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OPINION: Trans is the new punk

My Transsexual Summer kicked off last night and, says Paris Lees, there’s no better time to re-evaluate what the trans community has to offer

Wed, 09 Nov 2011 16:16:20 GMT | Updated 5 years today

Rubbish lesbian? Beat this Sarah Westwood - I've jumped into bed with a man. He's called Sam, he's a film-maker, and he's married with kids. We're all cosy and snuggled up with a number of documentary producers and Channel 4 execs and, last night, the public, and the trans community in particular, judged our performance. It was enough to make a girl self-conscious: especially if she wasn't born one.

1.65 million - ten per cent of the viewing pubic - tuned in to see My Transsexual Summer, Channel 4's major new reality doc. I've been consulting on this project for the past 8 months, so what did everyone make of it?

Judging by online reactions, the verdict was a resounding "Yeah, it were quite good". But where were the trans people of colour, some quite rightly asked? And no, we didn't like the gratuitous use of "tranny"; but yes, it was upbeat and well-made, but no, we did not need to be in that hospital room; yes, we cried as we emotionally connected with the participants…

There was laughter, too: "I took so many hormones I turned into a fanny" quipped Donna, one of the show's self-dubbed 'Magic Tranny Seven'. Talk about burst onto the scene - and about bloody time too. I've said it before and I'll say it again: TV needs lots more queers please: people who identify as gay, bi, trans or - a la Margaret Cho - just slutty.

Television has a wonderful way of glossing over the reality of human variation, so it's great to see some very different types of beauty beamed into the nation's living rooms.

As Jennie Kermode tweeted last night: "Reading the #TransSummer comments reveals a lot about how narrowly people view acceptable female bodies - there's lots of variety out there!" Indeed there is. Donna doesn't conform to what society says trans women look like, but she also subverts traditional expectations of women full stop. Transgender aside, a face full of piercings and chunky boots make her a rare beast on primetime TV.

Trans people understand that life is one big paradox. Donna says her low points during the show were also her positives: "Maybe we've lost family, and maybe some people don't accept us, or we're finding it hard because of the way we look and everything. But that's also the high point, because we then have to explore why we feel that way".

And trans stuff does make you more questioning. Anything that makes people think can, I think, only be a good thing. My Transsexual Summer's Fox says he hasn't had a huge amount of transphobia, but that living in Brighton has given him unique insight into how others experience their gender: "It's a really open place, and I'm kind of more of an effeminate male, so I probably just get read as a gay guy". Fox, who identifies as two-spirit, has also had homophobia: "I'm still at that stage where I'm happy to be acknowledged as a guy - but the badness outweighs the good. People shouldn't be treating people like that."

It swings both ways. Fox's experiences highlight a heightened awareness of possible gay identities: "If people are reading me as a butch lesbian, even though I've got facial hair and stuff, they'll say 'she'. They don't want to offend me and call me 'he', in case I'm not."

This is what trans folk have to offer. Despite a dominant cultural meme that says we're delusional and lacking in self-awareness, many trans people have unique insight. When you're shifting between female and male, it helps to get a grip on that which is truly important - what it means to be human.

And that's exactly how the Magic 7 want you to think of them: "Transitioning is the best thing that I ever did for myself," says Lewis, one of the participants, "I wanted to show people that it's nothing strange and that we're just human."

Donna says she doesn't feel quite like a man or a woman, defining herself as a third sex, something she successfully communicates to those who may find such concepts new and challenging. Indeed, despite the fact the all most of us want to do is live our lives in peace, the existence of trans people does appear to be hugely disruptive to others.

Trans is the new punk. Rather than conforming to the gender binary - or even perpetuating it, as some ill-informed commentators have previously suggested - trans people are the ultimate triumph of rebellious self-expression. We don't let what's between our legs tell us what to do. Bodily autonomy couldn't ask for more passionate advocates.

MTS has got people talking about gender again - and for that we should be thankful. Bravo.

My Transsexual Summer next airs at 10pm on Channel 4, Tuesday 15 November

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  • AlexDrummond TransgenderActivist - Wed, 09 Nov 2011 20:02:52 GMT -

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    These are exciting times - a new Zeitgeist is emerging which offers hope to the many people struggling to come to terms with the apparent constraints of their gender identity. Just getting the word Transgender out there is going to make a significant difference as we break away from the hegemony of previous conceptualisations to widen the bandwidth of gender possibilities and where gender punks like Donna pave the way for others to inhabit space beyond "proper" male-or-female. I salute the T7 and the folks driving this new era. We will change the world at some point.

  • Eden Walker - Fri, 25 Nov 2011 12:49:53 GMT -

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    Alex i have to disagree. I had hopes for this programme and now i hope it finishes. I'm in transition, i was born a hermaphrodite and i will be post op early next year. All this programme does is enforce the fact that all transwomen want to wear makeup and have long hair. I've written posts that have resulted in me being called transphobic, when actually what i'm saying is totally valid in that if you are a transwoman you don't have to be femme. I don't have a femme bone in my body when it comes to self presentation and think it's remiss of channel four to represent the transwomen in a light that makes transitional people like me invisible and invalid. I had to fight the gender clinic so that i could transition on my terms and be honest to myself. Channel four are saying if you want to transition you have to be femme. I'm saying if you want to transition do it your way, be yourself and be honest. You don't have to aspire to the social femme construct, you don't have to want big tits or long hair or spend hours doing makeup. All channel four have done from my point of view is point out that i can't really be trans because i don't meet their standards