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The Story of Transgender Zone

samtz1bub1Hatching Transgender Zone

“A group of friends just trying to help people.”

by Samantha Johnson – Founder.

 

Before I begin I must thank all those that have contributed, moderated and supported what we have done over the years. And many can be found here: http://forum.transgenderzone.com/viewforum.php?f=44

 

Boiling the Egg!

It was 1995 when I walked into my GP after returning from France. I lived there for a few years and before that, Spain (Long Story). Mainly renovating houses and bumming around windsurfing.

I sat down and said, “I want to be referred to Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic Please! The reason I knew this existed was because I had watched television, and on an episode of Kilroy (‘the’ studio debating show of the 90s) mentioned it. Of course long before that was Julia Grant. I remembered she went there to. But for her it had not gone so well – I hoped things had changed by now.” When told, the GP’s eyes bulged a little, but he was a good GP and he kinda was tickled a bit by it all and enjoyed learning about all this. However back then just getting funding for this ‘sort of thing’ was let’s say, ‘difficult’ to say the least. ‘The Gender Recognition Act’ was 10 years away, The Judge’s Ruling that stated the NHS must pay for GRS was still many years away. Legislation protecting transpeople in the workplace was still on the drawing board.

rescar8And thus begun a 2 year struggle that almost lead to a Judicial Review, before the Health Authority backed down and paid up! So when you think you struggle today just spare a moment for me and others like me back then. This was where I first contacted Press for Change, a group that had just recently been formed and were eager to use political and legal means to effect change. This was exciting stuff. I felt put upon politically, and was really at my lowest ebb. What did I have to lose? I contacted them and Alex sent me a pile of photocopied posters, booklets and documents. I, like many who supported them went about utilising this to educate local authorities and the Police. The new ‘Metropolitan Guidelines’ on Trans people were brand new. And local police had not heard of them!

From time to time the PFC Newsletter/booklet would drop on my door mat explaining what needed to be done next, and what to tell my local Member of Parliament to do. ‘Early Day Motions’, ‘White Papers’ and more! Things were moving apace, and it felt good to be part of that.

Press For Change

Press For Change did fill a void for me, like many young people I was ‘angry’ and felt put upon ‘by the man’, and protested – I was even drawn into the ‘Section 28′ farce. But I was looking for something more, and something social. The way things were done back then was with dial-up internet (which I was yet to obtain), telephones, FAX machines and electronic typewriters that could save to floppy disk were still the order of the day for me.

I was young, and wanted a bit of social life. I wanted to meet others, at least to see ‘another trans person’.

I had grown a bit weary of living vicariously through television programmes, and archiving them for reference purposes. Now in hindsight rather ironic when we look at where that has lead me/us today.

The Beaumont Society

The year is 1998 and I (Samantha Johnson) had just written a letter to the Beaumont Society after finding their contact details at the end of a television programme about transgender people.

“IF YOU HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY ANYTHING IN THIS PROGRAMME THEN CONTACT THE BEAUMONT SOCIETY ON [ENTER TELEPHONE NUMBER].”

This sounded like a good idea, I had heard of ‘Transformation Shops’ but this was not what I was looking for at all! I had just moved back from France to a new area and felt relatively isolated. I didn’t expect much of a reply, if anything at all. Then after a week or so I received a letter back from their then Executive Secretary, Helen Jones. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship that neither of us could have imagined 16 years on.

She explained that the Social Support Group she attended met at a pub near Colchester called ‘The Fox and Hounds’, it was off the beaten track and a Gay venue. But opened its doors to a transgender support group on Wednesdays; this is often referred to as Darts night in straight pubs and a mid-week filler (quiet) for the businesses. The group called ‘Foxy Girls’ was run by 80-year-old Mary Johnson. A Transgender woman who had the energy of an 18 year old! I was in my 20s and must admit I was a bit scared to go. But took my mother along for support. She was an ex-dancer, and choreographer and loved anything ‘camp’, having worked with so many gay and trans people in theatres over her life – this was old territory for her.

I arrived there, and parked up. I watched as tall elegant women walking into the pub. We looked at each other as if to say, GULP! “Well here goes!”

We entered the pub and at the bar were a line of women. We were a bit lost I suppose, glancing about for Helen who had promised to be there as a friendly face to introduce me, was nowhere to be seen. And then she noticed us immediately; this elegant woman turned around and said, “Samantha?” “Erm yes?” I said,” She held out her hand, “I’m Helen”, she introduced herself to my mother and asked what we would like to drink, and so began my non-alcoholic beer appreciation of Kalibur.

Over those trips we all spoke about many topics, but one came around quite often and that was the internet and the ‘Beaumont Magazine’, Helen was Editor of that too at the time.

I had worked for the press in the South West as a photojournalist and had written for numerous travel magazines when in Europe so felt I could contribute.

The Beaumont Magazine

I started out just writing about anything on my mind, ‘Sam’s Cynical View’ (nothing changes) was one column. But it was not until 1998 that I had some real scoops. Dana International had just won Eurovision, Campaigning for Press for Change was peaking and now I was on good terms with my MP. I was now friends with many of the Beaumont Society ‘movers and shakers’ including the then President and television Regular Janett Scott. Helen was turning out a good product with the Beaumont Magazine. So I went for it it. And here linked are just two of the scoops of that time.

http://library.transgenderzone.com/?page_id=2487

I was now attending the Charing Cross Gender Clinic, 3 North Fulham Palace Road. It was located at the main hospital 3rd floor. There I met a young Clinical Associate by the name of Dr James Barratt. Who is now Head of Clinic – more on that later.
But I wanted to do more. I had owned computers in one form or another in my teens from Amstrad CPC464s to Spectrums. But they were clunky and hard to programme. In the late 90s I could see the way the wind was blowing and had to learn about Office and Windows. So took adult education classes. I then bought a cheap PC, dial-up modem 56k, 4.2GB, 256 RAM. I purchased a student edition of OFFICE through the college. It had Microsoft Front Page (a HTML editor) as part of the package so I started to learn how to code.

In 1999 the Beaumont Society had a webpage. But it mainly was just a calling card. It was fundamentally just one page that said who they were and how to contact them.

I was young, passionate and a bit pushy (sorry about that Jean and Janett), but felt that this could do so much more. I was the Napster generation, I was now moderating on IRC networks, I became an IRCOP for one of the largest chat networks in the same year. I just completely immersed myself into this and never really escaped! Me and Helen spent many many months in the Beaumont Society Chat room laughing and helping. I even developed special version of mIRC for use that would trigger custom transgender related sound effects to each other. Great fun and happy times!

Long before Twitter and Facebook, we had Chat rooms and forums, and messaging in the Beaumont Society, and whilst this was all great, it did cost the Beaumont a fortune in bandwidth in those days> But Janett was always way ahead of the game! She still is! (see Mondays on our show!) I was a member of the Beaumont Society and this was run, and still is, by a committee. I could not always do what I wanted. So developed a sister project and named it ‘Transgender Zone’. The Zone came from the catchy term of the time. The ‘Zone’ was a gaming site frequented by yoof kinda like ‘Steam’ is today. And it just fitted well. Plus it was available as a .com. And was something we could copyright.

Zoned Out

Transgender Zone ran in parallel to the Beaumont Society and almost became a way to develop ideas for the Beaumont site. A Beta Testing site if you will. But ‘Tzone’, as we affectionately called it. began to develop a following. At that time I insisted it be open to transmen and trans women. This was almost unheard of at that time. I managed to source a trans guy called Kenneth. And he and his pals took admin status of the FTM Zone as it was to become. We must be on our 5th reincarnation of forums now. Sadly until a few years ago we used third party services, so much of that is gone – but not forgotten! Now we own all the databases. I do however have all the websites I ever created downloaded to discs in boxes – must look at them again some day to see how far we have come!

The collective

Slowly over time we gathered together a ‘team’ of people (affectionately called ‘The TzoneTeam’) who all had special skills (you know who you are), from fledgling surgeons to psychologists, from lay people with life experiences to share, to academics and entrepreneurs, people who gave their time freely to aid others, and sometimes to help themselves, you can find out the current team by registering in the forum and clicking ‘Team’ on the top black toolbar. Many of the team that were around 1o years ago are still connected with us today! Helen agreed to be an admin when it all began as I needed a cohort to bounce ideas off – as you have already read in those early days this was all quite a lonely business, and a reliable friend was important online. Even today ‘net friends’ or ‘net pals’ can be bots, liars and ‘Catfish’ (look it up). Helen still remains a good friend and we have never fallen out and have always got along well (amazing!), she was also very good at making difficult decisions. In the early days it was a bit like the Wild West on both sites, and quite often Helen had to have the Wisdom of Solomon deciding the fate of many a member, BAN THEM! LOL. I learned a lot from her and from the best!

A Degree

I quickly discovered I had bitten off more than I could chew. It was one thing hacking code, and fiddling with HTML. But quite another helping people with what can be life-changing situations. This was no longer a game! Sometimes it was really quite scary. And some people on the forums had nowhere else to turn. They came to us, either the Beaumont, or Transgender Zone, and may have been suicidal. I was out of my depth! I needed to study!

I then began a Foundation course in Health and social welfare, which I passed, so went on to take a degree over the next few years, and finally qualified with a Honours Degree in Health and Social Care. The full list is available here: Understanding Health and Social Welfare, Community Care, An Aging Society, The study of Death and Dying, Managing roles and relationships, Working with children and families, Critical practice in health and social care (ENB Awards Approved, 8A29 and 8870 Understanding the application of Research), Managing Care.

rescar7During that time I became interested in older people and wrote a booklet on ‘Residential and Community Care of Transgender People’ – this research involved contacting 107 agencies and charities who, at that time (2000), had no clue about trans issues. From the RNIB to Mencap, from the then ‘Age Concern’ and ‘Help the Aged’ now ‘Age UK’ (who followed it up with their own research a year later) to many many other ignorant charities that provided social care. The academic consultant at that time was Dr James Barrett (see above) who by know had qualified as a consultant – he is a bright chap! It was funded by ‘The Beaumont Society’ and Janett Scott coughed up the Fax Machine calling costs in one phone call after being turned down for funding by Gires. This actually made a huge difference and resulted in me closely working with a number of agencies and UK charities for a few years to ensure they understood the ‘trans reality’. A degree helped oil the wheels as I was a colleague rather than a nuisance.

http://library.transgenderzone.com/?page_id=431

(Cartoon by Samantha Johnson).

The truth is much of what is done for our community, if not recorded today in some beaming ‘selfie’ gives the impression that it has never been done! News just in, it has! ‘The freedoms’ and legal protection we enjoy today were hard fought for, expensive, time-consuming and thankless! Today what I often see is the transgender equivalent to urinating on a War Memorial by some trans activists. So blinded by their own self-importance, people who give little, or no respect to the fact they are just part of many who have gone before. Maybe when they age and others do this to them they will get annoyed and realise how it feels for others now. The only difference with me was when I was in my 20s I already realised this – no one had to tell me. But then again I have always been this way and have an almost Japanese logic to honouring my ancestors. Growing up I was surrounded by grandparents and war stories. I enjoyed hearing them. Maybe I should have been born in the 1930s? I sometimes think I just don’t fit that well here. So when I see just how the efforts of older trans activists have been pushed aside for what are often quite empty replacements – I use the term advisedly – it naturally annoys me.

My favourte TV series of all time was ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ – you do the math ;) (P.S only 2 harmless transsexual gags in 6 years not bad!).

We are all equal? Some are more equal than others? That’s ironic in a community struggling for equality. We have to stop manipulating each other for our own PR!

Lost and Found!

I had just managed to get my degree and my family was so proud, but my mother was increasingly becoming unwell. Within 3 months of that high of becoming a graduate, she was given the devastating news she had pancreatic cancer, this was heavy irony indeed for me especially when Transsexual character ‘Hayley’ played by Julie Hesmondhalgh recently suffered from this illness in the British Television Soap ‘Coronation Street’ and her being trans as well – not a pleasant storyline for me as it mixed the two lives of me and my mum.

This almost destroyed me! I cared for her until her passing. Moments that I will cherish forever!

This is obviously a personal time I am not prepared to go into here.

But I then ballooned in weight and was unable to have surgery. Charing Cross were sympathetic and gave me all the time I needed, Dr B was again wonderful and a good practitioner and friend. During that time I again immersed myself into the net. I started coding again. Archiving media and turning my attention to television and the poor show trans faced! After all I had to do something to take my mind off the bereavement.

I joined the online world of ‘Second Life’ after hearing about it on an episode of UK TV talk show ‘Richard and Judy’ (of all things), and this was somewhere I could crack my knuckles as it was and still is a coder’s dream. I scripted and developed and days became months and it all quickly went by.

I made some good friends in there. Sadly however, many in Second Life are unwell, and live vicariously through their characters. The young healthy avatars belie their sick controllers. I lost a few friends there, one to a brain tumor, and one to kidney failure, to this day reading her last tweet, that she was trying to find a kidney, was more than crushing! Heartbreaking stories I just could not manage any longer, and I had had enough for a while. But the technical, graphic design, 3d sculpting, animating, and coding/programming skills I learned there serve me well until this day. I became the ‘go to guy’ for anything odd people wanted. From giant pairs of scissors to cut giant ribbons at Sim openings, to exotic vehicles and scripted wind huds. Far too much to mention. I also became well known for making sports videos. This helped me learn to edit video properly to a professional quality – I did some work for Italian Television.

Surgery

So I dropped the weight and had treatment, and managed the site from my hospital bed – I never told anyone about it at the time, but that’s is another story.

Tech Podcasting and Trans Netcasting!

Nerds need to know what is happening in the tech world. I began about 5 years ago listening to the world’s number one podcaster Leo Laporte. I realised that he used consumer level technology to broadcast television to the world. This fascinated me. This was the future, it still is. The democratisation of media is now encompassed by Google ‘Hangouts’ and ‘Skype’, and ‘live streaming’ is still in its infancy really. But putting all this together in a controllable and professional way was something Leo and his team did first, and better! I make no bones about the fact we copied his original setup here. He has now moved onto a larger studio, but what he began with is what we use now! It took a long time and a lot of Ebay to build it all and 2 years of financial hardship but it is worth it.

What he used – http://wiki.twit.tv/wiki/TWiT_Cottage_Equipment
What we use – http://library.transgenderzone.com/?page_id=2551

So as you can see there are some considerable cross-overs.

This meant my many years in Second Life video editing suddenly became of good use. I am still learning. And ‘After Effects’ is my latest challenge – http://www.adobe.com/uk/products/aftereffects.html But I host and am the engineer at the same time so quite complicated live. But I like it when others present and are center stage – there is no room for being a Prima dona! It is important that others have a voice and feel valued!

And you too can find out more about the TV Show click here – http://www.transgenderzone.tv

To begin with it was all rather haphazard, we were unsure as to what we going to do exactly. Were we going to be a ‘support group’? A News Programme? A Laughter hour? Interviews? Technology? We seem to have integrated all of the above into what now is a very organic concept – all I can say is watch this space…literally!

However, what is important is that we do not answer to anybody! We do not ‘NEED’ some cisgender BBC Television Executive to agree to what we do, we just do it – even if it in retrospect was a bad idea. A show created, produced and featuring trans* people is what we have – again no ‘Bull(!)’, mixed metaphors time – we walk the walk, we practice what we preach! Many have come and gone. And I appreciate everyone who has taken part over the years. Even though I have lost contact with many (for whatever reason) their contribution remains and is of that moment. More recently the ‘show’ (for want of a better word) has become more of a social commentating Vlog (Video Log), and again critiquing, and yes(!), sometimes positively, not always negatively the many trans issues that are up for grabs – after all if anyone else says what we say they are likely to be labelled transphobic. But sometimes somebody has to keep things in check, and I think our show does that, as we often argue. You can find out more about the most recent Co-Host Team here – http://media.transgenderzone.com/?page_id=44#2

Television Critic

From the beginning I saved videos of everything trans* I saw. To begin with it was so I could use them for research, as there was no internet and the telephone numbers and the names of people who appeared were useful to rewind (yes Video Tapes Kidz!) and write down. But as time went on I could see that this was something that needed to be raised and complained about when there was injustice. The first time I complained it was to the ‘Radio Authority’ (this was before OFCOM) in the late 90s when a DJ joked that, “transsexuals deserved to be murdered as who would want to live like that!” I had an apology and the person was suspended. I have not held back with OFCOM over the years either, but I have increasingly burned the candle both ends. And now we have other media that’s very time-consuming. But I remain vigilant. As many charities still face similar problems that the Beaumont had all those years ago. They cannot always SAY what they want. I can (within libel laws of course). And sometimes being mealy-mouthed just doesn’t cut it!

This is a war! And sometimes the opposing side will lie through their teeth to buy time or manipulate you! The term ‘Sucker!’ is useful in some instances.

I have been gathering television data for decades. This I guess has made me an ‘expert’ in transgender television media in the UK. I use the term ‘expert’ advisedly. But all this knowledge needs to be used. New activists come along from time to time and try to rewrite history – sometimes in their own image! This ‘BullShit’ annoys me, so I feel it is my duty to set the record straight when this happens. Nothing personal! There is always a new face that tries it on. I am not a ‘bitch’ I have good reasons for doing what I do, and always list evidence to prove my points for this exact reason. Trans History Month becomes a joke otherwise!

As long as there is respect for those transgender elders, I know and have known, I am fine with anyone. If they are negated then I will say something.

The Logs

“It is nothing personal – I just deal with data!”

By far the hardest thing I have to do is to single-handed collate the monthly logs! This is quite exhausting and tbh I cannot see anyone doing this except me. It is a thankless task and requires you to have no life (smiles). But to know what is going on – it is essential! It is a labour of ‘love’ that not only is just a list but all commented on and all video clipped archived and then backed up 3 times (3 separate places). But the archives date back decades and I have pretty much a photographic memory (fortunately) of what is stored there. This was all digitized to a professional quality 5 years ago using a ADVC 110.

http://forum.transgenderzone.com/viewforum.php?f=106

The Awards

For the last few years we have been developing the http://www.TransgenderTelevisionAwards.com and are now giving hardware. Lists of names are all very well. They are cheap! But glassware is not. This is something we will continue with to reward those producers, broadcasters and presenters who do a good job! Carrots and sticks!

Obviously there is so much more that has not been told here about my life and this site. Many private and personal issues, And what happened to me before the late 90s. But that is for another day. Plus there are many many secrets I must keep that were told to me in confidence, I am personally ethically bound to remain silent. I, like many, who have been helping the community for so long could effect a bloodbath with what we know! People trust me with their life stories and secrets and some are traumatic and could be very harmful. That trust is hard won and easily lost. Even those I may no longer be on speaking terms with over the years – to you I say your secret is safe with me!

For now, I am a Media Critic and Social Commentator. And Transgender Zone is now one of the most popular transgender websites in the UK, it is linked to for support from broadcasters to Universities across the world. With its own TV show and 17 years of experience behind it.

But this is still just the beginning! There is so much work still to be done and I am pressing media now in 3 stages

1 – Transgender characters on television

2 – Transgender characters on television played by transgender people! (THAT IS NOW!)

3 – Characters in dramas that ‘happen to be transgender’ rather than transgender-centric. Or characters (stereotypes with the trans narrative as the foundation). ‘Normalising’ trans people in dramas in the same way someone’s skin colour, or their hair colour, or their eye colour does not define them. They are actors who happen to have blue eyes… Big deal! I want to see transgender people treated the same way. But that’s a ways off for now, But it will come! And when it does. Remember me ;)

A personal crusade has been the ‘control’ of the term ‘shemale’, ‘tranny’, and ‘ladyboy’ ( I will say it once here without asterisk) if it is out of context, or does not involve an actual transperson’s own lived experience. Similar to the way the n* word is used about black people. The use of the tr*nny was rife in the 90s and it has been a slog challenging its use. However, I have made some progress over the many years and continue to do so. ‘Sparkle’ changed it’s Miss Tr*anny to Miss and Mr Sparkle and that was a great response from them and progressive and this is now taking hold in the USA where T-shack has changed it’s name from Tr*nny Shack, there are some drag queens that depend on trans-currency when they are gay men still desperately holding onto this term of abuse for laughs. To them I say you are on the road to nowhere! Plus, I log almost all the times it is used (this is very hard work) here – you can find out more here http://saynototranny.transgenderzone.com/ and read the list in our Facebook page – the link is on that page at the top.

So one day when people use these terms with respect I like to think I have in some way assisted this.

“Bullshit baffles Brains – If Bullshit could fly you would be a squadron leader!”

I think I have earned my stripes? Times have changed. Today what you look like, seems to matter more. That is a shame. This is why Transgender Zone and it’s media is important. As we are not as shallow as that. In a constantly changing world, there needs to be recognisable familiarity (even if it does breed contempt). When I was in France all those years ago, I needed Tzone! It didn’t exist! So it was a case of, ‘build it and they will come‘. We live in an aging society, and as pretty as many young trans people are there is no escaping the fact that the media is ageist and way out of balance. This is foolish! As pensioners elect governments and have disposable income, many older people are politically active, and even if you only realise who they are through our TV show, this is after many years of front-line graft, older trans people can be role-models too, we will all be old one day. The trans community ignores them at their peril!

But then again what do I know?

Samantha Johnson

Likes – activists who walk the walk and talk the talk, and adore trans elders who have tales to tell!

Dislikes – Bullshitters, glory hunters, narcissists who use ‘trans-currency’ at any cost, even head-crushing their own community to get ahead, and people who have not put the hours in but take credit for change effected by the less visible activists. The grass is not always greener and they may find that the bridges they burn will not be there on the way back! I have an archive of examples that demonstrate that has happened already! But by the time they realise it is often too late.

I may follow this up one day with a little more but it has taken me 15 years to write this and I have a backlog of TV shows to now log and edit!

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