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
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