All About Trans kicked off 2016 with an interaction between a large group of volunteers from the trans community and BBC North West staff at MediaCity UK, Salford. A few volunteers had met with BBC North West previously, but this time the group were discussing trans experiences in education.
Facilitator Sophie Green led the discussion, and volunteers had the chance to understand how the BBC works, share experiences and help BBC staff understand trans matters more fully.
Many BBC staff were shocked at some volunteers’ experiences of harassment and discrimination when doing something as simple as accessing a toilet in school or university.
One volunteer told the group how he has learned to navigate the university toilets by working out which ones have cubicles and when they are least busy. When he was at school, the teachers let him use the teacher’s toilets.
One volunteer who identifies as non-binary, said they had to go home from college if they needed to use the toilet as they didn’t feel comfortable using toilets on their campus that weren’t gender neutral. Volunteers told the group about an app called “refuge restrooms”, which helps people find trans-friendly and gender neutral public toilets.
“Today [has] really helped me to understand the trans community, including the logistics like toilets and the natural challenges that arise for trans people.” – Lizzie Leadbetter, Digital Editorial Lead Website
A BBC staff member asked if there were gender neutral toilets at MediaCity UK and the group agreed it was something to talk about as there currently aren’t many.
“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. Non-binary people can still have a strong sense of gender. They can find it very distressing to be told that they must identify themselves as male or female. Many identify as transgender.” (From Understanding Non-binary people: A guide for the media by Trans Media Watch)
Several volunteers in the group who identify as non-binary, talked about the importance of teachers and lecturers using pronouns correctly so that trans and non-binary people feel safe and included. They also highlighted the problem of navigating the binary gendered institutions of education and social care if you’re non-binary, as all facilities, and often activities, are split into male and female.
There was a discussion on how difficult it can be to bring up children as gender neutral, as society is so gendered, and sees the population as split into male or female. Davina Earl, a script editor from the BBC, said she thought it would be better for both trans and cis (not trans) people if gender binaries were broken down and challenged.
Executive Producer of BBC Children’s, Julia Bond, had a chat with volunteer Umair about identifying as non-binary from a Muslim community and the specific challenges Umair has faced being trans within Islam. Umair told her about Imaan, an organisation that supports LGBT Muslim people and their families.
Educating people about being trans
BBC North West staff were keen to discuss specific problems about representation and how these can be improved on television. The group talked about the need for accuracy when representing trans people on television as this is how many people learn about trans people and issues.
Trans volunteers expressed the need to see more trans role models on television which could help to reduce bullying in schools by reducing stigma and providing children with exposure to representations of everyday children who happen to be trans. Everyone agreed that children and young people are interested in learning about trans experiences, but that there are still parents that oppose content that educates people about the trans community, hence the urgent need for more trans representation in youth programming.
CBBC has recently been offering a soft education on gender to children, and a member of staff said introducing a trans character into a children’s show without making a big deal of it would help normalise trans experiences.
Louie Stafford from the LGBT Foundation highlighted the recent shift away from trans people being represented as ‘other’, strange and dramatic. He said that shows describing trans as a “growing-up exploration” and a normal process were a welcome change. Jonathan Phillips from the BBC asked how long it will be until there are no more trans characters, simply characters.
Volunteers spoke about the importance of realising that there is no one “trans story” – everyone is different with unique experiences, and television needs to reflect this. By the end of the interaction, the group had made several connections and some have already started working together on radio drama scripts, an event and a future television project.
If you are interested in hearing more about the project, please find out more.
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