouth is. I put their money where my mouth is. I’ve consumed at least three bottles of wine from them.

And this year they also commissioned a groundbreaking piece of research into trans people’s relationship with the media. It’s being worked on by a research company who not only boast impressive professional credentials, but a trans woman employee, who is heading up the project. The research is qualitative – so not some superficial questionnaire.

Yet on Twitter, someone accused TMW of getting into bed with the enemy. While there are many people at C4 we’d jump into bed with (Steve Jones, call me, please – I’m not single, but hey!) we’ve piously remained on the bedroom chair. And anyway, C4 is the friend, not the enemy.

If you’re going to get angry with our fourth channel and its offshoots, you may also want to direct some of that discontent towards Aunty Beeb, ITV and FIVE. ITV were not at the MoU launch, though we are currently in talks with them and hope to develop a stronger relationship in future. The only reason we have one with Channel 4 is because they genuinely do care.

If you’re passionate, write to Ofcom about Geraldine McQueen’s Loose Women appearance this week. Or how about host Kate Thorton, who recently told Jerry O’Connell that his wife was “too beautiful” to pull off her Ugly Betty role as “a woman who used to be a man”. (20 mins in.) I’d love to go on Loose Women and see if Kate would tell me I’m not beautiful enough to be a ‘real’ woman.

Channel 4 is a family. How many times did a well-meaning relative slip up over your new name, or pronouns? How many things have they done which they would be ashamed to think of now? Did that make them the enemy? It made them people who had probably never been confronted with this issue before, taking their own journey. (NB: That’s not to erase the experience of those who have suffered family-breakdown.)

We hope TMW will get to speak with more of the commissioners at C4 – many of whom were at the launch, as that is where we can make a real difference. It’s going to take time. Projects taking root at the moment may not bear fruit till a year from now. That’s how television works. And let me tell you how MoU works. It doesn’t mean “magic wand that gives TMW control over C4”. I can’t just phone up my chums at Horseferry Road and demand to have a repeat of Friends taken off air. I’d love to. But it’s not about retrospectively chastising them for everything that’s been produced before – we know there is a problem: C4 admit this. The focus today and tomorrow is for TMW to educate C4 further and concentrate on improving future content – working with them.

I’m not saying they’re beyond reproach because, believe me, they’re not. But we should be as vocal with our praise as we are our criticism. Where are the blogs praising Hollyoaks? When did you last see a trans man’s struggles portrayed in a soap? And if you hadn’t seen such a storyline before, then neither would the millions of other Hollyoaks viewers – some of whom probably started out from a place of transgender-ignorance.

As we all once did. Indeed, when I met one of my now-best friends, my first question was “Are you a man or woman?” Today, I think that’s completely inappropriate. As Calpernia Addams puts it, if you don’t know, you don’t need to ask.

I’ll add something extra: If you don’t know a better way, you don’t need to tell us our methods are crap. Give us a few years to change the British media and then make your judgments.

In the meantime, look for the positives rather than obsessing over the negatives. There will be more, I’m quite sure, but you can rest assured that C4 are now talking about trans issues in an unprecedented manner. And that can only be a good thing.

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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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Legend in My Living Room

Fluffles. It’s a feeling – one I recently enjoyed after helping an isolated young trans woman connect with a local support group.

I was sceptical about internet activism at first: I wanted to blog, but I didn’t see how this would improve the world. Nevertheless, I carried on, building up a following for the Gender Trust and giving a few trans folks 5 minutes’ distraction from the daily grind. But it was cathartic too, helping me more than anyone.

Then I started looking after the Trans Media Watch twitter feed. I didn’t appreciate how important a tool this could be at first, and was unimpressed by the format. Could anything useful be said in 160 characters, really?

Well, last week a trans woman contacted me after reading my blogs on Facebook. A young parent in pre-transition, she was feeling miserable and trapped by a marriage that prevents her expressing her true gender identity. She loves her family, but knows there is upheaval ahead, and hadn’t had much luck finding anyone trans in her area to connect with. She’d tried one group for trans students, but struggled to fit in and didn’t know where else to turn. (I should point out that I sought her permission to talk about this.)

After contacting me for help, I did a call out on Facebook and Twitter, asking about support groups in Berkshire. Some general suggestions were made, but they were either too far away or not trans-specific, and I started to feel a bit shitty and useless.

Then someone messaged me on Twitter with details about a really low-profile support group she organised – basically around 15 local trans women meeting up fortnightly for drinks and food. Sometimes they go in boy mode, sometimes girl, and for someone isolated, this sort of face-to-face contact can be a lifeline.

3 days later, and my married friend had met the girls and had a great night out, (according to Twitter). Which got me thinking about something I learned at the Trans Media Watch social media course in January: online activity should facilitate and enhance actions in the real world. Obvious, perhaps, when you put it like that, but I hadn’t previously thought of it in those terms.

Yet it’s not the first time that my online networking had influenced the outer world. That very training course in January was held in Kings College following a request made on Twitter for a venue. And last month I picked up on a tweet by Stan Collymore, who was looking for transsexual people to discuss prejudice on BBC Talk Sport following the Andy Gray and Richard Keys sexism row. Naturally, I thought of football enthusiast and trans woman Juliet Jacques.

Juliet seemed the perfect person to thrust on radio and I personally thought she made a great ambassador for the community. Of course, she’s had some practise in the Guardian, but writing skills don’t always translate into articulate speech. It helped that the woman on before her was an idiot who had no problem with the men’s game being so dominant. I thought this comment was particularly stupid: “I wish I was a man sometimes just so I could play. Ha ha!”

Every story has a moral kids (don’t eat giant peaches; oranges are not the only fruit; a man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife) – and this one is no different. Go forth, I tell you, and let your tweets and status updates effect change in the physical world. As well as the virtual one we’ve all come to love so dearly.

SONG IN HEAD WHILST WRITING: Read the title. I repeat the most recurrent lyrics:
“Now everyday, on a dead end street, is where I spend my time,
The dust has been collecting, on the corners of my mind,
But I shed my tears, in bitter drops, until the thorn trees bloom,
To take the spiky fruit, to crown myself the Queen of Doom.”

LAST MEAL: Cheese and bacon sandwiches, with brown sauce, consumed around 6.30am, after staying up all night.

LAST EYE CANDY: Derek Jarman’s Jubilee

Paris x

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