Blogged by Sophie Green, illustrator, artist, co-founder of #TransGirlsCan
There’s a very special atmosphere at Lime Pictures (where Hollyoaks is produced). The cast and crew are incredibly welcoming and it’s immediately clear that they love what they do, eager to share their enthusiasm with anyone that walks through the door.
The previous All About Trans interaction in 2014 was a positive affair. Relationships lasted long after our initial visit and outcomes for AAT volunteers included casting workshops and auditions for trans actors, behind the scenes film work with the Hollyoaks cast, a cameo from our ambassador Paris Lees and ongoing consultation on the Blessing Chambers and Dennis storyline.
This autumn, Hollyoaks called us back to talk about their new storyline. During our volunteer briefing before we headed to Hollyoaks, we were told about Mrs Sally St Claire, a new school headmistress coming to Hollyoaks. The feisty trans character is played by trans actor Annie Wallace, a first for a British soap! It was clear that Hollyoaks were keen to push trans visibility; on our last visit it was remarked that there was no pool of trans actors to play trans parts. Just 18 months later, here they were putting that right. This was a pretty big deal.
The right team
Selecting the right volunteers for each interaction is essential. We had a great team: seven volunteers with a good range of ages and experiences, with our youngest volunteer Charlie being just 11 years old. In Rhys we had a teacher, who transitioned later in life and continues to work in the same school. The Hollyoaks writing and producing team were keen to see how our own experiences could influence the character, in particular, those of transitioning in school.
I was delighted to facilitate this particular meeting. So I kicked off, in our unusual nightclub setting, on the soap’s set. As always there was a quick introduction to All About Trans and the amazing wins the work has had over recent times, like Boy Meets Girl and the new EastEnders trans character. The team were mainly interested in listening and learning about trans issues to develop their character and her storyline, but they were also very keen to ensure the script is accurate and tallies with real life.
James Sutton (John Paul) speaks to Charlie about how he found the meeting
Transphobia and unhelpful attitudes at school “in the age of Caitlyn Jenner”
From the first session it was clear that everyone was very shocked at how trans people, as a minority group, are generally treated, across media representation, employment and healthcare. Attitudes that to so many would seem outdated, are still apparent. In particular, this was true with young Charlie’s experience; his own school wasn’t supportive and he (and his family) had to find the courage to fight for acceptance.
The apparent transphobia from within the LGBT community itself came up. One writer said Hollyoaks could have a gay character reacting badly to a transitioning character. He mentioned the need to explore the unexpected reactions by characters that are typically “good” or perceived to be allies. We said that transphobia comes from all areas of society, and not always where you’d think most likely. Much as there have been some high profile trans people with troubling attitudes towards the LGB communities.
Our second conversation focused on the challenges trans people face in school and how schools can improve their practices to become more trans inclusive. Jon Boam, a storyliner, said how “we’re living in the age of Caitlyn Jenner, but there are few female to male role models. You have to use the internet to find them, and there are negative portrayals on there.” He asked where transphobia in school comes from. Being the youngest of the team and of school/college age, there were lots of thoughts for Charlie, a young pupil and Hunter, a media studies student. Many were shocked that, in 2015, there were unsupportive teachers who would act with hostility, much like Charlie’s school experience, and deny a student’s gender identity. The group empathised with Hunter who was purposely called “she” by a teacher.
Hannah Mason, a researcher, was encouraged by Rhys’ story. When Rhys began to transition as a teacher at school, his school took advice on board and worked with Rhys to ensure a very smooth transition. Rhys told the group about the first time someone called him “Sir” and what a moment that was for him after 20+ years of being seen as a female teacher in the same school. Rhys also mentioned colleagues who were nervous about using the correct pronouns. He didn’t expect everyone to get it right overnight and said:
“We need to be kind to those who may be re-learning how they see us. They aren’t transphobic, they just may feel unsure of how to treat the person respectfully.”
Annie Wallace (Mrs St Claire) speaks about why it’s important for All About Trans to meet with Hollyoaks
An exciting new chapter for Annie Wallace
I was lucky to be paired with Annie, the joyful, and it has to be said, very excitable new headmistress in Hollyoaks. Annie was relishing the opportunities ahead and was very keen for the All About Trans interaction to be embraced to the full and lead to a great storyline. Annie talked of living in stealth for many years, and having only recently come out as transgender, the whole new and exciting chapter of her life and career that lay ahead of her.
Conversations continued over lunch with everyone. Contact details were swapped with the promise of further conversations in the future. The only thing left to do was tour the studio set and get some autographs and selfies for superfan Charlie – I thought they’d never ask!
After the buzz from the meeting, volunteers shared feedback with each other. Rhys felt it was good to talk to people about something they were interested and concerned with. He found it incredible timing, as there were many similarities with his and Annie’s experience, both transitioning later in life.
All About Trans advisors and volunteers continue to work with Hollyoaks on the Mrs St Claire storyline, as it develops into 2016. We look forward to her first big step on Hollyoaks tonight at 6.30pm on Channel 4. Don’t miss it!
If you are interested in coming on an interaction or hearing more about the project, please get in touch.
Keep following @AllAboutTrans for updates.