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.
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.