I’m Not Happy About My Appearance In Ch4’s “Girls To Men” Trans Docuseries

This is Mey, the Trans Editor for Autostraddle.com. Before you read CJ’s post, I want to give you some context.

For many trans people my age, most of our experience with trans visibility growing up came from grossly exploitative TV shows like Jerry Springer. We only saw trans women when they were being portrayed as deceptive, sexually deviant freaks. We barely ever saw trans men. We never saw non-binary people. Now trans people are experiencing a level of visibility in the media that we could have never dreamed of even just a few years ago. However, this rise in visibility hasn’t always come with a rise in respect or care in the way that we are treated. While some people are listening to trans people and treating us with respect and humanity, others simply see us as the next fad to exploit.

TV shows tout their Very Special “Trans Episodes” only to misgender and mistreat their subjects at every turn. Trans people are still forced to answer invasive questions about their bodies and sexual behaviors on national TV. Trans stories are forced into narrow, misguided and often inaccurate narratives that serve the purpose of the cis storytellers. Accomplished and multi-dimensional people are forced to become one-dimensional stereotypes. The media wants to see us as men turning into women and women turning into men and when we challenge that, they tell us that we should be happy just to be noticed.

This famously happened on I Am Cait when Angelica Ross, an actress, entrepreneur, activist and CEO was stripped of all of those identities, and for much of her screen time, her voice was turned into little more than a helpless and frustrated  trans woman who needs to be saved by Caitlyn Jenner. This kind of mistreatment is happening again, this time on Channel 4’s Born in the Wrong Body program season. This is what happened to one member of the Autostraddle community, CJ Bruce, when they were asked to be a part of the series.

Here’s CJ.


A lot of my friends have been talking about the Girls to Men show that Channel 4 is airing tonight as part of the Born in the Wrong Body season. Here’s something to know before you watch it.

I got a message from someone from Channel 4 who had picked me out of a friend’s Facebook friend list (along with my friend, Sabah Ali) a few months ago asking me if I wanted to take part in it. Initially I said no. They insisted I meet up with one of their producers, who then took me out for lunch and told me about the show.

It was to be called “The T(estosterone) Diaries,” he said. When I expressed concern over the voyeuristic and sensational nature of past Ch4 programs on trans people, he assured me that this one would be purely educational and the funding for it was taken directly from the education budget, therefore it could not be sensationalised in any way. He said they were looking for some voices from people of colour, that I would film my own clips and that they would send me some questions but I didn’t have to follow that format — I could speak for myself. So I agreed — on the premise that the show wasn’t just sensational trans stuff focused around surgery and hormones.

I had some trouble sending them the videos via email and Dropbox so the producer suggested I upload them to YouTube and he’d rip them off of there. I did, but one video wouldn’t upload. He mentioned to me that he had been watching some of my past videos (which I have never really publicised since no one really knows about my Youtube account, I mainly use it to keep track of transition stuff for myself.) I (stupidly, I realise now) said that if I answer any of the questions that I missed out in the videos I filmed for their purposes, they could take one or two clips from old videos on my Youtube account. They told me they would ask for my permission to use any clips of old videos before they used them — which they ended up not doing.

Fast forward to last week, when at around midnight I got a message from Sabah asking if I’d seen the show advertised on the Ch4 website. He sent me a link, and when I saw the name Girls to Men I was filled with a kind of white rage. I sent off two or three angry emails to the producer asking why on Earth he had not consulted us about the program name or anything like that. Their response was that they consulted the “main people” in the program and they were fine with it so *shrug*. I explained to him that the name is disgusting and sensational, that consulting three people was not the same as consulting everyone, and that I wanted absolutely no part in it. I explained to him that my face on a show called that wasn’t just insulting, it could be potentially dangerous. This is meant to be educational, but instead it was turning into another sensational nightmare. I told him that if he’d even mentioned the idea to me a few months back, I would have politely backed out and left them time to find someone else. At this time, Sabah was also sending them emails and phonecalls asking them to take both of our content out unless they change the name. Of course, they refuse to.

I never agreed to be a part of a program with this name. During the lunch meeting with one of the producers months ago, I was asked if I would be okay with showing before/after pictures and sharing my previous name. I said absolutely not and explained to them why. I explained that I don’t see my past self in female terms and so forth, hoping that they would learn from it. So for them to think it’s okay to call the show “GIRLS to Men” without even consulting me or Sabah is pretty disgusting. Not to mention the fact that throughout the trailer they use language like “blah blah taking DRASTIC MEASURES to become men blah blah.” Bullshit.

Lastly, last week at the end of the “My Transgender Kid” episode they showed a preview for this show. I was featured in two of the clips. As I said, I’d told them they could use some of my older videos to fill in answers to questions they’d asked me that I was unable to record new answers to. The clips featured in that preview did not serve that purpose and were not clips I would’ve given them permission to use.

I’m devastated about all this and quite frankly I feel a bit stupid. I can chalk it up to a learning experience now, but as you watch the show tonight (if you watch it), please note that there are at least two TPOC (trans people of colour) in there who feel completely used and honestly pretty much deceived by the producers of this show. This is part of why it’s so important to have trans people on your team when you’re making shows about trans people. Every time I think about the fact that it’s going to air tonight it gives me a knot in my stomach.

Be careful when you’re working with mainstream media on trans stories and stay safe out there.


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CJ Bruce is a 25-year-old Trinidadian genderqueer boi who drives trains for a living and does math equations for fun.

CJ has written 1 articles for us.

60 Comments

  1. I saw CJ’s post this morning on FB and I’m thankful they were willing to share it more broadly. This is so infuriating, violent and unfair. We stand with you and love you, CJ! I hope we can help you fight back in this instance and generally against a culture that sensationalizes trans stories to the detriment of trans lives.

  2. Hi CJ. So sorry this has happened. If you want to take this forward formally it is covered by the Ofcom code of practice section 7, which says you should be informed about the nature of the programme, told about changes that might affect your consent, and the broadcaster shouldn’t reuse footage unfairly. Best wishes and hope it isn’t as bad as you think.

  3. Feeling sick reading this. Especially how the process has left you feeling as if it’s somehow your fault that you were exploited. Nothing you said or did makes their exploitation of you and Sabah ok. I hope you both feel able to take this forward with Ofcom. At the same time, I’m furious just thinking about all the bullshit that would probably involve for you.

    As for the rest of us, at least in the UK, we should complain here: http://www.channel4.com/4viewers/contact-us Not sure how much effect it will have, but it’s better than nothing, and maybe it would help throw some weight behind what CJ and Sabah have already done and any future actions they may take.

    • While I understand what your getting at, in not victim blaming, I do think that any sort of legal agreement requires having a full knowledge of the abilities each party is granted and what protections are covered. People and companies tend to act to the limits, and sometimes beyond, that they are able to for their gain and rarely is moral or ethical responsibility taken into consideration. That’s just reality, it’s unfortunate that this has such a personal impact.

    • I had a lot of friends who were in documentaries back in the early 2000s and pretty much all of them were left with that feeling… they tried to make a difference and ended up feeling like they were gullible and thus somewhat responsible for being used.

      I had started to hope this was a thing of the past. My greatest sympathy goes out to CJ.

  4. I wish this was impossible.

    I wish it were unbelievable.

    I wish consent wouldn’t and couldn’t be twisted to boost ratings.

    I am so glad you were willing to speak up and out, both for an educational series and against what they did to you. I wish I could see the story you would
    have told.

  5. Upset by what you are saying, and slightly horrified that your feelings weren’t taken into account.

    I was involved in the Trans lovers show the night before that was supposed to be about men finding trans women attractive only to find out the week before it was focusing only on pre-op trans women and seemed obsessed by the content of their knickers. So pretty much Ch4 managed to offend the entire trans community (F2M and M2F) in the space of 48 hours. Good work. Not.

  6. Just saw that this was on & was pissed off at the title. I thought “more sensationalistic transphobic bullshit Channel 4.” I can’t believe it involves CJ (a lovely guy I’ve met) & I’m horrified to read about his awful experience. I’m cis but my partner is gender neutral.

    I’m really hoping the community gets behind a complaint against this kind of exploitation. What can we do to help?

  7. Oh CJ, thia is horrible. Thanks Eli for the link above, I will definitely write to Ofcom about this. Shame on Channel 4 (is their any low to which they won’t sink for their sensational magazine shows?) and sending you huge hugs and solidarity CJ. I boycott Channel 4 and their disgusting, offensive shit.

  8. The title “Girls to Men” says it all about how full of bs this series is. As many trans people have found out the hard way, no matter what the supposed original good intentions are of a project or the person approaching you with sharing your story, if you don’t have a final edit or right of refusal, you’re extremely liable to be exploited and your very personhood framed in a way which is repellant to you.

  9. That Pisses me off!

    It’s do insulting when people think that people like Cj and I are “girls” who become men! I’ve always been a man! Even before I knew it. Fuck that show. I’m not watching it.

    Boycotting it of solidarity!

  10. This is exactly why I’ll never engage with the media on ‘trans issues’ – they simply can’t be trusted. And I’ve been asked to do so several times. To be honest I’d rather that trans people were an unknown quantity and be harder to find or to learn about, than to have them sensationalised in the ‘same old same old’ ways they use.

  11. I know it doesn’t change what they’ve done, but if they’ve used your videos without permission, depending on the CC license you’ve applied to them, you may be able to sue them for a tonne of money. Go get ’em!

  12. Presumably the content on your YouTube page is your own copyrighted material? Send them a cease and desist letter asking them to remove your copyrighted material immediately and contact an LGBT friendly lawyer that specialises in intellectual property. Simmons & Simmons are very good.

  13. I thought it was an ok documentary. It did annoy me that they kept referring to them being born as girls after every single ad-break, treating the viewers like idiots – fwiw channel 4, idiots wouldn’t be watching a documentary in the first place, so you can talk to us like we’re adults.

    One of the better trans documentaries I’ve seen, but if they’ve gone against they’re word as the above says, then that’s not cool at all.

  14. CJ you are the most wonderful. Thanks for writing this and sharing it. Thanks for even attempting to be part of what you thought would be educational and helpful to others. Fuck the people who want to twist it around for their own purposes.

    This is so important… Thanks again Autostraddle for publishing this and things like it. Let’s all speak up about this shit.

  15. Omg, CJ. I’m so sorry this is happening.

    How can we support you? Apart from sharing this article far and wide, would you like us to write to Ch4? Is there any direct action any of us can take that would make you feel supported?

    Brb, setting pop culture on fire in the meantime.

    PS: I didn’t get a chance to get through all the amazing comments, so if the questions has been answered already, could someone point me to it? <3

  16. Those people are absolutely awful and I’m so sorry this happened to you.

    I can’t imagine the level of cognitive dissonance that allows someone to claim they are sharing the stories of trans people while literally ignoring the wishes of those very same trans people.

  17. This is a disgusting example of how bad the world we live in is, I feel sorry for everyone involved in this. I have not seen this show and do not watch any main stream media trans stuff nor would I be involved in creating any, and I am glad that I don’t having heard this. But it is a shame that we can not have the trust with the people that are in the best position to show us for who we truly are but instead want to focus on turning us into more of a side show.

    Stay strong and don’t let them get you down.

  18. As a trans person myself, I actually found this documentary informative and particularly useful to show my parents exactly what is going to happen in my next steps of transitioning. I agree that the title isn’t the most tasteful titles possible, and that they should not have used your content without full permission. However when you refer to the “drastic measures” comment as being “Bullshit”, I personally feel you are completely wrong. We do have to face dangerous, scary, and yes even drastic measures to be able to feel comfortable in our body’s. And I feel that society needs to be aware of the issues we face.

    • That is fantastic that it helped you and your family.I totally agree that its dangerous and scary . At the same time! I whole heartedly believe that is not the shows producers intentions to accurately portray how difficult it is for gender non-conforming people and by their use of ‘drastic measures’ I believe they are purely saying this to sensationlise not to accurately portray the dificulty people like me and you face.

  19. I haven’t watched the documentary yet and don’t know if I will after this. I’m really sorry this happened to you and hope you can get some justice for it. There are hardly ever any British TV shows highlighting LGBT issues so it’s so disappointing that the few that they do make are offensive or hurtful.

    • I would strongly urge you not to. He was violated, and if you choose to watch it anyway you’re supporting the producers’ decision to do so. It’s like when people started downloading the non-consensually published nude photos of celebrities. Once you participate, you’re part of it.
      I mean, obviously I can’t speak for anyone else’s feelings, but that’s what I would want if it were me.

  20. This is just appalling CJ. I have been living under a rock so I had no idea about this but it’s GROSS. Thank you for sharing your experiences in this piece. I will be complaining to Ch4 and I hope you are ok.

  21. After reading your article, I wrote to Channel 4 on their website asking them to explain to me how they followed the correct procedures and don’t warrant an Ofcom investigation. The response was a cop out unfortunately 🙁

    Dear Miss Davidson,

    Thank you for contacting Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries regarding GIRLS TO MEN.

    We appreciate the time you have taken to write to us and share your point of view.

    Every contributor who appeared in Girls to Men gave written consent to be included in the film and, where necessary, gave written permission for use of publicly available footage. The title was chosen to reflect more accurately the experiences of the main contributors, who were all happy with this title. We are incredibly proud of these films which have all been made with a great deal of sensitivity and consideration in an attempt to raise awareness of the transgender community.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise.

    Regards,

    Nicole Aston
    Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries

  22. It’s horrible that they did that. I hate sensationalizing of LGBTQIA+ issues in general, but that’s just horrible.

    (Side note, is your photo in front of biscuit paint wall in Houston? Is there a Houston Straddler? This makes me happy)

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