We visit Birmingham for the first time to meet several members of regional and local programming at the BBC in the Midlands. Project Assistant, J Tebble sums up who we met with, what we talked about, and introduces some of our new volunteers from the area.
Seeing different cities around the UK has been one of my favourite parts of my job as Project Assistant this year. All About Trans’ Birmingham interaction was no different, and after a short train ride up, we were meeting our new participants in a Café Rouge next to the Mailbox Centre, a wonderful new complex beside a canal, that houses the BBC West Midland’s offices for television and radio, like The Archers.
Properly ace to meet the nice people from @AllAboutTrans learnt loads – thanks for coming to see us
— Robert Thompson (@thomprobert) August 7, 2014
It took a few weeks to recruit volunteers in the area and in the end we had a range of diverse, people from different backgrounds. Fox Fisher, Ambassador for All About Trans, facilitated the session; joining him was Ludo, from Merseyside with a background in youth work and service equality; Victoria, who works with Birmingham LGBTQ Association; Helena, a writer who has been published in several local activist magazines; and Dan, who helped to run Liverpool Pride’s first trans area. I was reminded just how close-knit the trans community can be in the UK, when Push Project member and Warwickshire Castle show host Ash Palmisciano arrived at the station, he ran into another young trans guy he knew from YouTube; Ryan, a performing arts student, who is taking part in the upcoming Channel 4 series ‘My T Diaries’. Ash has since been on the panel at our recent All About Trans Social in Salford. After snapping a few pictures with the BBC Dalek statues, we were welcomed into the space by BBC West Midlands Head of Regional and Local Programmes, David Jennings, who had helped us to organise the session with BBC Diversity. Also present was Robert Thompson, the Editor for Midlands Today, Sarah Harness, Editor for BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, HR Business Partner Rani Randhawa, BBC News Senior Broadcast Journalist Carolle Forde Garcia, and Jeremy Pollock, Editor for BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester.
I was paired up with Robert Thompson, and volunteer, Helena. Inquisitive and eager to talk as much as he listened, we discussed more about our travels abroad than trans experiences – we talked about America, New York, and roadtrips, before getting down to quite a deep discussion on how the police treat trans people, brought in reference to Helena’s experiences of working with protesters and activists. I threw up some key questions: If you’re arrested, how should a trans person be spoken about or searched; where do trans people get imprisoned, and what laws are there in place?
Everyone’s experience is unique, and there’s no right or wrong way to transition…
In the group discussion it was clear all of the media participants had been given some food for thought from hearing all the different stories in the room. We talked about non-binary identities, and how society puts constraints on us to conform to a certain gender. Sometimes, it’s not black and white, there are grey areas and one’s gender identity may not necessarily ‘fit in a box’. As children, there can be a lot of gender stereotyping (i.e. girls like pink, boys like blue, and they can only play with specific toys). Someone said these are decisions children should be allowed to make for themselves, or change those decisions over time. Gender identity may be more complex, but what it comes down to is being true to oneself. We wondered if society would be more accepting some day, as we see the debate evolve and things move forward. Rob felt as if there was currently a certain sophistication to the debate, something he’d not seen before.
Transition, family and challenges
For round two, I went 2:1 with David Jennings to talk about the media portrayal of trans people, and what BBC West Midlands could do to help that. He told me that he’d not knowingly had a trans person on air and wasn’t sure how they might approach trans issues if they did come up – but he hoped that it would be done positively and sensitively. He was intrigued to learn that a lot of the people in the room thought that as well as featuring trans people without mentioning their trans experiences – for example having stories focusing on their work or lives aside from their transition – that trans people also wanted stories talking about trans issues to promote discussion and understanding.
I brought up my own experiences with family support. My transition has been fairly positive, and I’ve had a great deal of help from my family as well as organisations like Mermaids, to get me through the more difficult barriers of accessing medical treatment from the Gender Identity Clinic as a non-binary person. But there were others in the room who weren’t even out to their parents. One volunteer expressed that having family support was pivotal to him being there that day. Many found their Mums more supportive than their Dads. Everyone agreed that face to face support is extremely important. We discussed this in the context of beginning treatment, seeing GPs and visiting the Gender Identity Clinic. In many cases, trans people have to live and prove they are socially interacting in their preferred gender identity in order to “earn hormones”. One volunteer expressed how difficult that can be and how there can be psychological changes during transition when the person is very vulnerable. Several volunteers shared the difficulties they had with psychiatrists not understanding them and how the NHS leaves a lot of people with gender dysphoria behind, not knowing how to deal with them. It can be even more difficult for people who identify as non-binary.
Insight and inspiration
With a good mix of volunteers – from non-binary people and those with complex gender identities, to other people who considered themselves just regular guys – we were not only able to challenge some of the preconceptions the participants had about trans people, but also to give them some practical help in understanding what it means to be trans. David said he felt the stories he heard were very moving and cast a light on issues he realised were invisible before and he found it striking that people were sharing things not even their family knew. Rani Randhawa, who works in HR, said that talking to volunteers who worked in workplace equality got her thinking about ways of making BBC West Midlands more accessible to potential trans employees, whereas Sarah Harness was already making plans to have two of the volunteers speaking regularly on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire. Jeremy felt more informed and realised gender identity was more complex than he’d thought, whilst others commented on how positive and intelligent the volunteers were. The volunteers felt like they’d gained insight into how media professionals at the BBC work and that it was nice that people asked questions, spoke honestly and listened.
Sarah, who found the meeting nothing but positive, told Ash that this was one of the most interesting things she’d done this year. Her comments sum up my own feelings about the day: “It’s a reminder for me how brilliant people are and what people can do when it feels right for them.”
— Fox (@SaluteHQ) August 7, 2014
Outcome of the meeting
- All About Trans volunteers hold in studio interviews with BBC Radio West Midlands to talk about BBC Two Boy Meets Girl, their experiences and local activities.
If you are interested in coming on an interaction or hearing more about the project, please get in touch.