Saturday 12 November 2011

Their Transsexual Summer

So there's a new reality TV series about Teh Tranz. My Transsexual Summer started last week, and such was the interest aroused in it that I went over and watched it on the Channel 4 website to see what the hoo-ha was all about.

Last time I watched something similar was when Nadia Almada was on Big Brother in 2004; so I tuned in, for the one and only time on that show; she came across rather well, but... "Crikey!" I thought; "Trash TV or what?".

Similar format here with MTS; seven trans people are put together in a big house and get on with it, whatever 'it' is. A process that seems to involve hours of putting make-up on, and screeching at each other over bottles of white wine in the kitchen. Getting past my initial discomfort at watching a group of people whose common denominator is that they want to appear on a reality TV show, though, it (and they) managed to be quite engaging, in a way that the Big Brother people generally failed to achieve, in the one episode I watched.

There had been high hopes for this series, not least because Paris Lees, a bit of a rising star on the trans scene, consulted on the programme, which was made after C4 signed up to the Memorandum Of Understanding with Trans Media Watch, back in March. The idea being that media people should know where to find information about trans stuff, and that trans people should be involved in the process of portraying them, rather than simply being something in the specimen jar.

Were those hopes realised? We did get to tick off a whole bunch of cliches in this episode; plucky Karen goes off for her op; voiceover tells us that it will "give her the vagina she had always wanted." Fox is said to worry about "how far he has to go to become a man." Lewis "is having a wardrobe crisis". Make-up. Make-up. Talking about make-up. Make-up.

The participants' use of the term 'tranny' has caused a bit of a ruckus online; maybe we'll go into that sometime else (I write about my opinion of the word in the  soon-to-be-published META online magazine).

Participants in this sort of programme are always going to be hostages to fortune, in the shape of the programme maker who wields editorial control and the voiceover microphone. Max, who on present showing seems the most thoughtful of the participants, has already expressed his disappointment with the way the show ended up.  On the one hand, we have the standard tranny-on-the-telly tropes, and can perhaps understand why, seeing this programme, Michael Pilgrim (in the Telegraph) should think that "being convincing, of course, is the aim of the transsexual". If, at least, we were being charitable and didn't have much regard for Mr Pilgrim's intelligence in the first place.

And on the other hand, and despite the tinkering, we get to see a diverse bunch of trans-identified people getting on with stuff. And see things from their point of view. And care.


  1. Yes, well....

    Perhaps I am just getting old and stale. I really couldn't be bothered with the clamour about the tranny word being used, or the argument that the trans-people in it were not totally representative of the trans-community as a whole.

    Remember, the "clichés" are only clichés to US, not necessarily to the viewing public, some of whom may never have been confronted with such issues before now.

    I think we need to be honest with ourselves here, and ask ourselves what it is we actually expect any programmes about us to DO.


  2. Yes, Chrissie; I sort of agree. There were people saying that they felt betrayed by the programme because the participants were were trans ambassadors; that the term 'tranny' was completely unacceptable; that we should all get over ourselves and accept that it's OK to use the term....

    I'm not sure what I expect a programme about us to 'do'. Or whether this sort of programme is a Good Thing or simply more titillation for the lumpenviewership. I'm disappointed in the dwelling on artificiality of appearance and surgery, but hey.

  3. I think the prog makers have to find a compromise.

    Let's face it, a show that was judged perfect by the... shall we say more fastidious, members of our community, would likely bomb.

    This is, when all is said and done, entertainment and not documentary. But thankfully it's not Big Brother. It's not Get Me Out Of Here...

    I think it's a huge step forward. :-)


  4. Wouldn't we all love one big programme to transform the attitudes of a wide viewing public? But that aspiration too is very diverse. My big hope (recognising that C4 has to "sell" this series week by week and maintain viewing figures) is that by showing some real people as you say "getting on with stuff", at least some more will start to understand that being trans isn't a lifestyle choice and deserves a whole lot more consideration and acceptance. I'm staying hopeful, and will stick with the series.

  5. Hi Andie. Was that you left the review on 'Becoming'? Thanks if so! - Yes, I agree- stay optimistic, and keep on watching.