Monday, 21 March 2011

Always Outnumbered, Always Betrayed

It's a truism of politics - and of life, of which politics is merely an extension - that you hate your betrayer more than your enemy. This is why there is a greater reservoir of hatred for Nick Clegg than there is for David Cameron. Cameron is a Tory, and we know we can rely on the Tories to be horrible, hateful, bigoted scum, who'll kick crutches away from the disabled and burn babies' prams for firewood. But a year ago Nick Clegg seemed to promise a new kind of politics - seemed to be the personification of Britain's own 'Obama moment' - only to throw it all away for a shot at power, turning his back on the hope he represented and everything he told us he believes in.

So in a similar way, as angry as I am with Peter Kay I find myself angrier at Channel 4 when I read that said channel - which, just last week, to general acclaim from the trans community, signed the Trans Media Watch Memorandum of Understanding - is planning to repeat the very programme in which Kay first aired his transphobic caricature, Geraldine. Yes: on March 26th, a grand total of twelve days after signing the MoU, Channel 4 plans to air a programme featuring a character and a performer universally reviled by trans people.

Let's remind ourselves what Channel 4 committed themselves to do by signing the Memorandum. The Memorandum has four principle aims: to eliminate transphobia in the media, to end the provision of misinformation about transgender issues in the media, to increase positive, well-informed representations of trans people in the media, and to ensure that trans people working in or with the media are treated with the same respect as cis people in equivalent positions.

The relevant principles transgressed by 'Peter Kay's Britain's Got the Pop Factor And Oh For God's Sake Stop the Title We Got the Joke Ten Words Ago You Unfunny Buffoon' are principles two and three. Kay's caricature 'Geraldine' is nothing but misinformation about trans people; and this laughable transface mockery is far from a 'positive' or 'well-informed' representation. So why are Channel 4 doing this?

The only inference I can make from this scheduling decision is that they just don't care. And that in fact they never did. Channel 4 were happy to use Trans Media Watch's good intentions as a way to score a little good publicity (though notably less keen to trumpet their decision on their news programming - a reticence to show solidarity with trans people in the mainstream media thankfully not shared by others, such as the New Statesman's David Allen Green), but when it comes down to it, doing the right thing by one of the most vulnerable groups in society means nothing for Channel 4 compared to the cheap ratings pop a rerun of Kay's godawful talent show spoof will garner in the wake of his charidee single with Susan Boyle.

Should this really surprise us? This is the same channel that broadcast an episode of The IT Crowd which featured, as its comic climax, a cis man beating a trans woman unconscious; the same channel which broadcast Frankie Boyle making rape jokes involving a disabled child. This is the channel which only did something about the Big Brother racism scandal when rioters in India began burning contestants in effigy.

Fine words are all very well, but Channel 4 have shown again and again that they only do what's right when people put pressure on them to do so. Perhaps this is what Channel 4's head of creative diversity, Stuart Cosgrove was alluding to when he said that Trans Media Watch needed to feel free to 'shaft us' now and again (as reported by Chrisine Burns at Just Plain Sense).

Sadly, it isn't people like Cosgrove who wind up getting shafted, but trans people, again and again, when cis people act as if we don't really matter to them, as if we're not as important as profits or ratings or their own smug peace of mind. We may be a minority, but I'm sick to the back teeth of being betrayed by people and organisations I admire.

That's why I've started a petition to ask Channel 4 to live up to their promises and not air Peter Kay's transphobic comedy special again. Please sign, and send a message to Channel 4 that fine words and big parties are not enough: that we expect to see them act on the promises they've made, and that we'll judge the extent to which they really value and respect trans voices by their actions, not their PR.


  1. Hello Emily,

    Had a link to this passed onto myself - don't know if you read my post on Mr Cosgrove's weekend work for the BBC...


  2. Though I personally despise Geraldine and find this whole episode utterly depressing, MoU doesn't stand for Magic-wand. Channl4 4 is a huge organisation with many different departments, and this show would have been booked well before the MoU was signed. That doesn't make it Ok, but if we are going to work with Channel 4 then demanding that it be taken off is not really going to get us anywhere... this is a particularly difficult issue to tackle now that Comic Releif, the BBC, ITV and pretty much ALL the media have given Geraldine the thumbs up.

    We will be speaking to C4 about this - and I will forward my contacts there the link to this blog. But rather than have a completely all-or-nothing reponse, rather than say that the MoU is worthless just because there's an offensive piece going out this week, can you just give it a bit more time and see where we are in a years time? When we've had a chance to conduct traning at Channel 4, get our media guides distributed, consult on upcoming shows, which will happen months and months before they air?

    In the meantime might I suggest you direct your totally valid and understandable (I understand because I feel it too) anger towards the real enemies? Why not slag off ITV, who not only haven't signed the MoU but didn't bother turning up to the launch event? The BBC sent a representative, and are looking at how they can incoporate the MoU into their charter. Even better, you could try approaching Petet Kay direct and ask him if he realises the hurt he is causing trans people? I suspect he is too far gone down this route now to admit any wrongdoing, but why shouldn't we lay the blame at his door?

    Finally, you have every right to express your opinion, and TMW welcomes discussion - we are not Stonewall!!! However, this past week I have spent a lot of time responding to negativity from the trans community which I think would have been better spent firing emails off to the people who actually produce this media. I have been doing that as well, but it is emotionally draning having to read people day that we, I, am failing because we haven't completely destroyed the mountain we are chipping away at.

  3. Hi Paris, thanks for commenting. I appreciate the time you've taken over these points. To be honest this blog was a bit of a cri de couer - I'd only just seen the post about the Geraldine programme being rerun on the bus back from work, I got back in and went off on one without considering things rationally.

    Thinking about things with a calmer head on, I find I agree with all the points you raise.

    My experience of large organisations does suggest that quite often the left hand doesn't know what the right hand's doing, so it's more likely that 4's showing this thing out of simple thoughtlessness rather than any more malign motive. That doesn't make it okay, but you're right that others are more to blame.

    ITV's failure to even send a representative to the MoU launch shows a contempt much greater than Channel 4's failure to clock on to how offensive wheeling out Geraldine again would be, and it's ITV, rather than 4, who are giving Kay a platform five days in a row on Loose Cis Women. They, more than Channel 4, deserve our ire over this - you're right about that.

    You're also right that ultimately the blame lies at Peter Kay's door, and I know that Christine Burns asked his twitter account for an opinion on the matter, but I'm not sure how she got on. My experience of comedians acknowledging the offense they've caused does suggest that he probably won't be very forthcoming, and by all accounts Kay is a pretty poor specimen of human being *even* for a comedian. I think there's more mileage in creating a climate in which Kay's BS doesn't fly than trying to change his mind.

    Finally, on a more personal note, it was never my intention in the above to belittle any of the valuable work TMW has done in getting the MoU out there, and getting organisations onside. I appreciate that it's going to take time, effort, and the provision of training and resources to change the culture of the media, and I have a lot of respect for the work you do, the difficult task you've taken on, and the things you've already managed to achieve in such a short space of time. It was Channel 4 I was upset with when I wrote this post, not TMW, but I'm sorry to have upset you and TMW in writing it.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to put your side of the story, and keep up the good work.

  4. Thank you, that response has really cheered me up today. I forgot to mention that Channel 4 have also commissioned some qualitative research into trans people, which I will discuss at more length in a blog I'll put up by the end of the week.

    I don't want to turn ITV into the baddies - no one is allowed to get that status. Doing that will not help a thing. We are building a relationship with them too, and I have told my contact how unhappy I am with Loose Women. Thought I am disappointed that no one came to the launch, we have to get on with this people - it's the only way we'll acheive anything.

    Thanks again. x

  5. The research from Channel 4 IS a step in the right direction, and I do hope their research guides their commissioning and presentation of material in future.

    And it's good that you're in talks with ITV too. You're right that networking with the, er, networks is necessary, but if you're going to do the reasonable negotiating thing, it sometimes helps to have an angry brigade to point to... ;)

  6. We have plenty of bad cops to our good cops. x

  7. I'm not a bad cop OR a good cop, I'm a cop on the edge, playing by my own rules... :P