At the start of the decade, the portrayal of transgender lives in newspapers and on television in the UK was grim. Sensationalised stories which ridiculed and outed trans people with dehumanising headlines, were the norm. All About Trans set out to change that.
All About Trans was launched in 2011
At the time it was known as Trans Media Action, a project run by the charity On Road Media. In the early days we worked with the organisation Trans Media Watch to devise ways to improve media professionals’ understanding of trans people, encouraging them to find out more and to create more sensitive portrayals of trans people in their work.
In late 2011/early 2012 we organised three workshops at the BBC and Channel 4 that brought together volunteers from the trans community and media professionals to find out what level of understanding the media really had about trans people and to try and find ways to work together to improve portrayal. At that time trans people were the butt of jokes in prime time comedy or the subjects of shocking tabloid stories.
It was time for something bold
Trans Camp took place in January 2012. The day was dedicated to exploring creative solutions to major stumbling blocks in the media’s portrayal of this misrepresented and misunderstood community.
Hosted at Channel 4, Trans Camp brought together over 60 innovators, developers, entrepreneurs, designers, media professionals and trans people from all walks of life to come up with new and exciting ideas to address how the media portrayed trans people.
Participants were split into teams and throughout the day they looked at five main issues:
- There is very little awareness of the existence of trans children. How do we change that?
- What can we do to help the media create more accurate coverage about trans people? Headlines are appalling – how can we start to change them?
- Can we find a constructive way of galvanising the trans community to report on transphobia in the media in a way that can be acted upon?
- How do we make producers of comedy aware of who they are making comedy about?
- How can we use the web to help family, friends and partners better accept and support trans people?
BBC Two’s Boy Meets Girl
Have you heard about Boy Meets Girl – the UK’s first ever comedy sitcom with a lead trans character at its heart played by a trans actress? The BBC Two series came out of an idea that was born at Trans Camp.
One team pitched a scriptwriter’s competition that would invite writers to come up with funny material that contained positive portrayals of trans people. That team included comedians Claire Parker and Shelley Bridgman (who are both trans, giving the project a real sense of credibility), journalist Juliet Jacques, activist Jo Shaw, actress Milanka Brooks and former BBC Head of Creative Resources, Ian Critchley.
With support from the BBC Writers Room, their plan came to fruition and became the Trans Comedy Award. The winning script Boy Meets Girl, written by Elliott Kerrigan, was made into a pilot by Tiger Aspect and was commissioned by BBC Two, starring trans actress and voice coach Rebecca Root. It was broadcast on 3rd September 2015, winning awards both itself and for its writing. The following year, it was recommissioned for a second series and broadcast in July 2016.
Channel 4’s My Trans Story
The BBC’s support of trans comedy was not the only development to come out of Trans Camp. All About Trans forged a relationship with Stuart Cosgrove, then head of Creative Diversity at Channel 4. In 2013-14, Channel 4 went on to support All About Trans’ Patchwork project, a collection of inspirational stories from talented and dynamic British trans people. For Patchwork, All About Trans commissioned Fox Fisher and Lewis Hancox of My Genderation/Lucky Tooth Films to create twenty five short films. In October 2015, eight of those short films were entitled ‘My Trans Story’, and uploaded onto All4 and education hub Am I Normal? It was the most watched series on All4 in its first week of upload.
Having an impact…
The connections made at Trans Camp continue to make an impact in the media. Among the attendees were Buzzfeed UK LGBT editor Patrick Strudwick (who interviewed Rebecca Root), award-winning journalist Paris Lees who was the first out trans person on Question Time, Hamida Ali formerly of BBC Diversity who supported All About Trans for 3 years, and others who continue to influence and engage the media and general public.
Media interactions and bringing about change
With support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Awards for All, All About Trans continues to work with the trans community and British media to promote more trans voices in the media, inspire new programming and continue to improve reporting. We’ve met with around 360 media and sector professionals across the UK using our interaction method driven by trans and non-binary people of all ages and identities.
An ‘interaction’ is a method for engagement we have developed over the last five years. It is a relaxed, social meet-up between a senior media professional and someone with personal experience to share. The aim is that the personal connection will change attitudes and behaviour. The relationships created have led to consultations on scripts and storylines, the production of factual/fictional programming and off-screen opportunities. They have also led to more visible media appearances in broadcasting or print for activists. You can read about the interactions and achievements so far here.
Over the few years, we’ve seen an escalation in trans visibility and explorations around gender identity in mainstream media. There are regular references to Laverne Cox’s character in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black and her Time “tipping point” cover, as well as new shows and films like Sense8 and The Danish Girl with trans characters and trans actors. In 2015, Olympic champion Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair and announced her transition as a trans woman, and in the UK former boxing promoter Kellie Maloney came out in public. Even Miley Cyrus launched a non-binary identity campaign with Instagram, #InstaPride, celebrating photographs of gender variant people.
However, there is much still to do to ensure global visibility leads to better empathy, understanding and change for the trans community.
Until 2017, All About Trans is carrying out a number of media interactions and events with an aim to encourage better understanding of the trans community, in the areas of healthcare and education specifically.
We are working to promote trans voices in the media and we also support trans and non-binary people to meet with a journalist, radio presenter, television personality, media, healthcare or education professional with the aim of encouraging fairer treatment and better representation of the trans community. Interactions will also raise awareness of the challenges trans people might face in schools, universities, employment and in healthcare.