I had a plan for today. I was supposed to be getting interviewed by RTE’s Prime Time about the Tuam Babies scandal, but then Tuesday night’s “Generation Gender” programme went out and I felt I had to withdraw. It was a bit of a wrench until I realised it wasn’t a matter of choosing between my loyalty to the trans community and to the community of survivors, family members and campaigners that has developed around the Tuam Babies scandal over the past four years.
Both these stories are “human interest stories” (which is often shorthand for scandal and sensation, to be honest) but at the heart of them are living, breathing humans; traumatised people, deserving of sensitivity and respect. A media outlet incapable of dealing with one of these stories accurately and sensitively just cannot be trusted with the other.
I was due to record an interview with @RTE_PrimeTime on Thursday, regarding #TuamBabies. After last night's show I've decided not to go ahead. A tough decision, but @RTE's current affairs flagship is now a tabloid TV programme & not to be trusted. #TurnOffPrimeTime
— Izzy Kamikaze (@IzzyKamikaze) January 23, 2019
Tuesday’s Prime Time was supposed to be about proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (to allow 16 to 18 year olds to self-declare their legal gender and support some younger children to socially transition, with parental consent and under more stringent conditions) but the actual provisions of the Act were barely mentioned and, if any of the interviewees were asked what the likely results of the changes would be, their well-chosen words must have ended up on the cutting room floor.
Room was created for rampant speculation, with no fact-checking whatsoever.
The point of gender recognition by self-identification is to let people live in a way that feels authentic, without having to commit to any medical or surgical intervention, reversible or otherwise. The Gender Recognition Act is about social transition, about being able to produce documents that reflect your lived-in gender rather than exposing yourself to the ridicule of every bureaucrat that demands your ID. It’s nothing to do with surgery or hormones, it’s about psychological wellbeing and respect and equality. Gender Recognition by self-ID is a totally reversible process that happens entirely on paper. Despite that, it is relentlessly opposed by the people who claim to be most concerned about young people making “irreversible decisions” at an impressionable age.
This incongruity was never mentioned by Prime Time, much less explored. One likely result of exploring this question would be that these ‘concerned’ people would be revealed to just dislike trans people, regardless of what path their transition takes. Prime Time did not take any chances of exposing them that way.
The trailer asked why the debate here has not been as heated as in Britain and from the get-go, it seemed determined to provoke controversy, regardless of the consequences for young people questioning their gender. One reliable way to ensure controversy is to focus on lurid speculation about bodies and hormones and surgery, rather than psychological wellbeing. Prime Time’s focus was relentlessly “neck down” at all times, reinforced by the repeated use of images of two statues of idealised bodies, one male, one female, with the camera usually focused between the jaw and the genitals.
Will Katie Hopkins be on Prime Time’s trailer next week, while a voiceover gloomily laments the fact that we’re not having the same kind of debate about immigration as they are having in Britain?
Having briefly mentioned that the issuing of a Gender Recognition Cert at any age had no bearing on getting surgery or hormones, Prime Time immediately observed that “some people have concerns that it “might” and gave immediate voice to those people and those fears – without any pause to consider people who never seek hormones or surgery, or who wait many years before doing so, or who chose one, but not the other. Room was created for rampant speculation, with no fact-checking whatsoever. Given that we’re talking about a minority subject to discrimination, harassment and even violence, this is criminally irresponsible.
I haven’t even mentioned the choice of guests for the programme, but here too, the programme threw caution to the winds. Graham Linehan has understandably gathered most of the attention. Linehan has neither lived experience nor expertise on this subject and must have been chosen purely on the basis that he now devotes his life to Twitter, throwing the most juvenile insults he can think of at trans people and anybody who speaks up for them. It would be one thing if Linehan tossed off a few transphobic remarks in passing on some light entertainment show, but Prime Time is RTE’s flagship current affairs programme. Will Katie Hopkins be on Prime Time’s trailer next week, while a voiceover gloomily laments the fact that we’re not having the same kind of debate about immigration as they are having in Britain? I wish I could say no, but when Linehan is invited on our airwaves to parade his ignorance and pose it as “concern” – without us even being informed that he has recently been warned by police to stop harassing a trans activist – anything can happen.
Prime Time, with this sensationalist cocktail, has tarnished its reputation, possibly forever, and we need to make sure that message is heard loud and clear.
Linehan’s segment was mercifully brief, but his selection for the trailer shows the intention to provoke controversy at all costs and it’s worth noting that the other recognisable face in the trailer is that of Venice Allen, or ‘Doctor Rad Fem’ as she calls herself on YouTube. Allen’s only claim to real life fame is her relentless harassment of the (then teenage) trans activist Lily Madigan. Balance, my arse!
Also on Tuesday, Stella O’Malley, psychotherapist, was also allowed to present her rather weak argument based on her retrospective self-diagnosis of her childhood self as having grown out of gender dysphoria, without any attempt being made to check this fairy tale against the diagnostic criteria. Incredibly sloppy journalism to say the least! Prime Time, with this sensationalist cocktail, has tarnished its reputation, possibly forever, and we need to make sure that message is heard loud and clear.
There are LGBT+ people and allies among the experts on every Prime Time show and I’m calling on them to reconsider their participation. I know how hard this is when you have a point of view you need to be heard. If you can’t withdraw, at least register your disapproval with the programme-makers. They need to understand that appearing on Prime Time is a different proposition now that they’ve chosen to position themselves as tabloid TV.
There are people who will make their first tentative steps out of the closet in the coming weeks because of Sara, Sam and Gwen, who deserve our thanks and respect.
I’m also asking everyone pissed off by this new low in current affairs programming to complain, initially to RTÉ and, if that is unsuccessful, to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Complaints before the programme was aired are not entertained, but now that we’ve seen this godawful mess we are entitled, as the people who pay for this, to have our say.
The only consolation is that the trans people featured, Sara Phillips and Sam Blanckensee and Gwen Doyle, the mother of a trans child, got more exposure than they would have done if the programme had been less sensationalist. They were amazing – compassionate, confident and showing genuine concern for all people on a gender journey – in sharp contrast to the petulant, bad-tempered and intolerant presentation of Linehan & Co.
As LGB people will remember from our own dark days in the closet, any exposure at all to positive role models is hugely important. There are people who will make their first tentative steps out of the closet in the coming weeks because of Sara, Sam and Gwen, who deserve our thanks and respect. They certainly have my thanks and respect – and today my small act of SolidariT.
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