Tag Archives: transactivism

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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