1 July 2014

Meeting with BBC North West leads to more trans voices on local radio

On Thursday 7th of June, a group of ten All About Trans volunteers met with nine television and radio professionals from BBC North West.  Three volunteers –  Ashleigh, Nadia and Sam –   blogged about their experience for All About Trans. 

Ashleigh sets the scene

Having never taken part in an All About  Trans  interaction before, we were unsure exactly what to expect, but we were excited at the chance to meet with senior producers and editors for BBC radio and television.

The chosen venue was the BBC’s production centre in Salford, Manchester. Upon arrival at MediaCityUK, we sat in a nearby café to allow the diverse range of volunteers to be introduced to one another. The plan was that after grabbing a coffee, we would be introduced to the participants from the BBC. Then we would split into pairs and each have a one-on-one conversation with a media professional.  After the first conversation, we would come back as a group to compare notes anAshleighd share any immediate thoughts or surprising insights before breaking away into different pairings for a second one-on-one interaction. To finish, we would have one final group discussion, and then exchange the gifts we volunteers had brought along.

Nadia’s experience: trans people are not all the same

For the first discussion I was paired with Sue Owen, the Managing Editor for BBC Radio Merseyside. Unlike everyone else, who had a one-to-one, I was also teamed up with another trans person named Noah, forming a trio. This turned out to be a stroke of luck, as Sue had very limited knowledge of trans people and their experiences, but was very eager to learn. The three of us were able to have a brief chat about ourselves and our general experiences in life. In a strange twist of fate,  Noah and I appeared to have lived completely opposite lives in terms of realising our ‘trans status’ and acceptance from family and so on.  Noah could have been from a parallel trans universe!

Any suggestion that all trans people have the same experience went straight out of the window – Nadia, volunteer

This helped to give Sue a clear idea that we don’t all have one stereotypical story, but are as diverse as anyone else. We also had a good discussion about when it is and isn’t appropriate to mention a person’s gender identity in a news story. This has been especially relevant recently so it will hopefully have a positive effect.

Noah, Sue Owen, NadiaNadia finds that she has a lot in common with one media professional 

In the second round of discussions I was paired with Aziz Rashid, Head of Regional & Local Programmes at BBC North West. This time I was not joined by another volunteer, but got to speak to him one to one. Aziz was a bit more knowledgeable about trans issues, but still needed more information to broaden out his understanding.

We talked about trans issues for a while, but managed to get completely side tracked discussing the fact we had both lived in Bradford (‘survivors’ as I dubbed us!). Whilst this conversation was less focused on trans issues, I thinks it was very helpful in showing that we can discuss and have interests in things other than our gender identity. We were able to end having gotten to know each other a little, and hopefully to show that trans people can be just as interesting (or boring) as anyone else.

Ashleigh on the difference between gender and sexuality

For my first little chat, I was paired with Rob Unsworth, Executive Producer of Current Affairs. We took a window seat and started off with the getting to know you chat.  I had tried to come to the day without expecting anything in particular, but I had thought beforehand that our chosen media professionals would have varying levels of understanding regarding trans issues.

For example, Rob engaged by asking me questions about my own experiences and opinions, which I know provided an insight he had simply never considered before –  that gender identity is not the same thing as sexual orientation. There are gay, bi and asexual transgender people, just as there are cisgender (non trans) people who identify in one of these ways. It was a very friendly interaction and Rob’s quick uptake of issues and willingness to learn really struck me in a positive way.

Ashleigh discusses family life with Kate SquireSam and Kate Squire

For my second chat, I was paired with Kate Squire, Editor for BBC Radio Manchester. She is involved with the production of various shows, including Mike Sweeney’s weekday morning slot on BBC Radio Manchester. We started off largely with some personal detail, but as a mother, Kate’s perspective was different from my own. I talked about some of the initial issues and recent progress with my own family, while Kate considered the perspective of being a parent to a gender-variant child.

As the conversation progressed, Kate was very interested in asking one of the volunteers to appear on the radio and talk about our experience, perhaps trying to get away from the frequent media focus on the surgical elements of gender transition. I was asked directly if I’d be interested in participating. After thinking about it for all of 3 or 4 seconds, I said I most certainly would. This has ultimately led to my first live in-studio interview on BBC Radio Manchester, where I joined Mike Sweeney to discuss gender expression, being trans and my life journey. You can listen to the slot here; I’ll be back in the studio regularly over the next few months discussing my transition.

I was volunteering with All About Trans to make connections, meet people and try and be part of the process of change in society’s attitude. To be given the opportunity to follow up in this way [being interviewed for radio] is a fantastic outcome for my very first interaction – Ashleigh, volunteer

Sam overcomes his fearsBBC NW

I was first teamed up with Kate Squire. I was feeling quite apprehensive before having my first chat, as I didn’t know what kind of attitudes to expect or questions would come up. Although I was there to be open and to have positive, educational and friendly conversations with interested people, there was always a fear of becoming upset by something I was asked or told. I felt quite at ease quickly though, as Kate was a very real person who was engaged by the ideas behind the interaction. We chatted about  common misconceptions the media has around trans people, and were in deep discussion about what would be the right ways of talking about trans issues when suddenly the time was already up!

After a brief break, I was paired  with another volunteer Rachel and John Clayton, Editor at BBC Radio Lancashire.  John seemed to have been completely new to the topic of trans.  He was really keen to learn more about things like the difference between sex and gender, and between gender identity and sexuality. Rachel and I talked about our very different experiences with NHS gender clinics and we discussed the huge variation among trans people and what physical changes they might or might not choose to make to their bodies. John knew very little about these variations in the trans community and was perhaps surprised to learn quite how different physical and social transition is for each individual.

volunteersSam’s reflections on the interaction

All too soon it was over.  We had a quick debrief with the BBC staff before leaving for some chips and a drink in a local café.  The volunteers had a chat about how it had gone and what we thought we had got out of it, as well as the BBC.  By that point I was relaxed enough to really enjoy chatting with the other volunteers.  We sat there for well over an hour enjoying the conversation.

I enjoyed my first interaction and I would definitely be up for doing another one.

It was a great way to meet people from similar backgrounds to myself as well as helping to make a real difference in how trans people are portrayed and thought about in the media  – Sam, volunteer 

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 08.40.05Outcome of the Interaction

  • Volunteer Ashleigh Talbot has a regular slot on Mike Sweeney’s show on BBC Radio Manchester following her interaction with the Editor Kate Squire.
  • Volunteers go on BBC Radio Manchester to talk about local activities like Pride, their own experiences and local support. Volunteers from All About Trans also promote Boy Meets Girl in September 2015.
  • Susie Green, chair of Mermaids, joins Ashleigh Talbot and Mike Sweeney to talk about gender questioning children and supporting young trans people.

If you are interested in coming on an interaction or hearing more about the project, please get in touch.

Keep following @AllAboutTrans and @OnRoadMedia for updates.

Jamie Pallas