Thursday, April 14, 2011

Trans Media Watch condemns BBC failure to take responsibility for transphobic broadcast

This post is based entirely on a press release issued by Trans Media Watch. For further commentary see this article


Trans Media Watch
BM TMW, London, WC1N 3XX

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Trans Media Watch, the organisation that campaigns for transgender people to be treated in the media with accuracy, dignity and respect, has condemned the BBC's response to complaints about a recent episode of Russell Howard's Good News. The episode contained a sketch based on the real life decision by a Thai airline to provide employment to kathoey (transsexual) women. It featured two highly sexualised trans characters who at one point revealed their male genitals to customers. It also showed a passenger being physically sick in response to the sight of these characters.

The BBC has argued that these characters were not intended to represent real transsexual women and that they were instead intended to "poke fun at the age old tradition of men dressing as women for laughs". This ignores the fact that specific mention of the real life news story was made when the sketch was introduced. It also misrepresents British comedy traditions in which comedians have spoofed certain female stereotypes rather than spoofing cross-dressing itself. Characters presented by the likes of Kenny Everett and Les Dawson would never have been revealed to have male genitals. Furthermore, they were affectionate caricatures, not objects of ridicule or physical disgust.

It is unclear on what basis the BBC thinks its viewers will be able to distinguish the characters in this sketch from real trans people, especially as the public is generally poorly informed about trans people.

It is difficult to imagine the BBC justifying a similar comedy sketch whose subject was another minority group, such as Jewish people or black people.

Last month the BBC asserted that its own constitution provides protection for transgender people equivalent to that provided by Trans Media Watch's Memorandum of Understanding. It is evident from this sketch and from the response to complaints that this is not the case.

Trans Media Watch has produced widely respected research which demonstrates that the ridicule of trans characters on television harms real trans people in real life. Over a fifth of trans people have experienced verbal abuse inspired by material of this type, with many suffering it on a daily basis. Almost one in ten has been subjected to physical violence which they believe to have been related to an item or items in the media. Media misrepresentation and ridicule is also a significant factor in family breakdown.

The decision to employ kathoey women as flight attendants has been widely recognised as a positive social move, receiving praise from publications such as The Telegraph. Kathoey women are subject to prejudice in Thailand and often find it difficult to secure employment.

The BBC must take immediate steps to improve its approach to the representation of this vulnerable minority group


Doreen said...

The BBC is very much mistaken if it thinks that programmes like this do not influence the attitudes of the general public. I saw the programme and it has taken me until now to get over the revulsion I felt for the way this was portrayed.
Six years ago I lost my very dear partner and soulmate following an abusive incident while we were out walking our dogs. She had gone through male to female gender reassignment two years earlier. One of the operations she endured had to be done under an epidural while she was awake because of her other health problems of which there were many.
Although the man who accosted us did not land a punch the shock of being confronted by someone who had fists raised in her face attempting to get her to land the first punch whilst uttering obscenities caused her to collapse as he rode away on his bike. She died of a heart attack lying in a bramble bush as I tried desperately to revive her.
He is oblivious that he caused her death.
I had suffered the abuse along with her. There were varied incidents which I witnessed and I was constantly watching her back.
I even had young children following me around calling me a trannie as I shopped in the local town on my own. They had been put up to it by the local teenagers who were a constant menace in my village.
Programmes which portray female impersonators, transgender people, transvestites, gay, lesbian, bisexual ... no other programme has affected me like this one. This programme brought back all the horrible memories which I would prefer remained in the past.

Jo said...

Doreen, I was very moved by your words. How unspeakably awful for you.

Do you think you have the strength to contact the BBC with this information? This is exactly the kind of thing that programme makers are COMPLETELY oblivious to. If you go onto the TMW Facebook page, you will be able to get in touch with the group there and they may be able to help...if you feel up to it of course?

Anonymous said...

Doreen I cannot express here my horror and sadness at your terrible loss. I agree with Jo in that your input to the BBC on this matter would be invaluable in making these people sit up and take notice of the potential harm caused by their programme content. I know that TMW, Christine and others will be willing and able to help you and back you up should you feel capable of doing this.

Anonymous said...

I have am experienced a lot of what Doreen's partner experienced, local teens target me, they smash my windows, abuse me all the time. I live on my own so have no-one to independantly witness the events. I reaqlly feel for Doreen, much love to you.

Dana International was insulted on ITV's Daybreak on friday, so ITV need to do more to stamp out transphobia.

ps can't find trans media watch uk online, as the link didn't work.