The Paradox of “Trans-Currency” the Media and Celebrity. (The value of transgender people to the media)
Time for me to coin yet another term. The last one was ‘Trans-Stooge‘, The mocking of transgender people by the use of a character or fake transpersona – as opposed to transphobic – this maybe quite innocent but equally damaging.
Here is another new one (remember where you saw it first) “Trans-currency” – The value attached to transgender status by the media.
This is quite a lengthy debate and as a result this blog appears to be a real TOME! But please do try to read it all before you draw any conclusions – it is in two parts a shorter summary and a fuller and closer examination below that. If you have an interest in the UK media, and how it relates to the transgender community this is essential reading! Bookmark it and read it later.
This blog, with graphs and illustrations, argues that efforts to educate the BBC and Channel 4 (and ITV to a lesser extent) has already taken place and delivered results. Evidence shows they are already educated and therefore know what they are doing wrong, but are ignoring the knowledge they possess, and are preferring to stall the process with false promises. By using the extensive TransgenderZone.com Media Archives we give you a birds-eye view of the trends over the last 30 years or so. The highs and the lows and take a close look at the ‘currency’ trans people have and still do possess. We ask if that is in itself abusive?
We examine the issues of age and sexual attractiveness and how that is seen by many as progressively problematical. This is especially true as the age desired by the media tumbles lower and lower. We ask (the somewhat inflammatory question) can these young passable trans people who are often just out of school or have spent vast sums on their transition, who now are by far the most highly desired (in media terms) targets, carry the weight and expectations of a community in crisis?! Can the majority of the trans community even relate to them as role-models? To avoid me actually appearing as a bully I have carefully worded these sections to show encouragement and positivity as much as possible. This is elevating them remember, not knocking them down.
We also look at the broadcasters themselves. Has their desire to change been weakened by their very own need for comedy and stereotypes? Can Broadcasters even afford to leave our community alone and treat it with respect? Can comics manage without us as targets of humour? If transgender people are treated with the same respect as racial minorities, will this lead to a raft of legal challenges based on what they already have in stock and are selling around the world to other broadcasters from their archives? As many of these broadcasters have a number of channels to fill and now ‘On-Demand’ Websites, do they even know what is actually going on under their very own nose? In this instance trans-currency does not actually involve trans at all as this is ‘trans-stooge’ (see above).
Transgender women (and men) Currency and conflict (Abridged).
Identity – how we feel about ourselves changes depending on the circumstances. We can look in the mirror and see a parent, a lover, a spouse, a professional, a disability, a culture or our race. However few will see someone else, few will feel distressed by what they see to the point of suicidal, few will attempt to self-mutilate their bodies as children and adults. Few question the very basis and foundation of who they are as a human and what all of their other identities are built – gender! That is so fundamental to being who we are it’s not even questioned by people without a transgender history. So when the media and society play games with this issue and our community, mock, abuse and stereotype it, it is beyond cruelty and with the utmost disrespect.
There is an oxymoron at play with the transgender community, and one that many do not like to think about.
Currency – A transgender person’s (in this instance a transwoman) ONLY value to the media is the fact that they were at one stage masculine. Be that at 16 or 60. The currency the transperson has is that and that alone. The only variables are if that transperson is talented in some way – Like Eddie Izzard. Being trans is not why Eddie is brilliant. It plays a small part in any of his routines, and he has rarely crossdressed for acting other than for the movie ‘All the Queens Men’. Today when they book him he rarely appears in a dress.
“Pretty women make me feel insecure!”
A successful businessperson like the very passable Kate Craig-Wood can be seen as using her trans currency – she doesn’t need to. Her talent for IT is what keeps the momentum going rather than the ‘celebrity’ of her costly transition – She spent over £50,000 and counting, and whilst the results of her facial feminisation surgery (over £25,000) was quite a story once, today, it is her success as an entrepreneur that has the real clout. It is the business role-model to me that is something different and far more noteworthy than being a media story for being transgender – but she herself admits that without the surgery she has purchased (to make her pretty) she would unlikely be the success she now is. Unless you have her level of wealth, the reality for many is they may find her story distressing and damaging to their self-esteem more than positive, as they cannot achieve her results on the NHS. And accordingly many may live forever disappointed and depressed with their treatment. Kate is by no means unique today as media regulars like Jackie Green and Paris Lees show the new attractive face of transgender activism. Again it is difficult to say if this is a force for good (they clearly believe it is), or will it create an army of envious transwomen, who can see beauty and pass-ability widening the gap even further for those who do not pass on the peripheries of society. If you do not pass – and you probably know that or not already as you read this, do beautiful transwomen (who may have spent vast sums) help your case, or do you feel better when people who may look worse than you appear in the media. This does sound awful in principle, but average looking females taking their ‘fat friend’ with them when they go out on the town does offer them a (shallow) moment where they are for once the best looking girl in the room. This arrangement does not work staring at a TV screen. Older women can find loss of beauty very difficult, we will hopefully all be old one day, even Kate, Paris and Jackie will get ‘wrinkly’. Will it be tougher for them than someone who has always been a bit ‘ropey’? Maybe the transgender community will not be fully formed until those who have suppressed puberty have aged to say 50+ as by then the community will be broad enough and passable enough to make the issue of ‘trans-currency’ negatable – but for now it is a very real issue and worthy of very close and serious scrutiny.
“That difficult second album!”
Trans people often fail to move past the curiosity and ‘freak show’ level of documentary or news story because they tend to hit a brick-wall at that point. They have nowhere to go. What can they do for their next ‘trick’? Apart from reinvention, we have all seen how gossip magazines manage it by using vehicles such as diets and love affairs (kiss and tell). For transpeople however, what else can they do to stay in the lime-light? There needs to be something more, a talent or a dream. Hoping for the media to stick around is unlikely without it. The long term follow-up documentaries will unlikely materialise. I can think of very few that have lasted. Paddington Green’s Jackie, or ‘A Change of Sex‘, where they did another 2 programs 20 years later to see how Julia was doing – archived. So a transgender person takes a big risk for such little payoff!
“I did it my way!”
If we compare it to actors with famous families, quite often they change their names and go for castings to prove that they won the role on their own merits, rather than through nepotism. A good example would be someone like Lucy Davis (who is Jasper Carrott’s daughter). We know now, but did not to begin with.
Transpeople who may want to break-through will have a similar problem. Will they be of interest because they are trans (currency) or because they are a good actor (skills and talent)? Will the temptation to exploit their ‘trans-currency’ be simply too great?
Most stories that feature transgender people have a common MO:
- In the case of a trans woman – “My past as a male.” Usually with photos (as an atypical man or child) or images that have been cherry-picked to show some femme tendency – playing with a doll for example – showing how early it all started. This feeds into a rather dark fascination with transgender children, that if we think about it can feel sinister. We understand the issue as we were children like that once, but in a climate where there is quite rightly a ‘paedo panic’, do photos of young trans children help? We all know the amount of photos children have taken – especially today. But the photos chosen are clearly to advance the story than perhaps show the reality of the mundane day-to-day misery that being trans actually means.
- “My life today” (with usually provocative) photos. Posing, pouting, lick your lips and show yer… and show a bit of leg darlin’. Many of these images are professional portraits with soft lighting that may have been Photoshopped (a little ;))
- “F and F” The family members, neighbours or employer’s opinion(?!). With some medical justification from the token ‘expert’ for behaving in this way. The tabloid equivalent of ‘NOT INSANE‘ stamped on the hand.
This is how things seem to have been forged to be viable for a sell to non-transgender people. Without this media preparation of the story and the focus on the ‘old them’- there is no story. There are women all over the country on HRT, the cosmetic surgery clinics (and charing cross are doing an op a day), and if you walk out onto Oxford Street, London right now you will likely see 10 girls as pretty or prettier than many of our most attractive transgender women. So what is on sale here, what is on offer(?), ‘the currency’ is the masculine – the male. Then the rest of the story is built around it. If it were to be the other way around, as in, they were solely interested in the female, and omitted all the other issues, it is a story about a pretty girl going into a pageant or having cosmetic surgery – so do many others – where is their story? I do not even know who won Miss England without looking it up. But this year Jackie Green was the star of the show. Were people voting because she was beautiful or because she was trans? Had she entered anonymously would that have been more rewarding? Was it spending some trans-currency?
Anyone who read our Luke Anderson Big Brother thread (3 months!), will know by reading it the lengths we went to ensuring he won! I did not know Luke personally at that time (although we chat frequently now), but for me he had to win it was a no-brainer for our community. Luckily he was a nice guy – so that helped 🙂 But his ‘currency’ there was clear for all to see. You can even hear us voting!
“I look as bad as a tranny’!”
I did find these recent news stories interesting especially at the end when she comments,
“I want people to understand that we are not weirdos or freaks or any of the other horrible terms thrown at us. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just a normal girl with a bit of an interesting history.”
Well Jackie is not a freak as she has had ‘puberty-blockers’ and surgery at 16, the vast majority of transgender people are still treated by the media as the latter (as freaks and objects of ridicule – we will prove this later), if they were not treated as such I would be able to stop logging it every day and put my feet up. Jackie has set a very high benchmark for the community to aspire to in “pass-ability” terms she is only 19, and this to be fair it is ‘too late’ for many transgender people as by about 20 the damage is done. So it is ‘the freaks’ (people not like her) that are continually bombarded with abuse by the media, after all what is funny about saying Jackie ‘looking as bad as a tranny?’ It just does not make sense, when the person saying it is probably less attractive or older than she is.
“It all has to start somewhere!”
So we need to see people like her as rare at this time (rarity has value in any marketplace), maybe in another 100 years it will be common-place. But it is the ‘here and now’ that is under debate. Even so her ‘currency’ is still that of once being male.
“The goal is to self-destruct”
Transpeople have as much currency today as they have ever had.
So the sad fact is that what is ‘for sale’ is the man not the woman (in the case of FTM – the opposite), and that is something that transpeople are desperate to escape from. So there is a paradox.
The one thing that makes any transwoman viable for the media and television is the very thing she has fought to deny.
“I am not a man, I am a Woman!”
This issue has not changed for as long as I can remember. Any transperson who does not keep this information secret (stealth), a person who may then go on to land a role on the UK television soap ‘Eastenders’ (for example), and on the first week of filming then say, “oh btw I was born female (or male)..,” will have likely have been employed based on the gender they presented at the audition. If they land the role based on being a well know transsexual (for example) then they are being employed (in part) as the gender they were? Trans people have said there are actors who are trans but work in ‘stealth’ mode – I can see why and sympathise. Are they wise and feel they have plentiful roles in small productions, or are they foolish not taking advantage of their ‘trans-currency’ whilst it still has value? Value that could land them a big role in television, a role many would dream of? This applies more than ever as there is opportunity for the first few trans actors and stand-ups to break through right about now (2013).
“Transgender people see the woman (with an MTF) – the media see the man.”
We can see that based on the many news stories alone and how quick they let the reader in on the ‘secret’ that they just can’t wait to say they are ‘different’.
There are a number of conflicting factors at play whenever a transgender person goes public.
A big problem and one that is often overlooked is the age-old one of, “the more beautiful a person is the less intelligent they are deemed to be”. The cliched secretary filing her nails, the airhead ‘dumb-blonde’. Classically, sexual attractiveness can cause conflict, not least because there are a mass of jealous backstabbers who will do anything in their power to find ways to trip the person up, or the classic ‘build them up and tear them down’ that we see in the media today.
From Nellie Oleson in ‘Little House on the Prairie’, to Joan Collins in ‘Dynasty’, to the ‘Plastics’ in ‘Mean Girls’ (2004). Beautiful girls and women are often portrayed as b*tches. We see something ‘exotique’ taken from the trans identity in this way too, most roles for transgender women tend to be as whores, or deranged in some way, more than likely a killer. The roles available tend to be played by women without a trans history (bio-females), because they pass better and make better women obviously? In ‘Coronation Street’ (ITV1), Hayley is played by a bio-female in real life with kids, the character she plays is a bit ‘odd’ and the audience suffer no trauma from dealing with her in the role especially if should she kiss her partner. Or walk about in a dress.
When they attempted this character it all went horribly wrong (as the link shows), the public quickly turned on the ‘man dressed as a woman’, yet this character is much nearer the truth than Hayley ever will be! Andrew Hall who played Marc/Marcia could have been a crossdresser, Julie Hesmondhalgh can never be a transsexual woman, but still has a job on the show whereas Andrew here was axed. It is clear from this, the more like a woman you look and sound (or a man) the better your “currency”.
“Hi I’m Marcia!” (Image: ITV)
“Who wants to look at an ugly mug?”
If a campaigner is sexually attractive, ‘focus’ that is desperately needed for the issue at hand can be drawn to the person themselves – and this is often due to the the way a TV programme is edited (mirror shots, applying lipstick, sliding on silk stockings shots, sitting in the bath shots, seductively sliding the foot into a stiletto – I have lost count of the example we have showing this – could probably edit them together and show how ridiculous it is.
“I want world peace!”
Does anyone remember what the winner of Miss World says? This is sexist but still applies. A Chippendale (male) dancer maybe have a PHD education, but when he is on stage waving his ‘bits’ about that’s the last thing on the audience’s mind. The media would be more interested in him as a stripper than an intellectual anyway.
“What did she say again?!”
Lastly there is always a big problem when the activist becomes bigger and more exposed (no pun intended) than the issue they are campaigning for, at that point they can begin to believe their own publicity. And actually become isolated from those who have helped them get there. Winning any award can have this effect. It can create distance, jealousy, and further increase a profile (and ego) that maybe already over-inflated. The individual can then use this to further other areas of their career which are unrelated to the award itself, as a result they can quickly forget why it was given and who may have helped them until that point. This is a worry with television awards, as it can mean presenters who win them relax and no longer try to improve and as a result can make mistakes. A classic case of this maybe when Nadia Almada returned to ‘Big Brother’ for their final ‘Ultimate BB’ on Channel 4 in 2010, the outcome of her participation and ‘diva-like behaviour’ led to her attempting suicide when the public turned against her.
“People like humble – humble is good!”
Ego – Big Fish in a small pond is better than being a small one in a Big Pond.
We all have an ego, we can all feel hurt when people turn on us who we assumed were on our side. I have seen it over the years and long before Facebook. People who fought hard and achieved social and political social change were then just pushed out of the way by others who dismiss their contribution. I personally value my friends who have been with me for 15 years (in trans activism terms). They have seen it all and been major players in the changes we now enjoy. But it is unlikely you will even heard of many of them let alone find their photo on Google images :).
Quick teaser – “Do you respect celebrities who do ‘charity work’ and donate to those funds quietly. Or those that go on television and boast about it?”
I have spearheaded an application to the Cabinet Office to see if one person in particular who has fought for decades for trans rights, in the hope they will achieve an Honour (MBE, OBE) next year. If they do not it will be a travesty! I hope to be reporting something positive next year and will go into more details at that time. However, she is so humble that she will be embarrassed if she wins it.
“Often long term selfless-sacrifice and decades of work is seen as less value than being on television a few times – that’s a shame!”
The best way to test these arguments out is to Google a person who is speaking about a trans issue, if they are bigger than the issue, then this is drawing focus from it. But they may believe that if they become ‘famous’ then they will have a bigger platform to discuss the issue from. So another paradox.
This is a wicked issue (‘wicked problem‘ see Wikipedia). Trans need to be seen, but by being seen as trans they will likely be used and exploited as who they were rather than who they are now, and then be thrown away as the next person (usually transgirl) comes along – there is no better illustration of all this than the rise and fall of Big Brother’s Nadia mentioned above. Was it ‘celebrity’ that destroyed the girl the media fell in love with in 2004 or had her currency been spent? A similar fate awaited Jade Goody (RiP) who was the nation’s sweetheart in the early noughties. If you are trans and a celebrity be very careful how you play it!
“Do not burn your bridges as you will need them on your return.”
The last issue in this section is one of ‘knowledge and wisdom’, we can only ever be an ‘expert’ on ourselves, that subject can quickly become depleted as we tell our stories over and over, so what is left? Talking about other people! The moment this happens we can inadvertently step into the ‘spokesperson’ without mandate role. This is difficult and currently out of balance as many now speaking for the trans community are young and passable and may lack a connection with, or even anger, older less fortunate individuals. Whereas someone 65 who has fought all their lives, transitioned when they were 40 married with kids then divorced and living in poverty, a person who maybe (classically) ‘unattractive’ but highly educated, could be the ideal person to ask, but this has little ‘currency’ today. Despite there being very good medical information available to swat up on for those giving workshops, transgender people live in a social world, and those stats are far more difficult to acquire.
“Statistics say! What statistics?!”
By using our archives we can clearly see the trend is for younger people over time. We see Julia Grant and Caroline Cossey’s effect in the 80s, the blip in the 90/2000s was primarily due to the hard work of Janett Scott, Stephen Whittle and Dr Russell Reid, of course there are many others who became the ‘go-to-guys’ for anything remotely trans in the media at that time.
Their knowledge of the subject worked well with a media desperate for ‘expert’ speakers, the age of the people involved also gave them a certain ‘statesman’-like gravitas. Stephen Whittle (see above image) presenting ‘The Heart of the Matter‘ for the BBC a decade ago was probably the pinnacle of trans media achievement and has never been equaled. The stats then seem to plunge (there was an appetite for children’s stories around this time) in the mid to late ‘noughties’ and it is interesting as this aligns well with the Internet’s growth. It is now very leveled at teens to early 20s as being the most desired – I cannot see this changing.
“I don’t want someone 20 telling the world what it is like to be me at 60! But they probably do not want an oldie like me telling them what to do either!”
In this graph we see something perhaps more worrying, the correlation between the trend in Graph 1, and a similar trend in Graph 2. These are linked. Influence and power over the transgender community was very much an outside-in direction in the 60s, old professors, and heads of gender clinics were senior consultants and spoke ‘about’ the community as medical subjects. The age drops as the trans community gains momentum and control over the media in a way that has not been equaled since. This begins in 90s when groups like the Press For Change were formed. But at that time the leaders were already middle-aged. But then the trend becomes a concern. As the power and influence begins to become age-related as opposed to knowledge and experience related. Why is this? I suspect it is because the media are interested in the views of people 18-35, their views ‘matter’ in a society driven by fashion and beauty. This has been the case since the 60s. After 35 many people have settled down, have families and watch their pennies, only the gay community have bucked the trend, but even they are now often family-men and women as adoption, surrogates and rights have improved.
In a world where Pippa Middleton appears on TIME’s 100 list of influential people, we can see that many in the so called ‘power lists’ do not have any ‘real influence’, there is a difference between ‘power’ and power given by others – as by definition those that give power away are more powerful. No-one in power is going to give away enough influence to allow the recipient to usurp them. So if the power that the current transgender community ‘leaders’ wield is based on being employed by someone else or reliant on the media for it to continue, then they do not have the influence they think they have. If the power and influence is from knowledge, skills or talent, even experience, this is far harder to take away unless that person suffers illness.
We have seen the rise and fall of transgender people who were built up by the media such as Nadia from ‘Big Brother’ who was very influential in 2004-5. Before her Dana International had ‘power’, and so it goes back… But it was very fleeting in hindsight.
“Do it or you are fired!” “That is an order private!”
Real power, is the ability to demand change and that change happen, if the change requires delays and jumping-through-hoops then sadly those people are not powerful. If Lord Alan Sugar says “jump!” to his staff – they jump! They do not have 2 years of meetings about how the jump should be crafted and then finally report that they need more time – The London Shard was almost built in that time (3 years). One is clearly thinking of the efforts to change the media for the better in the UK atm. One Memo sent by the Director General could sort the problem out as I type this – but the will is not there – we will discuss why later.
Younger people tend to be prettier than older people – but also can be more easily manipulated!
It is a sad fact of life that we think we know everything when we are young – and yes I shrugged my shoulders when I was younger and heard it too :), but miraculously years later almost all those same people look back and can be a little embarrassed at the things they said and how they behaved. A bit like a bad night out but 20 years ago.
Even politicians have their moments.
This maybe OK in a Student Union debating society, but when these same people are making policy decisions that affect the entire transgender community it is worrying for many older trans people who have practically nothing in common with them..
“Would you want the Prime minister or President of the USA to be 25? If not why not?”
It is also a bit worrying that the age of people the media are now interested in is dropping more and more (see graphs above). This is perhaps unwise in this post Jimmy Saville sex-abuse-scandal climate, as this can put young transpeople at risk of sexual assault once their story is out. By then everyone knows, and people may actively seek them out. Up until that moment they could be relatively anonymous and passable. I used to work as a photographer for the press in the South West, I witnessed how people so desperately wanted to be in the paper – all I was interested in was selling reprints :), so tended to get as many in ‘group-shots’ as possible. They all had their 15 mins of fame, and I was happy too. Seriously though, what I found sometimes disturbing was the risks some were prepared to take to be in the paper. This ‘desperation’ is similar to that I have seen in young people wanting to be famous – it is all that matters to many today, and they seem to be prepared to do ANYTHING to be well known.
If your past is all that matters to a TV show and your value today being based on that and that alone, if you have no other talent what else is there?
“I think this is more difficult for very passable transwomen, as their ‘masculine sell’ has even greater currency.”
Those stereotypical tabloid readers looking at the newspapers lately will be saying, “What do you think of her Dave?””Do you fancy her?” “Ha shes a bloke!” and their mate feeling all embarrassed. I think we have all witnessed that in the past.
Shhh! Shock – Its a ‘man’!
Sex sells! A fancy new vagina!
OMG with Peaches Geldof (Image: ITV)
There are few finer examples than this to demonstrate passing privilege and what the media did with it!
I don’t think it is something our community can easily fix either!
Trivia – did you know that the Queen Mother’s Hip Surgeon transitioned later in life? It was particularly well reported by the Telegraph at the time, so from that we can glean one’s social standing and who reports it can seriously improve your chances of a fair hearing!
If you want to read more on this subject there is an even closer examination of it below with illustrations.
And enjoy the cartoons!
Full Story – A closer Look
‘Trans currency’ is the value being trans brings to the media, but is what is on sale a classic oxymoron?
For as long as I can remember, and especially in media terms, there is something just to good to be true for documentary-makers and tabloid journalists when reporting on transgender issues. The ‘last taboo’ sells papers! If you are struggling for a documentary idea then follow a young transperson about – that’ll do, that’ll sell. Thus, this makes programme-maker and commissioners lazier and lazier!
“If it ain’t broke why fix it?”
We can all remember the shock on the world’s face when they saw a pregnant FTM Thomas Beattie for the first time – part of his appeal was just how pretty he was as a woman before transition. For older people the first episode on BBC’s ground-breaking epic, ‘A Change of Sex’, aired in the early 1980s (we have that and all its follow-ups archived). For a community that was misunderstood, that was the time for something of this nature to truly work, it was new and on prime-time BBC when there were only 3 channels and no Internet – think about it!
When the reality show ‘Big Brother’ began a decade ago , the idea of an ‘ordinary Joe’ becoming a celebrity for being themselves as opposed to a talent, skill or occupation (Singer, actor, astronaught, Olympian, footballer or Prime Minister) seemed to be something very strange, and it is no coincidence that this went hand-in-hand with the Internet, a place where one could bypass the usual routes to fame, putting their ‘demos’ (and photos) online, the emergence of webcams, YouTube, blogging (just like this :)), meant that people could become well-known by a different path. The increase in celebrity gossip that has now been fueled by Twitter alone has been truly a phenomenon.
Amongst all this, transgender people have often been exploited and in a way that is far out of balance with the numbers of transgender people that exist.
However, for some transgender individuals, they have realised that they have ‘currency’ by just existing. And want to cash their chips in!
“A transwoman who films her own video log owns it, and has power over it, that same transwoman has no such control over a production company unless she is an executive producer.”
Famous for being trans.
If we look at this historically, older transpeople will remember, the growth of the studio debate – ‘Kilroy’ probably being the most famous. But others from ‘Vanessa’ (ironically the show was axed due to a fake transperson bieng used as a guest) to ‘Esther’, from ‘The Time and the Place’ to ‘Trisha’, they all grew from the US shows like ‘Donahue’. ‘The Jerry Springer Show’ was something else entirely – and unhelpful.
(Image: BBC, 1990s, Transgenderzone.com archive).
At that time, newspapers were rife with stories about transgender people. The average age of those in the stories was probably 35-55 (see image above. and graph at the top of this page) as a rule. As time has gone on this age has dropped more and more, stories now are using 16-22 as their USP (this week with Jackie Green now 19) and we have seen others with even younger children (‘Aged 8 and wanting a Sex Change’ – so much wrong with that documentary, its pronoun usage, the transphobic fallout that followed and the title).
“An oldie but a goody!”
Would the ITV Show ‘Loose Women’ have the same popularity if they all were beautiful and 22 years of age? Would what they have to share be very limited or limited to ‘things they have heard’ within their short lifetime or what other people say? The BBC were put to task over their agism only 18 months ago. And recently it has got worse! BBC story… . If this is how ‘bio-females’ of a ‘certain age’ are being treated, can they truly and in all honesty be trusted to behave appropriately with older transwomen? It is pretty clear older trans women have a voice and need to be heard. My fear is I am witnessing the gradual suffocation of older trans women from media life as their currency becomes valueless and invisible compared to a new ‘sexy’ generation.
One look at the ‘Ria: Teen Transsexual‘ documentary on Channel 4 and subsequent news stories of her possibly reverting back to a male gender-role again demonstrates the dangers of exposing younger transpeople to television in this way. Or seeing Jackie Green in ‘Model’s Misfits and Mayhem’ being turned down and becoming visibly upset. Maybe the media need to back off a little now and allow them to grow a little and enjoy life. But is it already too late?
“If the demand is not there then this cannot happen.”
Where is the paradox?
In the 1980s perhaps the biggest story which we could relate well to today’s salacious media, would be that of Caroline Cossey. A very beautiful Bond Girl known as ‘Tula’, who was then outed in the tabloid press. I remember as a youngster seeing the now infamous headline and full page image of her water-skiing in a Smirnoff advert, with the shock comments that this was a ‘bloke…’
Her talent, her skill, her occupation was not a transwoman, it was that of a successful model and actress, she didn’t want the world to know (unlike today). Yet the thing that made her famous (or infamous depending on how people see it) was her ‘transness’. From then on stepping the whole issue up a gear from the usual ‘men taking hormones’ and ‘crossdressed vicar’ page fillers of the era, Caroline had become something mammoth by comparison. The press never really let her go, years later I remember seeing stories of Des Lynham (popular sport presenter) with Caroline with some cruel footnote (he was allegedly quite the ‘swordsman’) suggesting that he will bed ‘anything’… In the end Caroline was reported as meeting the love of her life who then dumped her because his family couldn’t handle it, she then escaped the country as many trans in the past have done – April Ashley being one of the most well known who ran to Paris. Another person who was outed and hounded by the press (even earlier) and lost everything as a result was the Michael Dillion of course – read about him here. Christine Jorgensen and Roberta Cowell both became a media sensation of the time.
By now the media could see pound-signs in their eyes, trans were a ‘commodity’ to trade, few other groups could sell papers like a transsexual front-page story – and that has not changed till this day!
Why should this be? Most transgender people simply do not understand what the fuss is all about. But if you are outside looking in, and opportunistic (we cannot overlook the sexual ‘turn-on’ for many reporters and readers who are interested in all this), you can deliver what would be quite mediocre documentaries, or news stories, that were it not for the transgender ‘angle’ would not even be considered.
So being transgender has value, it is something one can actually ‘trade’, be that with employers who need to fill an equal opportunity remit (tokenism), transpeople themselves exploiting the rare value this offers as a sex-worker, having a good time being ferried about by television companies and having make-overs and ‘model shoots’, being paid and getting acclaim with minor celebrity status just from being on the television. To trans themselves now exploiting and realising their own ‘worth’ rather than relying on production companies to use it.
A good example of how transgender people are exploited by third parties is that they often take part in documentaries out of the goodness of their heart (awareness, education), but the production companies who are rarely run by transpeople themselves are looking for work, to earn money and to pay the production staff (profit), the goal usually for the transgender person is wishing to effect positive change or awareness of their issues, but are unaware that this very act will sacrifice themselves. They may not realise the documentary will be sold and repeated – perhaps all over the world for decades afterwards. They get no ‘residuals’ (royalties) and many participants are not even paid at all. But those exploiting them are being paid and in some cases handsomely! The documentary makers are one step ahead of the transperson as they know people want to be famous and be ‘on the telly’, so there is no shortage of applicants who will do it for free! The transgender person is the star of the show! Would any other ‘star’ or leading lady not expect to be paid? Exploiting the good nature of others only goes so far, Thomas Beattie allegedly had a ‘golden handcuffs’ deal for his story – and very wise he was too! But in his case they could not easily find a free ‘alternative’ and his currency was through the roof! Since however, there have been plenty of examples of male pregnancy and some earlier than him.
The counter argument used is, if no one is prepared to go onto the television and appear as a role-model then how will the transgender community progress?
Of course the term Role-Model is a rather hazy one. Can a transgender female who has had early intervention, no male puberty (to speak of) pass 100%, and sound like any other bio-female be a role model to someone 50 who has dog mess posted through their letterbox, be unemployed (or unemployable) and trying to transition? Although that young person can be a role-model to someone closer their age. However, not having lived very long means those close to their age are pretty young and may not even know about them – do kids still have a bedtime? So to me it is more important for parents to be educated and parents can struggle to listen to younger people, so successful adults maybe a better buy from that point of view, as at least they know that when they are ‘flly-the-nest’ and unable to intervene their kids will be OK. It also reinforces the fact that this is not just a whim or flash-in-the pan, it is a life-long experience that is to be taken seriously. The recent Ria turnaround as it was reported in the Daily Mail could have flipped the views of many parents who will now say, “see he changed his mind(!) – lets all just wait!”
“It is important young voices are heard, but we must remember they are speaking for themselves or their peer group and not the community as a whole.”
But as we all need role-models at any age, we can say that this is a moot point, however, unlike 20 years ago we now have the internet and the ability to create our own media. Television is the ultimate educational tool, but not if it is exploiting those that take part or giving the wrong message (one look at our media logs shows how destructive it can be), especially those taking part who are imposing negative stereotypes upon the community they seem to be representing. If someone wants to find out why their child is crossdressing they are unlikely to wait for a TV programme to turn up, they will simply go to Google and begin research on the subject, and probably find Mermaids, or similar charities and deal with them directly. We could say the media is cherry-picking good looking poster children. However, not every child is pretty or handsome, there are unattractive people in society as a whole, and that’s a fact of life. So is having beautiful young trans women as poster girl a good thing for a trans-child (even with early intervention) who maybe just plain and unattractive? Would this fuel body dysmorphia? Would those children see themselves as ugly by comparison to these beautiful celebrity transgender women? There are horror stories of people (often trans) wanting butt lifts and silicone injections that have lead to death. Society as a whole is concerned about the expectations young people have imposed upon them. Does the transgender community who have an opportunity to be careful, really want to push too hard in this direction? I am looking out for ‘plain’ transgender people more and more in the media now in the hope it is not too late, but the trends demonstrate sexual attractiveness is now the key.
“There is an old saying, “Just don’t set the benchmark too high!” So Role-models must be just that, something you can possibly achieve and aspire to be, otherwise it is a distress model!”
Once upon a time, the media was used very well as an educational tool, and precisely at a time when the subject was fresh and new. But today the vast majority now know about trans issues (even if many think they do not), it is now a ‘vehicle’ for celebrity, comedy and negative stereotypes. Those appearing now have simply missed the boat in real terms. Chances are what they are doing is a carbon copy of something better made already in circulation, the Transgender Zone archives demonstrate at least 3 examples of everything now being done has already been done very recently and many times more as we roll the clock back.
Example? Transgender people in a Beauty Pageant, (‘Trantasia’ in Vegas) and Leah True who went to Thailand for a transgender event ‘Miss International Queen’, This was a 2 part documentary. The recent Ria: Teenage transsexual documentary – we can look back a couple of years and see ‘Lucy the teenage transsexual’ – if you say Lucy who? Then you will realise how fleeting the ‘moment’ was.
We have documentaries going back decades, from Kids at school in the case of an FTM lad 13 who had a documentary crew follow him and other adult trans men to Holland for answers 10 years ago. We saw him going to an all girls school as a boy so even being trans at school – he wanted to be called Rick at the time – so this is nothing new. It was fresh then and handled so well by today’s standards. A bit like comparing BBC ‘Horizon’ with ITV1’s ‘Celebrity Juice’.
The above graph shows how television has failed the transgender community. Due to the number of channels and the relative invisibility of transgender people coupled with the confusion about them being part of the wider gay community, relatively little appears to happen until the 70s when stories in the tabloids begin to increase. Then comedies like George and Mildred (1970s) and ‘On the Buses’ mention it in some scripts based on ‘what they saw in the newspaper’ about ‘men taking hormones’…, plus of course ‘The Dick Emery Show’ and ‘The Stanley Baxter Show’ were massive at that time, and ‘Dame Edna’ (Barrie Humphries) began to become popular also, it is true that drag and trans-issues became blurred, but at that time and even today the two have influence over one another. But even then it was nothing like as abusive as it is by today’s terms.
As we go into the 80s we have It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ (which has not been seen since), and not because of the ‘transphobia’, but rather the homophobia (‘we will not have ‘poofters’ in this JUNGLE!!!’) and racial issues (in particular ‘browning up’). Some may say it was a true reflection of what it was like in Burma at the time it was set, but it creates the ‘blip’.
“It truly was a golden age!”
Then things change, ‘Alternative Comedy’ and ‘politically correct’ comics make transphobia less likely. The media begin to grasp the new ideas from the USA, the ‘Studio debate’, and from that ‘Kilroy’ and other similar shows were born. This now gave a platform for both those transwomen like Janett Scott, and trans men such as Stephen Whittle (amongst others) to become visible and give their side of the story, the only downside was often there was an ‘extreme individual’ planted in the audience to go on the counter-attack. But at least transpeople tended to outnumber them and they often just ended up looking pathetic – that is the problem today there is often no trans voice to act as a rebuttal. Up until 2000 and with Coronation Street just developing their ‘Hayley’ character and Eddie Izzard at the top of his game appearing crossdressed on stage across the world coupled with the recent win of Dana International in the Eurovision Song contest it was perhaps the last time we saw our community in this ‘safe zone’. We even saw a great programme of a transsexual woman with talent Fay Presto and Grayson Perry win the Turner Prize.
“Wear a coat it looks like rain!”
The Approaching Storm!
There was now new ‘comedy’ coming, ‘The League of Gentlemen’ (and Babs the transsexual Taxi driver), ‘Little Britain’ (“I’m a LAYDEE.” Emily Howard whose catchphrase has adorned many a transphobic tabloid article), and Peter Kay’s transsexual character ‘Geraldine‘ (how did that happen?!!! And on Channel 4 and the BBC) coupled with the increase in television channels as the UK went digital. It suddenly meant that programme-makers were running out of ideas but had all this space to fill. This began to turn the screws on the transgender community even more – after all this was a defenceless community that was still ripe for plucking! They needed to move in of the transgender community more.
Cue Jackie from the BBC series ‘Paddington Green’, this began a decade ago about the day-to-day lives of the people in Paddington Green, London. During that programme the cameras increasingly focused on local transsexual sex-worker Jackie McAuliffe. She was one of the very passable women who sounded and looked great, her elfin build clearly paid off, she had a talent (playing the piano), and even became so well known for that, she recorded a CD, the cameras followed her on her path to the studio. But then they just got bored and dropped her and moved on. She had had her moment and that was that.
Nadia winning Big Brother in 2004 was not enough to stem the flow and speed of transphobic television (and worsening tabloid journalism). Stand-up comedy and the cheap comedy panel show were becoming a breeding grounds for transabuse – and still are!
The level-out (but not falling) in 2010-12 is down to a couple of issues. That ‘Trans Media’ Watch, ‘Transgender Zone’ and other groups were actively protesting some transphobic programming, From ‘Moving Wallpaper’ to ‘Russell Howard’s Good News’ Ladyboy Airline Sketch (later pulled under protest by the BBC, but we still have a copy). Thankfully, ‘Dirty Sexy Money’ with Candice Cayne (the first real benchmark transsexual character and actress in a main stream big budget TV Drama). And of course Alex Reid (crossdresser) winning ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, and Luke Anderson’s (FTM) this year’s ‘Big Brother’ winner coupled with the extraordinary ability for Channel 5 to deliver television without stooping to the levels of their competition (C5 seemed to have no need to for a Memorandum of Understanding like Channel 4, yet C4 were and still are one of the worst offenders) or have the arrogance of a failing BBC assuming their ‘Charter’ is sufficient to protect them.
Their Charter acts more like a blind-fold. Channel 5 winning our Best Broadcaster in 2011 helped the stats. And C5 are on target for a double in 2012. Channel 4’s (E4) only saving grace was ‘Hollyoaks’ FTM teen Jason Costello (which was a direct rip of the US ‘Degrassi’ FTM teen soap character, a show that is still available on ‘Viva 21 Freeview’ to watch atm). ‘Coronation Street’s’ Hayley is now pointless to being invisible sadly, some may say that’s the whole point, but in soap land you need stories to warrant your place and she has no other currency than once being a fella named Harold. Coronation Street’s efforts to introduce crossdresser Marcia as Audrey’s ‘boyfriend’ was met with horror by the general public, then we have Les/Leslie commonly known as ‘the transvestite in Benidorm’ (ITV1), and it is these two characters that resulted in a raft of transphobic ‘Tranny’ comments not only in their scripts but also from outside with comics from Paul O’Grady to Alan Carr. So even efforts to try and do ‘something’ new for us still fail because they are not transgender people. Eddie Izzard is rarely, if ever abused for being trans in interviews. Why? Because he is sat there that’s why – they will do that next week when he is gone. Sky Atlantic’s ‘Hit and Miss’ (see this Blog Archive for a full review) resulted in a non-trans actress who was basically a sociopath and serial killer.
Tim Healey as Transvestite Leslie in ‘Benidorm’
Is this what we need – seriously? You do not have to be Einstein to see that this is just all wrong! The biggest mistake is not casting transgender people to play the roles! And we loop back to ”currency” again.
The argument is that if transpeople do not educate the media then how can the media change? Well the simple answer is The media have been educated, the Transgender Zone archive is bursting at the seams with documentaries and discussion programmes! One look at the graphs above demonstrate that they have been educated and well, they have however preferred to ignore it, or are simply stalling for time – these facts cannot lie. The people running the media, many of who were around in the late 90s and far more powerful now than then know all to well what is acceptable, so I simply do not buy the excuse, ‘they do not know what they are doing is wrong’, a 10-year-old can tell right from wrong. A comic knows all too well they are being offensive.
But money is at the core of this issue and they simply cannot afford to let us go.
How can they fix it?
The next step is simple! The media need to produce dramas with transgender actors, TV presenters in ‘non-transgender programmes’ such as Children’s Television and BBC News (not people ‘pretending’ to be trans – that ship has sailed). Find a transgender woman and replace Tim Healey with her. A real representation that is ongoing, not some flash-in-the-pan cheapo documentary ‘man and cam’ for the family video collection to languish in our archives like Jackie in ‘Paddingtom Green’, the temptation is for the media to create some clone of the old ‘GayTime TV’ – Um? I suspect it would be called something corny like ‘trans-mission’ and short of a Freak carnival tent at the side of BBC Boadcasting House would do nothing for us – so avoid it now! Find existing dramas and introduce satellite transgender people to the narrative. A locum doctor in BBC’s ‘Eastenders’ for example?
Anyone of us could buy a HD quality camera now and do the same quality documentaries that are currently being thrashed out, and with a profit share too! Upload it to YouTube or try and flog out some deal with the BBC to show it!
The media was at the top of their game in the 90s, Channel 4 we so far ahead of their game back then it is just heart-breaking to see where they are 10 years later. It will take a ‘serious gesture’ and real movement to send that graph downwards now! Another documentary or even 10 will not be enough! They need to start to treat transpeople in the same way they do any of their employees and be seen to do so in front-of-camera, the fact a news reader maybe black is not of any relevance today, but it was in the early 80s with Moira Stewart and Sir Trevor McDonald (then just plain Mr)!
We as a community are in that same space. Employ us in ‘real’ media jobs where we can make a difference – not just as mantle-piece curios to throwaway when you are done! Or to be followed about with a camera in our homes getting dressed.
Is this all Channel 4’s promises to stop transphobia are now worth?
Only this week in the Daily Mirror the ‘Grange Hill’, ‘Hollyoaks’ and ‘Brookside’ genius Phil Redmond wrote a lengthy piece about Channel 4 and how they have fallen from grace, as they (C4) too are a public broadcaster like the BBC – some people sometimes forget that as they run ads between programmes (unlike the BBC) – but they are! It also explains why they both seem to be together on Trans Media Action.
Whatever the media is doing now is making matters worse. The pressure for production companies to come up with something fresh and new is almost impossible, and this has very dangerous consequences – as where can they go next? Comics find it more and more difficult to mock society, race, sexuality, religion (Islam) is off the agenda, so we are all that is left – and don’t we know it! If those doing the educating are unrepresentative of the community as a whole (a good mix of ages and talents and people who do not seek the limelight as much as people who do), if the educating is being carried out by young attractive 100% passable trans women who have not witnessed the decades of change or even experienced a male puberty, then sure, the media may no longer mock young beautiful transwomen as they will be who the media will see more and more in the ‘workshops’. Broadcasters will however continue to abuse everyone else (the majority). As their view of a transwoman is a sanatised one that most can deal with. For example when someone says “I look as bad as a tranny!” They ain’t talking about Jackie Green, Paris Lees or Jenna Talackova! So who are they talking about? Whoever that is is maybe who should be doing the educating! As the media can just say – “Well obviously we were not talking about you… you are pretty!”
Transgender people for the most part spend their lives trying to distance themselves from the ‘old them’, we will use the classic male-to-female transwoman in this instance as opposed to GQ or FTM. The prize for most researchers is the young, beautiful, transsexual woman – the box checker!
Some young transpeople today are lucky enough to persuade doctors to prescribe Puberty Blockers – GnRH analogues. For these lucky few, for them, they do not even have to suffer a male puberty (or find £30,000 to have their face fixed later), other than corrective surgery, in the same way a surgeon fixes ‘bat ears’ or a cleft-palate, in this instance a medicated child and urological surgeons maybe required to address the genital ‘abnormality’ when they are older, it is like 21st century orthodontics, everyone had buck-teeth once and available free at the point of delivery on the NHS. We could even say soon that there will be no transgender state-of-being to transition from – if a person is no longer feminised or masculinised against their will (by their own body), are they not just men and women? So some have said what are they hanging around the transgender community for? Fly free(!), why be some caged pet with transgender issues? Adopting issues that they no longer have.
“A ‘normal’ person needs a USP to lift them into ‘newsworthy’. Transgender people are born with it!”
But bio men and women have very little ‘currency’ unless they want to appear on the ‘Jeremy Kyle Show’ (stereotypical housing sink estate ‘CHAV’) or have some unusual medical ailment (Embarrassing Bodies has seen more than their fair share of transsexuals) or are unusual and land a reality show…Attractive, ultra camp (‘TOWIE’) Wealthy and attractive (‘Made in Chelsea’), Sexually explicit boozers (‘Geordie Shore’) or just plain ‘interesting’ (Big Brother). There is always something ‘more’ required than just being ‘ordinary’ that needs to be used to get a ‘leg-up’ to just help them bypass the others in the queue.
Transgender people now have a paradox. The very thing they have perhaps spent their entire life escaping from, the ‘masculine’ them (in this instance) the boy or man who they perhaps were ready to end their lives over, now becomes the only currency they have of value to sell to the highest bidder, it is a cruel twist of fate that a beautiful and smart female, now has to prostitute her sad past to be worthy of any media exposure. Reminds me of a celebrity autobiography and the increase in child abuse claims to help sell it.
In other words, the very thing that they detest is the only thing that makes them marketable.
If we read both those stories and omit any issues relating to the old them, them as ‘boys’ or ‘young men’, the story dries up pretty quickly – why mention the male past at all? The story is who they are now surely? The Gender Recognition Act even classifies (those with a Gender Recognition Certificate) past gender legally as ‘Protected Information’, yet it is handed out like sweets.
The only currency here is them as male not as female. As to omit the male results in no currency (or sales) for the publisher.
Why do it?
Earlier I mentioned the ‘route to celebrity’ and how this has changed. A person can be famous today for just being themselves, celebrity is an attractive proposition, however, being famous for being transgender as opposed to the women you always wanted to be (like Caroline Cossey experienced (above), can have quite serious unforeseen long-term ramifications. Being famous for being rich in ‘Made in Chelsea’ has nowhere near the social sting that being famous for once being ‘male’ has by comparison.
“Guilty by association!”
There is often a very narrow window of opportunity (15 minutes of fame n’ all that) and then they are quickly forgotten as the next beauty comes along – See Jackie McAuliffe above – this can be a difficult pill to swallow, especially if you assume you are at your peak or feel you have become a better and a more informed person at that stage. The question is can those younger transgender men and women who have opportunities to bypass ‘the wrong puberty’ (who pass and sound as the gender they present) be the social equals of the rest of the ‘biological female’ population, and go on to enjoy life as the men and women they know themselves to be? Or does hanging around the transgender community give them value as an elite ‘alpha males and females’, big fish small pond n’ all that? However it can also out them by association, they may pass well when alone or with a boyfriend, but will they pass when they are part of a transgender group?
Nevertheless, if they embrace an even greater demon (the media) will that then label them transgender forever? Will they ever really know what it would have been like to be a female like any other woman? When they had the chance-of-a-lifetime to be one and let it go?
The professional transgender person
With work so thin-on-the-ground for transgender people, and especially for those in the acting profession (just ask Eddie Izzard who has openly admitted being in ‘Boy-Mode’ means he gets work). We now have an increasing sub-group that I call the ‘Alpha trans females’ (in this instance). They are young, pass 100% in both voice and appearance, quite frankly if they never said they were trans no one would ever know. But because they buck the trend so well when compared to what transgender people usually are seen to be, they are now becoming spokespeople for the transgender community as a whole. Being a spokesperson can be a career, companies and government departments need ‘awareness training’ and will pay for it!
As the desire for older (and often more experienced) transgender people are now bypassed for the new ‘bright young things’ who are less traumatic for the media and the rest of society to deal with – as looking at a pretty girl is psychologically more pleasing for those in power to look at – what can happen is all the drive they had to be women (or men) is replaced with ‘transgender’. I heard some very passable people talk about ‘passing privilege’, or the joy of being able to walk out in society and never be read as a trans person. But if those same people are becoming professional transpeople, eventually people will recognise them as transpeople, as opposed to being men and women – so a catch 22! – why jeopardises something they describe as a ‘privilege’ unless there is some gain in it?. Thus destroying the privilege they enjoy may seem to many nonsensical.
What do they know?
There are questions from those that have experienced a male puberty, and cannot afford expensive ‘repairs’ who now many years later maybe married and struggling to transition. Just what does someone 22 know about the struggles faced by them, when it appears they have ‘had it on a plate’… (often quite wrongly of course as young transpeople still face bullying and name calling, but so do adults and perhaps for them indefinitely). The only issue here that is worthy of note is, a young transperson can say they may pass well now and sound and look great, but when they were at school they suffered, but all I would say to them is, “you have left school. Just imagine being at that school with those people and bullies for the rest of your life!” And that kinda explains where many older transpeople are coming from and the distance between the young and their trans elders.
Something is often lost when people find out about an individual’s past, I personally have witnessed this over the years, that when people do not ‘know’ it is ‘normality’, the occasions when trans women were ‘read’ may have began with a simple visit to the hospital and the receptionist who had no idea until she was told of their past, then slowly they could see the receptionist taking ‘sly glances’, then another woman who comes out from behind the counter is told with a whisper and then she is looking out of the corner of her eye… Many trans women report a similar sea-change in a bar where they are part of a group having fun, a group who have no idea about their ‘trans past’ until someone spots them they know from the past mentions it, “that the person over there (them) is trans…” Suddenly the gaiety and mood changes ever so slightly – something is lost! That something is irretrievable, a dangerous game to play for the naive young transperson putting it up for sale.
“Danger men reversing!”
I personally know of two transmen who had appeared in magazine articles, one on ‘Kilroy’ and ‘This Morning’ and the other in a magazine article. We have it all in our archives. They were both snapped up as they were young FTM and had a high trans-currency at the time, but many years later I had a formal request from one to remove a story of him and the other asked that I do not have any photos of him that are ‘searchable’ stored online. They remain now in our database but that is not available to the net. What changed? One moment they were out there using their trans currency all smiles, and then as they grew a little older they panicked! They both explained that they wish they had not gone on the television and now are frantically trying to burn and purge the evidence across the net. One of the men is no longer in a relationship with the girlfriend he appeared in the article with.
With the increase in social networking this will be even harder to do in future! After all, those guys were old friends and trusted me to do as they asked, there was no advantage in me resisting their wishes. But try getting a TV documentary, Facebook or twitter photo removed in 5 years – good luck!
Until now, the majority of transpeople on the television are those that have ‘nothing to lose’ by being on it, or they were ‘community leaders’ who were there in an almost professional/official capacity to speak about the issues rather than themselves (Janett Scott and Stephen Whittle for example). Today trying to separate the two is far more difficult. Being on television even a couple of times suddenly creates a demand for that person to appear on more things, they maybe completely ignorant yet their views matter more as a result, they maybe asked to become patrons or given political platforms to effect change. The come down from that when people are bored with them can be particularly upsetting. Even public speaking is boring if there is no new face doing the keynote every year, we even get bored with Prime Ministers :). The same old face year in and year out talking about the same old life story… And probably just as they are growing into their skin, they are dropped like a tonne of bricks!
Is 15 mins of fame, when someone has so much to lose (in the long term) and at the beginning of their journey really worth the risk?
Is the trans-currency a case of selling their souls to the devil?
Conclusion – It is not all doom and gloom!
Inside any trans person young or old is the potential to change things for the better. Ageism works in both ways. A young beautiful and smart transsexual can also be an Erin Brockovich, or they can equally be a soppy ‘air-head’ hoovering up celebrity, but unable to contribute much more, as once the celebrity and adoration is over they are gone, and have no other interest in us.
We could say they are ‘spent’. Transgender people can be notoriously selfish, few return the help and support they have taken from groups they mix with over the years. Many expect it just to happen – news just in it doesn’t! This is why there seems to be the same old faces managing things year in and year out. Yours truly being one of them :).
A transgender Elder, may look fondly upon their old photos and even aging beauties will become socially ‘invisible’. Men suffer far less in the aging stakes – how does it go again? “They become ‘dignified’ with age….”
“Joey (Friends) cried when he hit 30!”
A transperson can however have a lifetime of experience and a wealth of specialist knowledge that is being wasted as they go ignored. Both young and old have ‘currency’ but the currency of the elder is often more valuable to the transgender community itself than to the wider celebrity world who has little or no interest in it today.
Helen Belcher at the Leveson Inquiry.
Helen above made a massive contribution by taking part in the Leveson Inquiry this year – this is serious stuff! But this was something that enriched our community rather than to titillate on ITV2 with her clothes off (see earlier photos). If people had not been watching the live stream of the proceedings, then it is likely they would never have known she was there. But we do!!!
Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts
In an ideal world I suppose the best comparison would be the classic Erving Goffman view of the ‘front of house’ versus the ‘back of house’ that he experienced in his work on asylums (no pun intended). What he found was that what at first appears to a client when they walk in the door of an institution is often very different to the reality of the situation. A welcoming young and efficient receptionist offering coffee and a newspaper to a waiting dignitary is likely to be the antithesis of the people out of sight, people that may be being abused and assaulted, dehydrated, tied to beds and sleeping in their own filth. A smart restaurant can have a filthy kitchen and rotten food (anyone seen Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen nightmares?). History demonstrates we should be cautious of appearances, or ‘flannel’ and pretty smiles – and media executives with generous donations to our causes.
The transgender community has a brilliant ‘back of house’ source of knowledge and skills just sitting there, technical and knowledgeable experts in many fields. They may not be ‘spring chickens’ but if they are ignored for a posy ‘front of house’ to appeal to the legislators we are in big trouble. Even parliament has had their fingers burnt when trying to ‘spin’ the truth!
Where are all the women in Parliament or the Cabinat anyway?
The same goes for those ‘bright young things’ that have opportunities that older trans people have never had, those opportunities are the result of the trans elders winning them through hard graft and at great risk remember.
“A new eco-friendly hybrid?”
The two do have a period of crossover as Luke Anderson this year in Big Brother proved. It is possible for the two arguments to work. He is not 18 but nor is he an old man, he showed the world both the front of house (himself) and he is good looking. He also showed us his vulnerability in private via the Big Brother ‘Diary Room’ and his intimate chats with his mate Adam about his surgery plans and visible chest scaring (imperfect) as millions listened-in. He is interesting in showing transpeople as ‘normal’, and he wants to be visible and campaign too. He is a ‘celebrity’ because he was on television (every day for 3 months!!!), but appears humble enough not to let his ego run away with him, he I think is also aware of his limitations.
So Luke Anderson is i suspect a new ‘hybrid’ transgender person (early 30s so still within the 18-35 media comfort zone mentioned above) who has one foot in the past and one foot in the future of our community, as a man he is less likely to be exploited when compared to an attractive female. But I suspect he is also aware as a fan of Big Brother just how easily it can all go wrong. Plus being a man may have helped a little ;). As society is less judgmental of blokes. And it won him £50,000 and counting ;). Nice one!
“I am gonna Spend! Spend! Spend!”
If you are transgender you have currency – just be careful how you spend it, and do not get mugged (street robbery) by the media – as it can happen when you least expect it! If you spend your currency, it is gone! If you enjoy passing ‘privilege’ even though you are more valuable as a result, think very carefully before giving it away. Ask yourself, is this more valuable to me(?) – as taking a big role as a transperson in a Soap could be very lucrative. Or is it more valuable to them? Many giving their potential away for free (in most cases for ‘celebrity’) or the public good. But will you still think like that in 10 years time? Be careful when you start to talk about issues outside your comfort zone, the press love a trashy headline!
Take another look at the evidence above and those that have gone before – many disillusioned with what they became. Remember you can so easily become part of the problem as much as the solution, it all depends on how well you play the game an how thrifty you are with your public persona.
Who am I?
(Citation: S.Johnson, Transgenderzone.com, Fair Usage permitted, Link and credit and source must be included (http://blog.transgenderzone.com/?p=1043).