22 March 2016

Chatting about trans experiences in school with BBC Wales

This January, All About Trans headed to Cardiff to meet BBC Wales for the third time. In 2014, Welsh volunteers from the trans community met with BBC Wales and the Audience Council. This time, the interaction was held with BBC’s producers and editors, in collaboration with Trans*Form Cymru and Off the Record Bristol. Led by filmmaker Jayne Rowlands and campaigner Kate Hutchinson, the group talked about trans experiences in education, gender identity and trans representation on television.

Gender identity in schools and college

Group conversation

Group conversations

Everyone agreed that schools should play a larger role in educating pupils about gender identity. One volunteer thought that children would be more comfortable and would worry less if they were told from an early age that it’s okay to feel differently about your gender. Everyone talked about how this topic could be included in the curriculum.

The whole group was shocked as one young trans man revealed that in school, his teachers would use his pronoun as a reward or punishment – if he was behaving well, they’d refer to him as “he”, and “she” if he wasn’t.

Another volunteer spoke about the lack of support he had at school and how the school didn’t know how to deal with trans pupils. Members of the group were appalled to hear how the school had treated him, including Samantha Rosie, Series Producer, primary school governor and mum of two, who felt very strongly about having better gender education in schools and was keen to take what she’d learned from the group to her fellow governors.

One commissioning executive shared how his daughter was going to school with two trans people. He had asked her how they were getting on and she said that the teachers and other pupils were really supportive of them. The group recognised that because of a growing awareness of trans people in recent years, more young people were questioning their gender identity in school and college.

Accessing toilets in school

Volunteers told the group about difficulties they face often when using toilets at school or college. Pete Shuttleworth, Sport Digital Editor, was very surprised when a volunteer told him that he was once physically removed from a toilet, as someone thought he was in the wrong gender facility. Pete asked why we split toilets by gender when it causes such a problem.

Volunteers suggested that there should be male, female and gender neutral toilets and how many venues around the country are now offering this.

Rowan and his buddy

Group conversations

Sports in school

Samantha Rosie, Series Producer, and Dyfrig Gwent, Producer, chatted with a volunteer about how he couldn’t play football in school or in local tournaments any more – being a trans man, he isn’t allowed to join the men’s team and was asked to play on the women’s team. Being big football fans they empathised with Harry’s frustration but they spoke about him joining a unisex football team in Cardiff.

“It’s always really nice when things are more informal. It’s better then [if] we turn up and say, ‘we’re trans people, you’re not, here’s what you’re doing wrong’. It’s been cool just to chat really.” Rowan, volunteer

The importance of pronouns

Chats about pronouns with Na and Lloyd

Chats about pronouns with Na and Lloyd

Many of the BBC Wales staff said they hadn’t considered how important pronouns are to trans people. One member felt like it wasn’t realistic to ask people what their pronouns are all the time. In response to this, a volunteer offered that you don’t need to always ask someone’s pronoun as long as you’re mindful. It’s okay to assume, and then if you’re not sure, it’s important to ask, they said. Most of all it’s important to bear in mind.

A young person highlighted how annoying it is when someone uses the wrong pronoun for you – he compared it to being called the wrong name and how this can be hurtful. After the interaction one trans volunteer told us: “It surprised me that some people struggle with pronouns for different reasons and [I] can now see some reasons why some people find it difficult.” With Welsh speakers in the room, one volunteer also said how interesting it was to hear how the Welsh language has gendered pronouns for everything (including furniture!).

Non binary identity

Throughout the interaction, there were chats about what it means to be non-binary.

“Non-binary is an umbrella term used to describe people who do not feel male or female. They may feel that they embody elements of both, that they are somewhere in between or that they are something different.” (From Understanding Non-binary people: A guide for the media by Trans Media Watch)

Matt gives his gift to his buddies

Matt talks about his hobbies within his group

A volunteer said that some trans people don’t know if they’re male or female, so pronouns give them a gender identity. The BBC staff weren’t very aware of non-binary matters, but by the end of the meeting, people were far more knowledgeable about some of the experiences and issues. It was clear that they had a much better understanding of why pronouns are so important too.

“I was hoping to meet some people, gain a greater understanding of trans issues, and come away with some feature ideas…I learnt about non-binary identity, which I wasn’t previously aware of. Also, the huge array of experiences and stories [was surprising]…Thanks for a great session!” Joe Goodden, Senior Producer, Interactive and Learning

Authenticity and representation on television

Many BBC staff said that there must be more trans people on screen, and not just as a token appearance. They also wanted the representation of trans people to be people first, trans second. Lloyd Coleman, a researcher for The One Show explained why representation is important to him, saying that “a tea time programme has a duty to reflect Britain in its fullest picture”.

The group went away with a new found awareness and knowledge on a number of topics, and a unique insight into the diversity of trans identities, which they were keen to bring into their work and back to the office. Volunteers felt as if there had been a few ‘lightbulb moments’ during the interaction and they hoped the BBC staff would call on them for ideas, advice or a chat in the future.

If you are interested in hearing more about the project, please get in touch.

Keep following @AllAboutTrans for updates.

On Road,

Project Manager for On Road.