Off to ITV studios in Leeds…
The first interaction of the year was a cracker. Why? Because it was entirely led by a group of talented and enthusiastic volunteers who identify as trans. On Road, the organisation behind All About Trans, arranged the interaction with 3 producers from Emmerdale: Kate Oates Series Producer, Tony Hammond Assistant Producer and Mark Bickerton Series Story Producer.
From January to July, this phase of youth-led interactions are taking place with local and regional media across broadcast, print and radio throughout the UK. We’re encouraging groups of up to 5 people to join a movement, get friendly with their local media and inspire better understanding and representation of the trans community. (It’s easy to get involved, click here).
Names, pronouns and favourite desserts
To kick off, names, pronouns and favourite desserts were written on paper to put as name placards in front of each person. Paris asked what people thought of when they heard the term ‘transgender’. To some, the understanding of a trans woman came down to the concept of going through a ‘sex change’; but Kate said her understanding of transgender people had changed positively when she watched Channel 4’s My Transsexual Summer. Mark then mentioned that he understood that being trans was more about emotions than surgery, and that not everyone opted for surgery. We were off to a fine start…
Slam poetry and ‘coming out’
During an interaction, we pair people off to have chats and then we open it up for wider group discussions. It was clear some people had things in common from the beginning, such as uncomfortable family traits, wearing make-up, experiences at work and in university, even writing and poetry. At one point, Mark asked volunteer, Loz, to do a piece of performance poetry – this went down very well and the whole group seemed to be touched by it. (We’re sorry we didn’t manage to record it).
The discussions touched on going through transition and the emotions involved. Some of the volunteers expressed how difficult it can be and how important relationships with family and friends are at that time when they’re ‘coming out’ as trans. The group touched on the idea of ‘non-binary gender’ – each volunteer explained it a little bit differently, saying that some people didn’t feel comfortable with the labels ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. They felt as if their personal experience existed in between those definitions along a spectrum of sorts. Everyone seemed to agree that gender was how you are happiest expressing yourself and that labels may not describe the nuances of your life and identities.
“I genuinely had a wonderful time talking to a group of really switched on, intelligent people who, despite having very little prior knowledge of anything trans*, were incredibly respectful. The fact that we were quite a diverse group of trans* people was also really lovely, as there were so many different approaches to life and identity in the room, it really demonstrated how different and varied trans* people can be, before any of us even began to talk about it.”
The producers shared the process of script-writing with the group and how it can be tricky knowing what you can and cannot say on screen. For example, the word ‘queer’ can’t be used on air. Here, the volunteers talked about the reclamation of ‘queer’ and how many people identify as ‘genderqueer’ now.
Having Drew’s partner Gavin present certainly inspired the producers. They were interested in how relationships form between family and friends, and the concept of starting a family. The producers talked about how they’d love to have the volunteers with them every day, saying that if they considered a trans character storyline they wouldn’t be pigeon-holed into one set of tropes but would develop their personality and background.
“The people were so friendly and it didnt feel invasive or taboo. The questions were very thoughtful and it was just like having a nice friendly chat with your nan…I think it gives me more hope in that [some of] the people who are writing for Emmerdale also wrote the Harley Roy storyline in Coronation Street and it was so beautifully done, that for me I feel they will do trans people justice when it comes to possible storylines…”
Drew Ashlyn, volunteer
As we started to wrap up, it felt as if new friends had been made. The producers shared thoughts on how much more of an understanding they felt they had from just having a conversation with the volunteers and how appreciative they were for the non-judgemental atmosphere and informal nature of the meeting. As with every interaction, we encourage participants to keep in touch and we send them the Transgender Primer full of facts about trans issues. Media participants go on to share their experience with colleagues, friends and family and this can often lead to new work (from radio documentaries to newspaper features) or ideas in development (from comedy scripts to television programmes).
You can read about positive outcomes from previous interactions here. This particular youth-led interaction could possibly lead to a new storyline in Emmerdale… Simply put, watch this space!
If you are interested in coming on an interaction or hearing more about the project, please get in touch.