Genderquake: Why I Turned Down Channel 4 and “The Gender Debate”
I just want to start this with a little note to say that I am very grateful to have a safe space like this to discuss gender and LGBTQA+ issues. I hope that what I talk about here, in this article and others, does reach people and in some way help them. I want to talk about experience and understanding, adding my voice to the larger fight in whatever small way I can, and it is my voice. I am controlling my own narrative, I am creating content from a nonbinary point of view. Which is why I want to talk about Genderquake.
A few weeks ago I was approached by a researcher for ITN who were looking to talk to trans and NB people for a programme being put together by Channel 4, some form of debate on “the gender question”. It was the first time I had been approached by someone outside of the little queer or nerd centric bubbles that I live in to really approach me about gender and my opinions on it. I was perfectly happy to talk to her and answer her questions; after all it was a safe space to give my piece. Sitting in my kitchen on a Tuesday morning, drinking tea, I felt like I could give a good, articulate set of view to show what it’s like to be NB. I even felt that I did some good, seemingly changing her mind on certain things and giving her some new perspectives to think about in the future, it was honestly very pleasant and I have not a bad word to say against her. However, when she came back to me asking if I would be part of the debate itself I had a very different reaction.
The mainstream media is not a safe space for trans and NB people. It’s just not. Any “debate”, interview or documentary ends up as biased, with anti-trans activists being allowed to vocalise the opinion that trans people don’t exist, that we are ill, and need help. That trans women are men trying to attack and rape cis-women and take over female spaces, it’s like asking a black person to sit and debate with a member of the KKK for goodness sakes. The idea of being on TV and having to talk to these people, being trapped with people who saw my existence as something that COULD be debated at all was horrendous. It lead to a lot of sleepless nights. I had no idea what to do. Should I put myself through it for the cause? Or should I turn it down as a statement of rejection, showing that I wouldn’t let others use my story for themselves? And most of all, should I open myself up to the public scrutiny that would come with this sort of thing? In all honesty, I was afraid of having to hand over my narrative to anyone else despite what it might have gained me in other ways.
In the end I turned to the community, putting out feelers to find some sort of answer. What I found was the most trans and NB activists, big or small, were now turning down interviews and TV appearances in favour of self-creation and promotion. I was gladdened, a weight lifted from my shoulders as I felt the familial strength that I wasn’t alone and I did not owe the media anything. Because that’s what it feels like, you feel like you owe the world a reason for being yourself, having to give excuses for existing and that is not ok.
As a community we are talking about trans issues, we are having discussions and rallying with each other about how we can best be ourselves and be safe in the world. We talk about gender and identity, what it means to be trans, what gender means, we are more than happy to talk about it and educate people, but no one is asking us to do that. What we are being asked to do over and over is to justify the bare basics to people who are never going to listen, and it never gets past that. That is why we are stopping and must continue to stop being part of these debates, and not let the predominantly cis-gender bias media hold all of the cards.
I will admit that when I heard it was Channel 4, I did have a small glimmer of hope that it might be different. Channel 4 have in the past, talked about gender, opening up ideas of trans people in an attempt to be inclusive. For the most part they have been flawed, though have opened ideas to many, including myself, that gender is not a spectrum. It was only when I went and did my own research and talked to friends working in the industry, did I see that media, even if presented with the best intentions is skewed in favour of entertainment value rather than completely truthful for the sake of the community being portrayed. Trans issues are something of a headline grabber at the moment, so it makes sense that Channel 4, with its right on, inclusive attitude, would want to talk about them, but, for all their well-meaning views, what they presented was a shoddy debate and what I can only describe as a modern freak show for the masses, putting queer people on display for cis-gender folks to “ooo” and “aaah” at. I feel utterly terrible for those involved and the abuse they have received on social media and for the provocative editing that littered the show.
Considering that the public has been whipped up into a frenzy by the likes of the Daily Mail, showing trans and NB folks as monsters to be scared of, unnatural and wrong, abominations to be destroyed, this programming could have been used to challenge attitudes, to give trans people a voice, to give them a platform in the mainstream media, but instead it came across as unfeeling, with a touch of shock value on the side (I don’t even want to talk about the disgusting “outing” of a trans man on Genderquake behind his back just for the sake of “drama”, utterly appalling). As for the “debate” itself, unsurprisingly it went nowhere, with Germaine Greer’s TERF-tastic views being allowed to slide due to a strange bout of forgetfulness (the same that the PM has been having recently, maybe it’s catching) and her crowd of cronies cheering at “just because a man has cut off his penis and put on a dress doesn’t make him a woman” without repercussions. It also seemed that the trans members of the panel were hit over and over again with deep, complex questions – which they dealt with incredibly well – whereas the anti-trans contingent was given free pass after free pass.
It cemented to me why we must stop being involved in this. We aren’t being listened to, in fact many times in the program people were actively talking over each other and not taking points on board. Pretty much describes the situation. Until we, as a community, can have a space to say our piece in mainstream media, without fear of attack, we must continue to make our own media and use it to educate people as much as we can, with open hearts and minds, holding hands with those who support us.
That is what this blog is. This is my small contribution to the world of trans friendly content, making some small attempt at education. Here I am able to write down my thoughts, work out the best phrasing, how to describe things so that as many people as possible might find them accessible and gain some sort of understanding of being nonbinary. It’s very different writing a blog than it is trying to say what you mean out loud; you can’t edit yourself or have time to think of a quick, yet articulate response to someone who may be vehemently opposed to you and your existence; that’s a whole different skill and I am always impressed by those who can do it. You guys are strong and incredible, I wish I had half your strength to speak out as you do, but I can give you what I have. I hope that, despite not being able to stand on the front line, my voice is adding to the chorus, and making our tune stronger.
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If you want more please check out my last articles:
- And Now For Something Completely Different (Video Game Characters and the Importance of Doing Research)
- Strange the Way Things Turn Out (Ten Years Since Straight Out Of Surrey)
- Cute and Casual (Don’t Judge a Nonbinary Person by Their Cover)
- Bags of Personality
- Let’s Talk about Gender Presentation and be Empowered
- The Doctor’s New Clothes
Written by Holly Rose Swinyard