Nov 9, 2011

Why 'My Transsexual Summer' isn't as good as it should be.

A disappointment.

I spent a huge amount of time over the last few months talking about why I think the show is going to be brilliant and in many ways it has turned out really well. However, having now seen episodes 1, 2, and 3 my frustrations have increased and some of my initial fears about the show have come back to haunt me.

What I see is the inevitable privileging of narratives that do not challenge dominant paradigms of normative gender. What I see is programming that will make you think “oh I feel so sorry for them, maybe I might think about how those people get a tough ride”. What I don’t see is anything that is going to make people think or feel any differently about what gender is or how it limits us all in one way or another.

What we see are lovely endearing transsexuals (who I still consider to be my good friends) struggling though ‘typical’ transitions and don’t get me wrong these stories are hugely important, I do not underestimate how important these stories are but where are all the queers!?

These narratives are totally valid but I believe they need to be seen in context and juxtaposed with a more diverse representation. A representation that was there in the house but somehow didn’t make it to our television screens.

Where is Fox talking about being mixed race, about his art and about how he sees himself as two spirit?

Where is the exploration of Donna’s male and female identities as she navigates the personal relationships that mean so much to her?

Where is the discussion about how I reject gender binary and sexuality and still live an observant Jewish life at the same time?

I think what we have is a hard hitting critique of the injustices trans people are forced to face, I wanted it to be that and more. I wanted it to show the complexity of our gender identities so that people could start to see that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, that it isn’t one or the other.

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Andie said...

I understand all your frustrations Max. This is the media, and their only real interest is being paid for the time and space they fill. Your story is their story now. But this is a great story, not perfect in lots of ways, but when else recently has there been this much exposure to the simple fact that the world had rather a lot of trans-gendered people in it, who are trying to live normal lives? Think what next: the articles, the blogs, the letters, the opportunities now your name is known, etc. You've gained a wider circle as a result, and so have many more of us - just because we want to talk, shout, complain, celebrate, say "Hi! I'm here too!" So from me, a big thank you for being so visible!

misswonderly said...

Hi Max
All valid points but I'm not sure many of the huge audience would have watched the show you'd have preferred. Trans Media Watch has constantly met with virtually zero awareness among broadcasters and the public at large and a very quick rush for the door if they are confronted with anything which seems too confusing or too painful.. They need entry points which are not too scary, not too much about injustice and hurt. The audience need to enjoy getting to know diverse individuals like you and the others in TMS ... although point taken that you are not as diverse as might be desirable. I believe TMS may be a game changer which makes many people a lot more receptive to the more difficult aspects you point to ... for the simple reason that they will know better that they are dealing with empathetic human beings like themselves when they come across trans people in the future.

I also wonder how complex our gender issues really are except in relation to the expectations of the prevailing culture in which we live. My experience is that it's a question of arriving at a place where you are comfortable ... which to be sure can be extremely difficult if that's an unfamiliar place to many people and you are constantly facing rejection. I think until you arrive at that comfortable place and those around you are also comfortable with it, it can be very difficult to distinguish the incredible extent to which society screws you up and makes you feel that it is you whose gender is complicated.

charitycherish said...

I can see your point. I also think perhaps (and I do mean perhaps, I can't claim to have the answers)... perhaps the programme as it is might be what is best for helping society make progress in their understanding of trans people at this time in history, if you subscribe to the 'one step at a time' idea.

I think for a lot of people, it will be eye-opening just to see MTS, even though it deals with issues that to people like me & you are so basic. I don't think some people will even be able to understand why a trans person might choose not to have surgery, let alone comprehend the idea of two-spirits, or understand that there are more (many more) than just two types of gender identity in the world. Just understanding that some people want to change from one to the other is still anathema to some.

I would love to see those kind of more complex discussions on TV, LOVE to, and I hope one day soon I will. I think MTS is making a step towards that at least, so it's shame to me that you're disappointed with it. I'm sure it will change some real lives out there; help people come out, help a family accept their trans relative... I know it's a cliché, but even if it does that for one person, it'll be worth it.

I think it would be awesome if perhaps some of the participants in MTS made some YouTube vids talking about their take on the show; what they felt was good about it, what they felt should have been done differently, how they feel about what was & wasn't shown etc. Hopefully then the people who are ready & interested to see it would watch, and those more in-depth conversations would still be heard.

Charity x

RachelC said...

Diversity is one of those things I find are very much in evidence in our world. We cannot ask anyone on MTS or any other TV programme to represent everyone and I think so many TG/TS/TV/CD/whatever people watch and agree and disagree on how each of us as individuals by judging each other by our own individual standards and the way we come to terms with our own gender identities or degree of "transness". As crazy as it is and however hard we preach, "live and let live" we struggle as a loosely linked community to accept each others' differences so how we sell that to Joe or Jane Public is a huge dilemma for all thinking about going on documentaries such as MTS.

Our differences are so huge, there is hardly time in the 4 episodes of something like MTS to show a "classical transsexual" transition without going into any depth on the huge variances of those who say they don't fit into either gender or are one or the other but see themselves as a trans person still. I have heard mixed reviews from trans people (or those with trans backgrounds depending on their take) and cis gendered people but we have to see each hour on mainstream TV as a stepping stone to at least tolerance and realise that when we struggle within our own community to grasp fully each others needs and identities that educating the wider public is going to be a long and slow process.

I think I like you, would have preferred more depth, only seeing episode 1 I would have liked more of Karen's thoughts and fears about surgery, a lot more padding into what really was an introduction to the people in it. The public, like so many of us want to know why we are how we are and why we would risk so much to be true to ourselves in the face of a still reluctant society. Some of these answers would take hours of serious documentary alone and still leave the big questions unanswered or a case of open to more debate and proof.

I will view all 4 before making an overall verdict for myself but no matter how individuals view it I believe you all did this for the right reasons and we can only do our best when the TV company has a final say on what is in or out. I am sure the world will benefit from TMS being made, just not sure if it is good enough to win over those who are out to shoot at it for whatever reason.

Rachel xx

nixwilliams said...

Hi Max! I must admit to not watching the program because I got the feeling it was going to be a bit 'same old' (in terms of narrative framing, etc.) - despite what I knew about some of the people. Maybe one day I'll watch it. Or maybe I'll just have interesting conversations with interesting trans friends instead...

Aminorjourney (Nikki) said...

I must admit as a Lesbian trans woman who owns one skirt, no dresses and hardly any make-up that I found the portrayal of transitioning to be frustrating to say the least.

I also wanted to see more discussion in the first episode about gender fluidity, about how many of us who have transitioned don't feel the urge to slap on tons of makeup or suddenly to become the world's biggest weight lifter.

Interestingly, I think some of the reasons behind the way in which the program was cut was because many outside of the LGBTQ world can't -- or won't -- see anything other than extreme stereotypes or cliches. It's often not because they can't -- but because it is perhaps too scary to accept that many transgender folks are just sane, normal people. And that gender isn't sexuality, no matter how you package it.

I have short, red hair. I wear chunky vests, jeans. I wear studs rather than loops or hoops. I last painted my nails six years ago. I have a wife. Two wonderful kids (which we adopted). But this is a representation of so much more than feeling that I was born in the wrong body.

It's time for people to view gender dysphoria, or gender fluidity, or whatever you want to call it -- as just another facet that makes up a person, not a definition to use to place someone into a little box.


vikingparty said...

Thanks for writing this. While I picked up on Donna's mention of feeling third gender/outside the binary, and your own brief discussion of your gender, it's unfortunate that they left out Fox's comments.

I can see the need for a show targeting a mainstream audience to focus on "the basics," but I've been thinking that in a way the way they've set up the season (or at least the first two episodes that have aired) would make for a really good series (more than one season). By continuing with a second season it might give you all more space to talk about your own genders in front of the audience that has already been attained. More space to talk about trans experience of gender/gender variance outside the topic of transitioning.

Do you know if there is any chance that they will release the footage that they edited out at the end of the season?

MishMich said...

I am sorry you did not get the program you envisioned, which sounds like it would have been much better than what we ended up seeing. I am sorry you were so naive to think it could be anything other than what it was. This is the media, the same corporation that commissioned and ran Big Brother, this is why the media have such a bad reputation in communities such as those you are a part of. I don't blame you, I feel sympathetic, and I understand your need to try and get a decent portrayal of trans people's lives and the complex issues involved. There was a time when Channel 4 would have handled that sensitively and without exploiting its subjects - over 20 years ago. Nowadays, they are about entertaining people who are, more often than not, a bit the worse for wear.

Shannon1981 said...

I haven't watched this, but, as a genderqueer female bodied human who feels woefully underrepresented, I feel your pain. It gets better(cliche, I know, but mostly true...) and hey, how 'bout a web series? Don't like what we see? Portray what we want to see! Feel free to contact me via my google account(blog, whatever comes up when you click my name...)....I'm with ya, Max!

Anonymous said...

thank you, maxwell. it's immensely frustrating how only certain trans stories, or parts of trans stories, are given time at all. i'm glad you gave your time and took the risk of appearing on this program, and i am glad you are standing up to criticize it.

Peter Colins said...

Nice post about. Transsexual

Sam said...

The show is just airing in Australia at the moment and while I can see why you are frustrated with how it ended up I think there are a lot of people watching it and questioning why the producers did it like that. In other words they want to see less the stereotypical casting and just hear the stories. I think as a viewer you could tell well things had been really set up and where they were looking for the 'tear jerkers'. And so you know that what is being aired is probably not the whole story. And whilst I wish they did do a better job, I think you can take some comfort in knowing that people can see through the 'drama' they tried to create. I also think
for people who have no exposure to this community it is a start for them to have a little more insight an understanding. And that can only be a good thing. But it saddens me to hear that there have been repercussions for some of you because of the exposure and misrepresentation. I also hate the fact that you did not get paid. I think that is outrageous!!!
Did you ever make any grounds on getting some compensation for your time?

Nuwandalice said...

Brilliant post, Max. I watched the first two episodes of the show and thought that overall, it was a really good step forward in terms of media representation of trans people. I remember being really impressed - there are quite a few gaping holes, but you know, I guess for a documentary that is really to pull heartstrings and not to educate (if we're brutally honest) I thought it was a good step. But it is really just a step, and more needs to be done. After reading this post, I decided to rewatch them - and I see what you mean even more clearly. In episode one there is a very brief moment where Donna talks about the 'third gender' and her feelings about being trans and that really really interested me - I wish they had expanded on some of her thoughts (and yours!) I think non-trans folk WOULD have been interested - it shocks me how many people just don't seem to understand how manipulated they are on a daily basis by binary gender assumptions, and I think everyone could have their eyes opened in a very personal way, you know? Instead - I suppose, understandably - they went for the tearjerking factor. Which isn't all bad. (People do need to see the difficult trans people face!) But it isn't exactly progressive.

I watched it with my mum, though, and she was completely blown over by the idea that people might not want a 'full' transition. I think for many people like her - and she's pretty well educated and aware, there's just not a lot of exposure - it did a lot. It just could have done a lot more.

I am glad it led me to your blog, though :)

Shauna said...

Watched the final episode here in Australia tonight... Television is generally made by people who tell us what we want to see... I think stereotyping overall sucks, regardless of what the stereotype is meant to be. For example, I'm a blonde, big boobed Australian woman... I bet I can guess the image that pops into most people's heads! If you gained nothing more from doing the show except for gaining some new friends, or learning about the small mindedness of people who claim to be otherwise, then it was worth it. Every person, every situation is different, in regards to everything in life, so if people choose to see you or me as a stereotype, then its their issue, not yours or mine so disregard it entirely and move on. I thought you came across as a lovely bloke who cares deeply for those close to you and that you have a strong faith.

little chef said...

Hi Max,
I can see your point of view ... but... I think the series was really beautiful because it put you as people first.

It showed us your hopes and fears and worries and loves and dreams.

I used to be a lesbian, now I'm straight and married, guess there are lots of Lezbeens out there! But, I hated people assuming stuff about me just because of my sexuality.

Your series was really beautiful.

Make more TV - you're great!

jay said...

It would be a nice idea if MTS included the darker side of being Trans, being the victim of rape and torture like myself seems to stir no interest in the media. Many Trans ppl suffer abuse and even murder but still it barely makes the news.My attacker was sent to prison last year after a trial at the Old Bailey. 22 years after the rape which left my life in ruins. The only mention of this trial was in local paper with a huge lurid banner headline about me being Transsexual.
At least Chanel 4 do try to show diversity and maybe could explore the not so glamarous side of being Trans and the many victims who seem to be ignored as we are Trans

Annie said...

Thanks for this post. I recently watched the show in Australia, and I definitely would have loved if those discussions had made it through editing.

Anonymous said...

Where are all the queers indeed! I'm a gay trans man in the u.s. in a long term relationship with a cis queer guy. I have not seen any representation on television either here or in the u.k. of gay/bi trans men or lesbian/bi trans women. So many trans folks have non-straight sexualities, so why does every trans man on tv only date women and most every trans woman on tv only date men? The heteronormativity is irritating, and I've noticed that it definitely influences how cis people perceive trans folks.