Monday, October 26, 2009

Channel 4 response to my complaint about "AGE 8 AND WANTING A SEX CHANGE"

Following the Channel 4 Programme last week I wrote a complaint about the misuse of pronouns along the lines of my blog post below. I have today received a response which has actually made me more angry than the original programme. I have responded to them and both their letter and my response are published below (together with their email address if you would like to also respond to them)

Thank you for contacting us regarding the programme AGE 8 AND WANTING A SEX CHANGE. The Commissioning Editor responsible for the programme has provided the following response for those viewers who wrote in connection with the programme and, in particular, the narrator's use of personal pronouns:

" Thank you to everyone that has contacted Channel 4 to share their views on AGE 8 AND WANTING A SEX CHANGE. The film has aroused a great deal of comment, almost all of it favourable, but I am sincerely sorry to hear that some members of the transgender community were upset by our use of biologically-accurate pronouns in the narration of the programme.

It's important to remember that the majority of our audience will have had little or no understanding of transgender issues. The decision to use the pronouns we did was based on our responsibility to make the programme comprehensible to a mainstream audience.

As many viewers have pointed out, the parents featured in our programme always referred to their child by their "preferred" gender. We were happy that this made it absolutely clear that each family had accepted and were extremely supportive of their child's decision.

I hope you'll agree that AGE 8 AND WANTING SEX CHANGE was a story worth telling, and a story worth telling to as many people as possible, even at the risk of causing some dissatisfaction amongst those who understand the subject well already."

We hope the above explains the reasoning behind this decision and would like to assure you that your complaint has been logged and seen by those responsible for the programme.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise.

Jessicka Burton
Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries

Kind regards,
Jane Morgan
Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries

As the email was signed off by both Jane and Jessicka I am not sure who wrote it - so I have to make a point used an inappropriate, but technically correct, salutation. My Response is as follows - and for once I have not taken time to reflect on it - I want my anger to be conveyed.

Dear "Sir"

I am sorry but this response is utter "bullshit." The pronouns were socially inaccurate, insulting and demeaning, especially given the comments about pronouns in the programme by the parents.

I read the responses on your web site - which incidentally did not include mine - and from my quick calculation about 80% of the responses were negative about the pronouns. Bearing in mind mine was not positive and was not published I suspect that there was an overwhelming negative response on this issue.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of the audience had little or no understanding of the subject means that it was all the more important for you to take the socially responsible position of informing them of the "correct" use of pronouns. Your response simply confirms that your producers either did not bother to research the issue effectively, or that they made a conscious decision stir up transphobic feelings.

If you check with the guidelines issues by the Equality and Human Rights Commission you will discover that persistent use of incorrect pronouns, ie pronouns that fail to reflect a persons acquired, or, as you put it, preferred gender, is considered to be Harassment. In a workplace this is sufficient grounds for a discrimination case to be successfully brought against a perpetrator.

Yes, AGE 8 AND WANTING A SEX CHANGE was a story worth telling - but you failed to tell it. I have been interviewed on radio a number of times since this programme and I have noticed that on every occasion I am being asked questions about whether a child is old enough to make decisions about their gender. This did not happen before your programme and other transphobic media stories over the past month and I can only surmise that the change of attitude is because of the way your programme misrepresented the facts.

Can I suggest that next time you plan to cover this topic instead of seeking advice from "Sun Readers" and other homophobes and transphobes, you seek advice from gender professionals, of whom there are many, and get your facts straight. The difficulties these children, and later in life adults like myself, face are because producers like you continue to promote outdated homophobic and transphobic attitudes.

I wonder if the next time you read of a young gender variant person taking their own life you will be prepared to bear some of the responsibility for that, because your programme has contributed to the hurtful and discriminatory way in which other children treated then at school by the model of behaviour set by your programme.

Ms Rikki Arundel MSc (Gender Research)

Edited 27th October 2009 12.30 pm

And here is their response to that:

Dear Rikki,

Thank you for contacting Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries regarding BODYSHOCK: Age
8 and Wanting a Sex Change.

We are sorry to read you are disappointed with our previous response. You can be assured all your complaint has been logged and forwarded for the information of those responsible for our programming.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise.


Lorna Dane
Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries

Well - thats three people who have been involved. I have called the Equality and Human Rights Commission - and they are sending me some template letters - I will blog later with details of what I have done next and how you may be able to get involved as well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Channel 4 Bodyshock Documentary - Inciting Transphobia?

I have just finished watching the Channel 4 Bodyshock documentary - “Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change” and like many of the people who have commented on the Channel 4 web site, I am both shocked and angry by their presentation. (Please follow the links above to see the documentary and the comments.)

Throughout the programme the parents described their children with appropriate pronouns, even making comment about how upsetting and offensive they and their children found it when incorrect pronouns were used. Yet despite this the narrator constantly used birth sex pronouns even when to do so was cringingly and obviously wrong. This is not the first time that this production company has acted so irresponsibly in the presentation of children with gender dysphoria.

But the effect was not just to make the narrator and Channel 4 appear silly, it had far more serious undertones of inciting transphobia. Just three weeks ago the Sun and then the Daily Mail and others reported on children born male bodied in the UK and who had started back to school as girls. The reporting of those stories encouraged such transphobic comment that the police have become involved.

Clearly the use of incorrect pronouns was a conscious policy. As a support organisation for trans people we devote much of our time to helping repair the damage done by a society that treats trans people as “freaks”. Far from helping, this programme has encouraged transphobia by presenting the actions of the supportive parents as questionable and refusing to accept these children, and an adult trans man, in their acquired gender. The way this programme was presented will encourage people to question a parent’s decision in allowing their child to grow up in their preferred gender.

What concerns me is that there was that the decisions of the parents were constantly being questioned and there appeared to be an inference throughout that allowing a child to start the process of gender change before puberty was wrong. Interestingly what was not addressed by the programme was the fact that in the UK hormone blockers are not available for children although on the Channel 4 web site comment is made regarding the current debate about this issue. I therefore suspect that this programme has a far darker objective of positioning public opinion against those who are campaigning for change in line with the current practice in the US, Netherlands and Germany.

Currently parents in the UK have to take their children to Boston in the US where Dr Norman Spack will provide treatment. Many of the trans children who go to him have self harmed or attempted suicide. Not allowing a child to express themselves in the gender they feel themselves to be is known to contribute to significant mental health issues.

I am disappointed that Channel 4 have decided to take what could have been a hugely empowering documentary and used it to present an outdated transphobic message that will probably now do more harm than good.