15 January 2016

Ashleigh Talbot: How to get ahead in the media

By Ashleigh Talbot, presenter and All About Trans volunteer.

Back in June 2014, I took the MetroLink out of Manchester and arrived at BBC North West’s headquarters in Salford’s MediaCity UK. My reason for being there? To meet with other trans people keen to improve the way trans matters are talked about in the media, and for us all to take part in All About Trans’s media interaction with BBC North West.

We were going to meet a number of BBC commissioning editors and directors of radio at the broadcasting group. It felt great to get out of the house and actually do something meaningful. I’ve known about being trans for a long, long time. So after coming out and experiencing the world for myself, as myself, I knew I wanted to make things change. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why.

Volunteers at BBC North West

Volunteers at BBC North West

For a part of the interaction, I was paired with Kate Squire, who is the editor for BBC Radio Manchester. After a few minutes chatting, I was asked directly if I wanted to be on the radio. Giving it a careful three or four seconds thought, I said yes.

The first step towards me appearing on BBC Radio Manchester was meeting with the presenter she had in mind. This was the unbelievably Mancunian Mike Sweeney who is something of a local legend having been on various stations for the last 35 years.

He freely confessed that he didn’t know anything about trans matters and said he’d never met a trans person before, to which I had to mischievously respond by saying “not that you’re aware of”. I hoped if I could make him listen and understand, perhaps some listeners would too.

As Mike and I discussed how to present some of the issues on the show, we found ourselves in total agreement on a lot of things. For example, when talking about trans people and transition narratives, it is not helpful to make it seem like a sudden overnight change. I’ve always hated the terms ‘sex change/sex swap’ and especially so when I read them in a newspaper headline.

I wanted to show that a transition is not something that can be accomplished with a magical click of the fingers and suddenly everything is different. It’s a long and sometimes painful process, a whole swathe of changes and experiences which takes place (usually) over a number of years. In short then, a ‘transition’, rather than a ‘swap’.

Ashleigh at BBC North West interaction

Ashleigh at BBC North West interaction

So every month since June 2014 I’ve made my way over to MediaCity UK to sit and talk about ‘the trans experience’ with Mike. For my first time on the show, I introduced myself and my own experiences. Now though, we’ve gone on to cover a lot of subjects, the delays for treatment within the NHS being fairly prominent. (It just keeps coming up, for some reason).

We’ve also talked about all the really ‘fun’ stuff, like discrimination in public and the workplace, hate crime and mental health. There have been several occasions where Mike has been left looking absolutely stunned by something that’s come up in our conversations. A part of me hopes some of the audience has a similar reaction.

Initially, Kate, Mike and the other production staff wanted to build up a profile of “Ashleigh; the Human” but lately this has moved into “Ashleigh; the Activist”. I got bored of talking about myself, and there’s only so many times you can say “I’m still waiting” when asked about treatment from a gender clinic.

Within the last few months I’ve (with, it must be said, quite a bit of help from All About Trans) been trying to widen the scope of our discussions and bring in more voices. This has worked out well, as in the last year we’ve spoken to the Albert Kennedy Trust about LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, Susie Green from the Mermaids charity on how we can help young trans people in schools and Jess Bradley from Action for Trans Health about the NHS and the challenges trans and non-binary people face in healthcare (See? Told you it keeps coming up).

Ashleigh with other All About Trans volunteers at Sparkle

Ashleigh with other All About Trans volunteers at Sparkle

As well as these conversations, there’s been some remarkably positive chats with both Rebecca Root (co-star of Boy Meets Girl) about trans representation in the media, and most recently with radio presenter Stephanie Hirst. We talked about November’s Trans Day of Remembrance and the fact that the trans movement is a long way from being able to lay down our tools and say “Okay, we’re done here”.

As we go on I hope to carry on spotlighting other issues and experiences from the trans community. I was able to take a step towards that aim as myself and a few others started presenting on local TV show “Late Night Live”, Manchester’s own topical talk show on That’s Manchester. I chatted about Action for Trans Health, but I also talk about the world’s news more generally, such as the Paris attacks.

“That’s Pride” also had me on the show to present a few episodes and you can catch up on my latest broadcasts here, here, here and here! I believe I’m the first trans television presenter in the UK which is fantastic, but the most important thing is that I’m not there talking about trans stuff all the time. It feels like I’m part of a normalising process, being a trans woman reporting on something that isn’t trans related.

Ashleigh playing at a local gig

Ashleigh playing at a local gig

However, when it comes to me discussing trans matters, there’s so much going on that we haven’t been able to even scratch the surface of it all yet. But one thing is evident to all of us involved; things are changing. Even from when Mike and I started our regular chats we’ve seen a huge upswing in visibility and representation for trans people.

Just over the last couple of years I have seen things happen for myself which give me hope for the future and I have no doubt that All About Trans will continue to be a part of that process of change.

It was also exciting to be able to talk about the Trans Inquiry on today’s show, after the report was published yesterday. Listen from 1 hour and 10 minutes in! This is another example of increased awareness of trans matters, which will hopefully better support trans and non-binary people. So, onwards and upwards! Because we all still have work to do.

You can keep updated with all of Ashleigh’s goings on via Twitter.

On Road, Project Manager for On Road.


  • vicky laylor on August 4, 2016:

    Great movement