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.