5 October 2016

Ayla Holdom: Talking media representation and trans healthcare with BBC Newsnight

Blogged by Ayla Holdom, helicopter pilot and All About Trans advisor.

August’s All About Trans interaction with BBC Newsnight was one of those moments that highlighted just why I love this project. This meet-up marked the start of our newest series of interactions. Last year, each meeting was focused on trans people’s experiences of education. We also co-organised an event called School Revision: Trans Inclusion in Education. This was a collaborative, day-long event with Gendered Intelligence, Wipe Out Transphobia and Juno Roche, held in a south London primary school, imagining what school life would look like if it were trans inclusive. Our new series of interactions now focus on the challenges trans people may face in accessing healthcare and how we can improve media coverage of these experiences. We will be holding a limited number of trans-led meetings between now and February 2017.

This interaction was one of the largest we’ve ever held, with 33 people split fairly evenly between members of the trans community and the Newsnight team. That team included everyone from researchers to producers and senior editors.  Even Ian Katz, Newsnight’s Editor, and Evan Davis, its presenter, made time to not just come and listen, but to be completely active in the conversation. These are busy people folks! That such individuals make the time in their day to spend time with us is simply incredible.

BBC Newsnight interaction

Ayla on the BBC Newsnight interaction

The other half of what makes All About Trans so unique, is the bit I love the most…the sheer diversity of trans people and allies it pulls together to place on an even platform with the drivers of the media world. I don’t think there’s been a single interaction I’ve been part of, where I’ve not newly met a host of amazing people from all sorts of backgrounds; all brought together by the shared link of their gender diversity.

We’re a pretty broad church, the transgender community, and we cover so many other facets and areas of diversity within society (because, we are society). It’s empowering for everyone when we feel that happening (something in my opinion we all still need to work at), so thanks to All About Trans and all the volunteers for pushing for that.

The reason I sit here today as a trans woman is because I saw trans women like Paris and Ayla in the media, and that’s why I didn’t transition at 15 – because I didn’t know what a trans woman was. The media is a part of everything really. – Juno Dawson, Author and All About Trans volunteer

True to well-tested form, the interaction began with an introduction by our facilitator, Paris Lees; setting the scene and the ground rules. Time is always short, so being able to avoid treading on eggshells and moving to the important business of getting to know each other, simply has to happen from the outset. All About Trans doesn’t do ‘Trans 101’ – that’s not our gig. Many people do expect that when they arrive to an interaction, but I really don’t think we’d be nearly so effective if that was the case.  Besides, that’s what Google and Wikipedia are for.

Kimberley and her BBC Newsnight buddy

Group discussions

Meeting with the Newsnight team increased my confidence in meeting with journalists, they were genuinely interested in issues the trans community face and our personal reflections. All About Trans led the intervention in a positively affirming and challenging way, making it real to participants and building bridges. Interventions like this must continue as real reflections of trans people in the media build our community and move the debate onwards. – Kimberley Bird, Head of Group Risk Systems at Lloyds and All About Trans Advisor

Instead, we do conversation. Preferably with cake. We chat in pairings about shared interests, current affairs, exciting stuff we’ve been up to and yes, of course trans and media stuff too. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it felt a lot like speed-dating did 10 years ago (but importantly, quite unlike Tinder today!). Vitally, it quickly creates a safe space where we can all explore ideas and perspectives that would otherwise be missed in polite small-talk. I learn just as much about the joys, pressures and pitfalls of journalism during these interactions, as the media-types learn about real trans people.

The second half of the interaction took on much more of a group-wide conversation, ably led by Paris and bringing up highlights of the smaller conversations, drawing out the parallels or contrasts felt. What was really great to witness by those of us who’ve been to a few of these over the years was the difference in tone and where the discussions were pitched. It may be a glimmer, but it really felt like we were on the verge of progressing the public conversation about trans to a more empathetic and engaging level.

I think it’s been fantastic. We sometimes treat conversations [about being trans] as abstract, academic discussion. Hearing people talk about their experience, about being challenged all throughout their lives makes you think again about the whole issue. – Ian Katz, Editor

Chatting with BBC Newsnight staff

Chatting with BBC Newsnight staff

Far beyond the simple act of representing trans issues, we were having in depth discussions about how we can begin to assume a greater base-level of understanding in the audience these days, and so skip ahead to the stories that really matter and affect not just the trans communities, but the society we are part of.

There was even, wonderfully, serious recognition that trans people can and should be involved in conversations and stories that have absolutely nothing to do with being trans. Of course, Newsnight have already been one of those leading the way on this, having recently had Paris herself on as a guest discussing the fallout of the EU Referendum, with no necessity for discussing anything trans at all. Some of the strongest wins are the quiet ones…

What struck me as really interesting is that we don’t discuss being gay as an option, or being a good or bad thing. – Jake Morris, Investigations Producer, BBC Newsnight

I have huge love and respect for all the volunteers giving their time and for bringing so much energy to the day and to the entire Newsnight team for dedicating their valuable time to us and really working towards progressing things, together. We’ve again left a room full of influential people, now with a clear memory of real and diverse trans and non-binary people.

Chatting about experiences in healthcare

They don’t even know it yet, but when they go away and chat with their friends and colleagues about their day and this interaction, they will be an ally. Allies who for a short time get to know a whole person, not a statistic; and get to experience an emotional connection, not a theoretical debate.

That thing we’ve been hoping for..? That’s that light at the end of the tunnel.

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

Keep following @AllAboutTrans for updates.

All About Trans