As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, last night the weekly Surgery with Aled and Dr. Radha on BBC Radio 1 was on the subject of Gender Identity.
The programme started with an introduction, and then Stephanie was brought in and Aled interviewed her for a while about her background, her transition, and various issues surrounding Gender Identity. The programme then moved into a phone-in format with various people interviewed. Two parents of transgender children were interviewed along with several transgender individuals.
On the whole, the programme was extremely positive and it’s great to see that a mainstream National radio station is discussing issues like this and I think it is an indicator that society is becoming more tolerant and receptive to the idea of transgender people and Gender Identity issues.
However, I have two minor criticisms about the programme.
The first is that F2M (Female-to-Male, ie. born female and then transitioning to male) people appeared to be over-represented and M2F seemed to get far less emphasis. I think this is a pity, because society has always tended to tolerate masculine behaviour in a seemingly female person more than it does feminine behaviour in a seemingly male person (even the name ‘tomboy’ is less pejorative than ‘sissy’) and the cliché society view of a transgender person is of the archetypical “tranny”, so it would have been nice for this to have been explored a little more.
Having said that, Stephanie did have the opportunity to explore her own experiences so perhaps the balance was there that way.
My second criticism is more fundamental though. The majority of the programme was preoccupied with gender binaries (ie. there is only male and female) and that if you found yourself in the wrong binary then you are expected to transition to the correct one. In fact it felt like every other word was “transition” for a lot of the show. I completely disagree with this concept. Gender is a spectrum with “totally male” at one end and “totally female” at the other end, and there is an entire world in between those two extremes. In the same way that Sexuality is a spectrum with “straight” at one end and “gay” at the other, and a huge range of bisexuality in between (including “bi-curious”), there is a whole range of genders in the Gender Spectrum. It can incorporate people who consider themselves to be a mix of both genders, or indeed neither gender. There are even bi-gender people who like to move between genders as the mood takes them.
Granted, the last caller on the line in the closing minutes of the show identified as both genders, but this was the first time the concept had even been mentioned in the programme and I felt that the topic wasn’t really explored and could have left listeners unfamiliar with the concept of Gender Identity with a rather skewed and incomplete picture.
I have to say that I’m not entirely surprised. Society (certainly Western Society) as a whole does have an extremely polarised and rigid concept of a gender binary, where men are men and women are women, and there are shopping aisles for boys toys and girls toys, so it’s not a great leap for people to accept an idea of someone being in the wrong body and wanting to change into the right one. Perhaps it was too great a leap to dive straight into the Gender Spectrum.
However, it’s worth mentioning that in some cultures, the concept of the Third Gender is well accepted and even has legal status.
Hopefully this programme will pave the way for more on this subject. After all, I’m sure it isn’t the only episode of the Surgery that has dealt with sexuality so perhaps there will be a future ones on the Gender Identity issues.
As I said earlier, though, I do consider this programme to have been overwhelmingly positive and I think it shows major progress in the mainstream media’s handling of this issue. However, I think that by being so preoccupied with transition it may have painted an overly simplistic picture.
Still, in this day and age of the World Wide Web, there is loads of information readily available for further research. So if nothing else, by raising the concept of Gender Identity it could get people wanting to learn more. And that’s always a good thing.
This episode of The Surgery is available on BBC iPlayer until Friday 13-Feb-2015 at 10pm UK time.
The direct link to it is http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04xnh5v
It may not be available to you if you are outside of the UK.