Trans summer comes to autumn

OK. It was funny, moving, affectionate and a whole host of other positive things. I very much warmed to the seven men and women who populated last night’s first installment of C4’s “Transsexual Summer” and suspect that by and large it can only do good for the trans community.

(I also have personal reasons for watching: a compare and contrast between this effort…bouncy, high-spirited, full of life…and the much more sober documentary i took part in earlier this year. Due to air some time soon, but not exactly sure when).

After what seems like an ice age of frozen immobility, things are suddenly moving very fast on the media front – stand by for the imminent arrival of Jackie Green! – with trans topics shifting rapidly from freak show, to mainstream to – possibly 18 months hence – surfeit (and boredom).

I don’t object. The landscape is shifting and in a year, two years, i think the public perception of what it is to be trans will have changed irrevocably and for the better. A lot more will be understood: more importantly, trans issues will no longer be “out there” in some awful tranny ghetto…but at very least understood in outline by a much larger chunk of the British people.

There are nits to pick…which i am now going to do…but don’t let that detract from what i think was a very very good result indeed.


First up is the way the whole “trans thing” gets simplified. Guess that’s inevitable – but hope it doesn’t create an impression amongst the casual viewers that its all jollity and girly partying with the occasional break for tears.

Ah yes: there was surgery…which some tweeters assumed to be pretty much it. Oh no. There’s the months and months of recovery. The dilation. Not to mention further transition and physical changes.

Good that it was shown: bad if some people now think that’s “all” there is to it.

Structural dynamic

The twittersphere contained various constants: sexist comment on how unfeminine Sarah looked (a horrid thing to tweet…), plus criticism of all the trans women for not looking “like real women”.

We-ell, these are in many ways “early days” trans women – even Drew and Karen. And Karen would have been off hormones in the run-up to her op.

But there is an underlying issue here, maybe just a moving on of something that trans folk in general object to, which is the media obsession with “before” and “after” pics. Oh yes: I get why…because two pictures make the story. Its just that many find it abjectly humiliating.

No. We’re spared that. But in the process of getting to “know” trans folk better, the public are now tuning in to those who are out, but not fully transitioned. Real prob there: because if you did a documentary on a bunch of fully transitioned folk…you’d mostly be looking at people who look like ordinary men and women. Big deal!


This was tricky – and underscores how diverse trans folk are. Some bods objected these were white, young-ish, etc., etc. and i did feel the latter ever so slightly. The prog was an eye-opener for me, seeing how the other (trans) half lives…and i don’t just mean the trans guys.

And yes: i am intensely jealous of those who have managed to find themselves at such an earlier age.

The t-word

We-ell…one link to andrea’s blog sort of says it all. I don’t altogether agree: equally, though, i think it may now be difficult to put that term “back in the box”. Yes. Various tweeters pointed out that we (trannies) get to say the word, as black people get to say the n-word.

However, i think that pushing that point now is as likely to create backlash as anything else. Own goal? Maybe. Maybe not.

Public reaction

This was mostly good. A vile piece in the Telegraph by twit of the week Michael Pilgrim. Otherwise mostly positive – including the Grauniad review, which some trans folk has suggested wasn’t. Dunno. I felt it was. Its a TV column, fer chrissake. Er, TV = television!

I’ll pass on the really gross decision by someone (at C4?) to advertise this in the Evening Standard with an ad headed “ex-men”.

Twitter was also pretty good. I’d say the bulk of tweets on the #transsummer trend were positive, with the usual sexist stuff about looks, can’t believe it, and a collective crossing of legs by male tweeters when the surgery was shown.

Just one seriously vicious note from a guy posting as jonny weatherley (who has since removed his account) suggesting people should lock the guests in the house and firebomb it. Still thinking about response to that: he has messaged me to apologise…though not 100% sure its genuine.


Last up: was this salacious, voyeuristic, etc., etc. ? Well of course it was. That’s what TV is for. Amused therefore to note that whilst sometimes condemning the cis public for obsessing about trans “stuff”, it felt like the entire UK trans community were tuned in last night, poring over every last detail.

Smiling? Much.

This was a good programme – first of four – and i am now hooked and very much looking forward to next week’s episode.



15 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Tea said,

    Here in the USA, I want to see this… how? I am on a GLBT film festival committee, maybe for next year we can access it that way?

  2. 2

    Christine Beckett said,

    Response to the fire-bombing suggestion?

    Pass it to the police.

    It could be seen as incitement, and puts the poster in the same category as those folk who “attempted” to organise riots using various social networking sites.

    Since those guilty verdicts, the law is now clear on such actions.

    I dare say that’s why the chap tried to “apologise”.


  3. 3

    It would be nice if ‘Firebombing Man’ is held to account as those two who were given FOUR years for words said on FB during the riots were..otherwise it is one rule for one group etc….

  4. 5

    Liz Church said,

    The “Ex Men” ad ran in the Scottish Sun. I have a copy for evidence. I think C4 should explain themselves. The trailers and voice-over carried some of the old demeaning attitudes.

  5. 6

    Sophie said,

    I haven’t watched it…mainly because, channel 4 being what it is nowadays, I was expecting some godawful exploitative crap.

  6. 7

    Shirley Anne said,

    I read that article by Mr Pilgrim and agree with you wholeheartedly. The man’s an idiot. The problem with some journalists is that they feel they have to put their opinion to the fore instead of presenting an unbiased report. This sort of reporting should be stopped. I quite like what you’ve written Jane, perhaps you should apply for his job!
    I thought the program was well presented but recognise that not everything was explained as perhaps it should have been but maybe that will come later.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  7. 8

    How could anyone possibly think that a parade of air headed rather needy people are a good representation of the transsexual experience? I watched about 15 mins and found myself hoping that my parents weren’t watching this programme.
    It is clear not only from the rather ignorant people/victims characters that they were hand picked using Big Brotheresque criterion. I know at least 10 successful transsexual people I would be proud to be associated with but as anyone who ignored 20/20’s touting for victims will know they deliberately rejected anyone who did not fit their needy gibbering victim criterion. The constant deliberate confusion between gender and physical sex just compounded the propaganda element along with the constant use of the ‘trans gender’ term. ‘Changing their gender’???????? I heard this phrase used a couple of times, I could save a fortune if I pull that one off. Glad most people are happy that 20/20 are doing exactly what they did for gypsies for transsexual people.
    To sum up, this piece of **** (insert appropriate expletive) made me, for the first time in years, feel ashamed of being what and who I am. If anyone thinks that this is a good thing you are obviously lacking in the humanity department.

  8. 9

    kathz said,

    Not being trans, I’m not well-qualified to comment on aspects that might have caused offence. Given Channel 4’s record, my expectations of the programme were low. However I warmed to the individuals in the programme and the way that, despite different experiences and backgrounds, they supported one another. I thought these were people I’d like to meet and have a chat with. Unlike Sophie, I didn’t see them as victims but as pretty strong people who were finding the way they wanted to live and living accordingly. I also assumed they had lives away from the house which would include the usual range of relationships, friendships,.jobs (or, these days, unemployment) and opinions on a whole range of other matters. I hope that the programme does change public perceptions – obviously this will take time and there will be lots of mistakes along the way but I hope we’re on a road towards equality at least.

  9. 10

    It would be great if there was a follow up program a few years down the road, or an episode interviewing people 5 or 10 years after their transition, so non-trans viewers could understand how boringly ordinary we become.

    I also wish there was a way to publicise the responses of people like “johnny weatherly” and the hate crimes that do occur against us – not to make us out to be pitiable but to educate the public that there are issues with how people see gender non-conforming people. Every time we fight for little civil rights – like non-discrimination bills – these strange people come out of the woodwork to say how dangerous and immoral equal rights for us would be.

    Being in the states I too hope for a way to view this – I am most impressed with the reviews so far.

  10. 13

    Hi Kathz, publicly I’m reading mixed reports but privately I have received quite a few emails from women living their lives and not wishing to make a public spectacle of themselves for the benefit of C Fail and 20/20, who are a slightly more classy than the bottom feeding Current TV.
    I know this is all irrelevant to people who are not transitioning or trying to simply live their lives as valid women but, and it’s a big but, these arrogant reality TV wannabes seem oblivious to the damage they are inflicting on others.
    To try to explain…
    I have had little or no contact with my family for years, in fact since I told them I was beginning my transition. Over the past few years I have been carefully and delicately trying to rebuild my relationship with my family. Up until this show, it’s not an informative documentary, things were going well. The night after it aired I spent an hour on the phone to my Mum who is in her 70’s reassuring her that I was happy and my live bore no resemblance to the needy exhibitionists portrayed in the offending article. Right or wrong they have interfered with things which directly affect others lives for their 15 mins of fame and one day they may actually need the help of successful women who as far as the feedback I have received, they have alienated and lost the support of forever.
    Consensus among the women I know is that none of us wanted to be born transsexual and certainly don’t want to be defined by this. We are women not a circus side show.
    Another quick example which has just sprung to mind I’d like to share is…
    I went for for an assessment for facial surgery earlier this year with a well known specialist surgeon (There is no effective UK option for this BTW). I was offered a nearly £1,000 discount if he could use before and after pics. Now I am not wealthy, indeed I struggle to pay for my treatment but the thought of pictures of me before surgery on the internet. Not a chance. It is sometimes hard to express to others but I simply don’t want to be reminded of what came before.
    Do I hate the MTS cast. I don’t do hate but contempt for their stupidity, arrogance and selfishness. I know it won’t be me who will extract the revenge they will receive. It will be the usual backlash and subsequent regret almost everyone who has ever been crass enough to do what they have done receives.
    To many of the silent majority our transition is a private and personal thing. It comes down to how people with a transsexual history want to represented in the media and I’d prefer, if I have to be, to be represented by sane, well balanced, happy and successful men and women not a bunch of gibbering, needy and pathetic misfits.
    This is my life and I don’t like people who make me look stupid.

  11. 14

    kathz said,

    Hi, Sophie,

    Thanks for replying and for your explanation. I can now see more clearly why this must be crappy for you. I never assumed that the people on C4 were representative and also, importantly, assumed that the TV had done it’s usual job of selecting certain aspects of people’s behaviour and conversation for the sake of successful TV. However I don’t want to condemn or sneer at those who made a choice you wouldn’t make – to appear on the programme. They may have had all sorts of motives, from showing people who feel isolated by their experience that they are not alone, to encouraging tolerance and even to having assistance with the costs of treatment (I gather from Jane’s blog that not everything necessary is available on the NHS). Perhaps my response also suggests I’m not very “classy” myself; although I have a professional career my working-class origins may mean I simply feel comfortable with kind working-class people, whose exuberance may make you feel less comfortable. I assume you would agree that how people deal with their transition and transsexual history is their choice; it’s a great shame that prejudice and public attitudes make the question so difficult or that the actions, attitude and behaviour of some individuals is held to be representative of all. I hope this will change. I remember how, thirty years ago, gay friends debated the “damage” done to them in public perception by camp behaviour and I hear less of that debate today now that being gay is less a subject for anguished debate (though I know perfect equality has yet to be achieved).

    I’m not a great watcher of Channel 4 or any TV these days and perhaps am not good at picking up signals about contemporary culture. However having seen early episodes of the appalling treatment of working class families in Wife Swap and about five minutes of the disgusting racism of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, I have at least a little sense of how very bad Channel 4 can be – so unlike its pioneering early days. I caught this just by chance – channel-hopping when unwell and unable to read – and watched fearing it would be terrible in the same way.

    Meanwhile I hope your relationship with your family continues to grow despite setbacks. I assure you that what I saw on TV were to me seven individuals who I happened to find likeable but who, in my opinion, stood for no-one but themselves. I hope that one consequence of the stereotyping I’ve experienced enough stereotyping in my life is the knowledge that individuals do not stand as representatives of their gender, class, race, sexuality or experience.

  12. 15

    Lucy said,

    Have really enjoyed this programme. It’s an area I’ve never really given much thought to before. I’m astonished at the discrimination faced on a daily basis; but incredibly proud of the boys and girls taking part. What a fabulous bunch of people.

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