by Ralph Francis Fox, All About Trans facilitator and volunteer
Interaction with James O’Brien from LBC 97.3 FM
All About Trans (On Road Media / Trans Media Action) have been running interactions for the past few months. Although our first official interaction was with BBC bigwigs at the London Sea Life Aquarium, my chat with James O’Brien on LBC 97.3 FM could be considered the start of All About Trans, promoting trans* understanding and awareness within the mainstream media. It felt like a really open conversation and I could feel that moment when something ‘clicked’ with James, as he began to empathise with my situation and ask all sorts of intrusive (yet necessary) questions. Being a popular chat show, comments came flooding in. Only one ‘hater’ revealed himself and the rest was from well-wishers and people with personal experience of having trans* people in their lives and recognising their struggles.
Even my Dad (who was listening in Spain) wrote in and his message was read by James on the air. It was the greatest feeling to feel his support and love, especially on such a national scale.
Interaction with Kate Phillips, Channel Executive for BBC One and Three
On the 22nd of May, Reuben Davidson and I left Brighton in the early morning, to meet up with the glamourous Jackie Green who had just been spending some time in Japan. By 10am we were seated in The Riding House Café, which is a known media haunt not far from Portland Place, the BBC headquarters. There, we were met by Kate Phillips. She seemed very sympathetic to our situation and it was easy to hold a steady conversation in the bustling café.
I’ve been on several past interactions and workshops with between 3 and 12 media professionals, when the group splits into pairs to get to know one person at a time. It’s more intimate and really gives us a chance to chat one-on-one. I expected the interaction to be a bit more intimate and I was concerned that Kate might feel a bit ‘ganged up’ on, but she was genuinely keen to get to know us.
The first half of the interaction was more of an introduction to everyone. We ordered earl grey teas and coffees and chatted about Jackie’s BBC Three documentary “Transsexual Teen, Beauty Queen“, broadcast in November, where she attempts the Miss England competition. Then, our conversation drifted onto Jackie’s recent trip to Japan and how much she enjoyed being there. We discussed existing stereotypes of trans* people and which mainstream media people tend to use as a reference point for understanding what trans* means, and whether this has a positive or negative influence. We also talked about how sad the death of Lucy Meadows was. We were having such a great chin-wag, sharing information and putting the world to rights, that we actually forgot to order our food!
Kate Phillips, Channel Executive BBC One and BBC Three
Knowing from the start that I could ask anything was the most useful aspect of the interaction. It was surprising to hear how the long the process of transitioning can take; the side effects and having to deal with a lot on top of everyday life. Time flew and it all went far too quickly.
Kate said she had enjoyed watching My Genderation’s episode, ‘Reuben’: the première film that Lewis Hancox and I made for the My Genderation series, which has set the precedent for all future episodes. Reuben and I have very similar mannerisms and traits; we’re both creatives, and we discussed how amazing it was discovering we were also born on the same day, over a decade apart. That got us talking about the range of services and support available today for trans* people versus when I was 19 years old (the age that Reuben & Jackie are now). We discussed the new generation of gender variant kids, hormone blockers and transitions in general.
Kate was very open and understanding. She was inquisitive and it felt good to be able to talk about things with her. When the topic of birth names came up, Kate seemed surprised that we initially didn’t feel comfortable revealing our birth names with her. For a transgender person, this can often be a reminder of a difficult past, or it may not reflect someone’s authentic self and therefore does not seem relevant to disclose.
It’s not something that people normally like to talk about and we explained why that was an issue. Jackie quite rightly said that even if you told someone your birth name, you don’t want to imply that that was you because you may feel like you were never quite you until you became who you are today. Reuben explained that his birth name is irrelevant and he feels completely disconnected from it. He talked about how he felt like a ghost for the first 18 years of his life and how he existed but didn’t really feel like a person. In the end, we felt like disclosing our birth names but knew that Kate understood why it was an issue for many trans people.
Towards the end of the interaction, we gave Kate several gifts including an Andy Warhol book, hand-made cards and stickers. They were definitely a good idea. They allow the media professional to take something away with them that reminds them of you.
Kate was surprisingly well informed and had ‘swotted up’ on us all prior to our date. She seemed genuinely interested in chatting with us all, asking questions which we were extremely keen to answer. Afterwards, we did a quick vox pop outside the café with the On Road team (video up soon) and then we all went on our way. I’ve since been in touch with Kate, she’s been in touch with Jackie and she’s introducing us to others in the media who might be interested in All About Trans.
I love experiencing first-hand how important it is to make connections with those who are in the position to edit and commission, essentially the movers and shakers within the mainstream media and I feel that a wave of change is happening because a lot of great work is being done to raise awareness and promote empathy.