Whilst I try to keep this blog focused on the creative world, it is impossible to ignore and not speak about another big passion of mine – campaigning and awareness. Even if you have no interest in such things, please continue reading, because you should take an interest.
This week marks anti-bullying week and transgender awareness week – two totally different topics being widely spoken about on social media, but more closely connected then ever before. Since the US election, my social media feeds have been filled with concerned LGBT folk and their allies showing support and defiance. The problem goes way beyond this – whilst I generally live in a liberal bubble, we are nowhere near being a prejudice-free society… not even close. Not as close as the average person thinks we are.
[you can get involved by donating to organisations like ‘Ditch the Label’]
Last night Channel 4 aired the first part of their docu-series ‘Kids on the Edge’ with ‘The Gender Clinic’, featuring 2 children and their families. The kids were both completely different, one being autistic and unsure about their gender (Matt/Matilda), the other being confidently ready to transition (Ashley), but both visited the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust (a gender identity development service based in London) to explore their genders with their mothers. This kind of groundbreaking documentary has aired at a really important time – the doctors state that referrals increased form 40 to 1400 in just 1 year – and children who speak out about their gender concerns are becoming more and more frequent.
What concerns me (and the parents of trans* kids) are the thousands of people all over the world who criticise these documentaries, claiming that they’re “damaging” and “abusive”, which in turn has created an illogical, ill-educated hysteria by presuming facts about blockers (and other medical procedures available to trans* people) and the concept of gender itself. Hysteria is what created the social construct of gender in the first place… These outcries to “save the children” can only be due to a desperate lack of knowledge – something that Channel 4 has been trying to change for years. Recently, the BBC followed in their groundbreaking footsteps by releasing a CBBC series called ‘Just a Girl’, which follows Amy, a fictional 11-year-old girl:
Amy has a secret and she’s scared that it will come out at her new school. Follow her as she tries to make sense of the world and not lose her friends forever.
That synopsis from the CBBC website is pretty ‘face-palm’ itself, and could do with some less scary, “this child is damaged and her life could be ruined because she’s really a boy” vibes. I’m surprised they didn’t slip in the old “born in the wrong body” line.
Anyway, last month The Mail on Sunday sparked a huge backlash with its front page story using the unbearably offensive and bigoted phrase “sex change” (please don’t ever use that term) to describe how “parents are angry that the show…features a transgender storyline inappropriate for their children”. Tory MP Peter Bone also said the show is “completely inappropriate” and wanted to write to the BBC to demand they remove it.
Co-editor of the ‘Conservative Woman‘, Laura Perrins, also claimed that these shows “normalise, trivialise and glamourise” transgender issues (because she’s so in-touch with this topic) and even stated that it encourages children to change their gender. Whatever you do, do not allow children to be themselves, god forbid!
A very poignant comment made by Perrins is that she believes the CBBC programme is an “unbelievable piece of propaganda targeted at children”… do you feel history repeating itself?In 1983 papers like The Mail influenced Section 28’s passing, consequently banning the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools, which in turn scared teachers out of discussing homophobia and therefore doing nothing about bullying. It wasn’t that long ago that the same tabloids mentioned above frequently linked gays with the spread of HIV and paedophilia – a notion that we now see as absurd and archaic. In 1986, Tories even distributed leaflets claiming that “You do not want your child to be educated to be a homosexual or lesbian”, and The Telegraph warned readers about “a deliberate attempt to molest the sexual education of children”. I cannot believe this all happened only a decade before I was born. This was shortly followed by outrage and campaigning, leading to the overall (I say that with a pinch of salt) positive portrayal of gays and lesbians on TV and in the media nowadays. We still have a long way to go, but Section 28 was repealed in 2003.
Now, it has become apparent that trans* folk have been left behind. The parallels between homophobia in journalism and transphobia in journalism is astonishing. LGBT charities and organisations were trashed and attacked, just like The Mail did on Mermaids when they publicly attacked the UK’s only charity for families with kids who are trans*:
Last week it emerged that Mermaids had been supporting a mother who was found to have caused her son ‘significant emotional harm’ by forcing him to live as a girl.
She had the boy removed from her care by a judge after he found there was ‘no independent or supportive evidence’ that the seven-year-old wanted to be a girl.
He said the boy, who now lives with his father, had been ‘pressed into a gender identification that had far more to do with his mother’s needs’ than his own.
Since then, activists (Fox Fisher accumulated over 8k signatures on change.org) have fought back as the ruling was so unjust, and the judge was entirely unacceptable in the use of outdated and inappropriate concepts of gender to justify removing a child from their mother, and demonising the mother consequently. This outcome would never happen now with a gay child, but probably would’ve happened 30 years ago. So why on earth haven’t we “moved with the times” for the trans* community?
Just like parents were accused of polluting gay kids’ minds, parents of trans* kids are facing the same backlash. What is so bizarre is that people out there genuinely believe these children are choosing to feel this way, which is something they certainly wouldn’t claim if they bothered to watch documentaries like ‘The Gender Clinic’.
One of the most upsetting scenes I’ve ever seen on a documentary about trans* kids is by Louis Theroux, which showed a very young (possibly 4-years-old) trans* girl who continuously tried to cut her penis off because she simply knew, undoubtedly, that her body was incorrectly correlating to the sex she was assigned to at birth. No parent (unless they are mentally unstable) would ever want to see their child in that state. Scientists claim that around 4 years of age is when we start to develop the concept of gender, and we are hearing more and more that children are speaking out and telling their parents that something isn’t right with how they feel about their gender.
Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids spoke about the CBBC show:
The writer for this series did a lot of work with Mermaids parents and young people to make sure that he represented the challenges that children and their families face. The horrific headline detracts from a wonderful series that has been well received as educational and empathic.
No parent would choose this path for their child. And teaching children about trans issues is important. Education is key to understanding every aspect of life. It’s not on mainstream television and only accessible through CBBC website, therefore it is not thrust upon those not wishing to see it.
I would like to see more education around trans issues across the board. Maybe then we will see less hatred and prejudice, and can begin to celebrate the fact that everyone is different.
[donate to ‘Mermaids’]
I couldn’t have said it better myself! Education is key. This is particularly critical at a time where suicide and murders of trans* folk are on the rise. This should not be happening, but simply not enough people care. Most people love a good gay pride parade, a cheeky night out to G.A.Y and aren’t shy to call out homophobia, but very few people speak out about transphobia. I don’t know why.
Is it a lack of empathy? A lack of knowledge? Is it fear of the unknown? Are people too busy to care about what doesn’t directly affect them?
Another bizarre claim is that young children are being given irreversible drugs with little studies or tests. This is absolutely untrue – GRS (genital reconstruction surgery) is not offered to trans people below the age of 18 and puberty blockers only delay puberty so that kids have time to think about what they want. Instead of claiming that these “drugs” are dangerous, why don’t papers like The Mail write about suicide, bullying, self-harm and all the awful things trans* kids are subject to in a heteronormative, transphobic society? Why do people assume that young children are incapable of making emotional decisions about themselves?
I don’t have the answer to any of the questions – I don’t think anybody does. All we can do is open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to make those who don’t fit into gender norms feel authentic, comfortable, happy and loved. Change is now.