Why TV?

To continue. One of the reasons I was drawn toward agreeing to do the documentary is that its about looking at the day to day in the lead up to grs. That’s a far cry from what I can see as a pretty bad story from the average trans perspective – to wit, the one around coming out.

The bad trans story

Short digression. As a trans woman, I can see very clearly why THAT particular story is one we don’t like. You know the one: Sarah used to be Joe until blah months ago. Then she came out at work and {insert cliché here}: usually, either her colleagues welcomed her, or she got the sack.

Before and after pics of Sarah, with the before looking suitably butch or geeky or stubbly or whatever, and, unless she is very lucky indeed, after pics not looking all that much different. For many, that comes across as a not-so-subtle invite to “go on, have a laugh”. This is trans woman at her most vulnerable.

Pre-hormones, with very little real experience under her belt, the chances are she is going to look like a bad drag act. Not convincing: definitely not passing; and the comments that many papers then let through deepen the humiliation. Can’t remember the worst I got. Think I was described as looking either like the back end of a bus or a truck driver. Charming!

Reasons to be not cheerful

Its worth breaking down the critique of such stories a bit further. One criticism is that papers have great difficulty getting the gendering right and/or they tell the story as one of sex “change” as opposed, say, to gender affirmation. Second – and as above – its highlighting an individual at their most vulnerable and, for others thinking of transitioning, it often highlights the negatives.

It really doesn’t help, if you’re planning to start the journey, to hear a constant diet of how those who went before you lost jobs or partners and/or were assaulted.

Last of all, it puts your past into the public record. Many trans women eventually go stealth, breaking all links to the past. Some know they will do that from day one. Others don’t. But with stories of that ilk out in public, it makes the break all the more difficult.

A more detailed critique

Yes. I can see why such stories upset, infuriate, and generally raise hackles. I do think, though, that we need to raise our game in terms of how we critique them. The language, the mis-gendering. The growing and none-too-subtle use of “a woman with stubble” as a way to pretend that a paper is reporting accurately whilst playing lip service to diversity. That needs to go.

And it is. Partly because the language is evolving, and journalists are becoming more aware. Partly because WE, as a community, are growing and learning. So strike one.

Of the story itself, that’s a harder one. It might surprise to realise that the simple fact of transition really isn’t newsworthy much any more. Its like stories I used to write about lost databases, or police action against photographers. After a while, the audience get bored of them and…the story has to go an extra mile or so in terms of stupidity or outrageousness to tickle the fancy of the average editor.

There needs to be an angle and the fact that, as far as I can see, the angle needs to be increasingly different to make a trans story worth printing, suggests that we are breaking through into public awareness.

Of course, where the angle is little more than mockery, I’d question the decision. But where a trans man or woman loses their job on grounds of being trans, I’d suggest there’s a good reason for reporting – not least because such stories nowadays usually focus on the spanking the employer is going to get for their bigotry.

The right to forget

As for putting stuff out there that will be embarrassing in future. Sadly, this affects the trans community: but far from exclusively. I have been writing of late about the issue of “forgetting” – or vice-versa, how we have entered an age where someone’s youthful indiscretions can lose them job or relationship twenty, thirty years down the line.

That’s the problem. There is now an active discussion about this issue, in Europe (within the EU) and by individuals as exalted as Chirstopher Graham, the Information Commissioner and Baroness Buscombe, the Chair of Ofcom.

People put stuff out into the public domain they later regret. Is the solution to say that no-one may report anything that anyone may subsequently regret? I don’t think so.

Skipping ahead slightly, I know I have shifted. I am pleased that as far as I can tell, this documentary looks at me as me now…without hunting back into my past (hint to Kim: at least that’s what I am expecting).

Right now, I have no desire to deny who I was, not least because my past contains thirty years of academic achievement. But, in filming for the documentary, at one point, a hint of my previous name was about to come up. I stopped. I said no.

I’m not ashamed of having been who I was: but that person is no longer me – and if nothing else, I see no reason any more why HE should get coverage in a documentary that is about me.

jane
xx

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