While I was out hosting BristolCon Fringe last night, Radio 1 was airing a rare documentary. The primary subject was Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer of the punk rock band, Against Me, and one of the more famous trans women in the world. This was then used as a hook to discuss trans issues more widely. The show was hosted and probably largely scripted by trans journalist, Paris Lees, and also featured the trans comedian, Bethany Black, both of whom I have had the honor to hang out with. There are also snatches of interviews with various young people, some of whom I’m pretty sure are friends of Roz whom I have met at some point.
I note these connections, not to name drop, but to emphasize that this was a mainstream national radio show produced by and for, and featuring, people like me. It is probably the only time in my life that I have heard such a thing. Sure there have been shows on local radio in Bristol and Brighton, but this is the BBC, this is national. In a small country like the UK, that matters a lot.
The great significance here is that trans people are getting to tell their own stories on national radio. Previous coverage on radio and TV has all been a case of cis people interpreting the trans experience for a cis audience. Frequently, even when such shows were well-intentioned, the message that trans people would get from them is, “you freaks are difficult to understand and people will not accept you”. Even a show like My Transsexual Summer was deliberately packaged as entertainment for cis people, with the real narratives of the stars often being bent to fit that requirement.
In contrast, while Paris was happy to explain things along the way, she, Laura and Beth were also talking to trans people. In particular there was mention of hormone blockers for trans kids, and encouragement that the world is getting better for people like us. The most common type of comment I have seen on Twitter about the show is how much hope it will give to currently closeted teenagers.
I’m not going to give the BBC too much credit here. They probably see Paris as someone new and different and edgy that can give them a bit of street cred. That won’t stop them from airing dozens of comedy programs that humiliate trans people before the next time they allow her on air. And we’ll doubtless see some concerned feminist writing in The Guardian soon about how Radio 1 is promoting child abuse. But I also have perspective. I also know how far we have come, and how big a step into the future this has been.
Well done, Paris, love. May this be the first of many.
You lot probably already understand most of what was said, but if you are interested the show is available on iPlayer here.