TransEthics: Tell us what you do for the BBC.
Kate Adair: What I do is work on a platform called BBC The Social. It’s an online space giving a platform to new and emerging content creators. It’s about letting people make what we are passionate about. In my case I started with a couple of a Trans 101 videos and have recently moved on to doing a weekly thing called queer bites where I get to discuss a topic of the week… usually I take it from something that I have seen in the news or something big from the world of LGBTQI+ society, but I do admit I’m bias a little towards the trans content. I’m a trans person who leads on creating what I make, script, film and edit my own stuff and the BBC listens to my views and allow me to make what I feel is relevant and important. They tend not to change or alter what I say and —at least with the social— are happy to listen to my lead on whats needing to be said and put out there.
TE: How do you think the media in general can improve its portrayal of trans women?
KA: When it comes to the media there are many different aspects to the portrayal. In a non-factual sense trans women have in my opinion a double battle on their hands. Firstly there is the fact that historically most trans characters were portrayed as either victims or serial killers or sex workers. These portrayals have never been positive either with many of the storylines being very exploitative of the narrative of a trans persons life, be it focused on things like surgery, or partners not knowing and being shocked coming to the point where we see men throwing up for example in films such as Ace Ventura or Family Guy. These shows also take great liberty in throwing in many transphobic slurs and ideas that a cisgender audience see and feel that they are acceptable to use or imitate would be a better choice of phrase there as many have a good laugh at these things and use them in their daily lives.
Now I’m not saying there isn’t a place for transphobic slurs when used in the right context, for example in queer filmmaking where its being used to highlight issues rather than being used as a weapon against the trans character.
Also there has been historically the idea of casting cisgender actors to play these roles, taking the work away from the many trans people out there with dreams of acting. Discrimination like this is very damaging and disheartening to my fellow trans siblings that wish to break into this medium, and some do fall back on their own ethics for the sake of the role because it’s very much “take what you can get”. Now this isn’t to say there hasn’t been a shift in trans portrayals in shows such as Orange is the New Black, Sense 8, and the new one on Netflix Mr. Robot where the trans characters history is second to them as a character.
But when shows are even doing that bit right, there is also the struggles of many cisgender female actresses to gain better roles in a very cis white male dominated industry.
There needs to be a more diverse portrayal of trans characters that takes away from the ‘before’, ‘used to be’, and ‘journey’ of a trans persons life and brings about more characters that trans people can look up to. Michelle Hendly being a prime example of someone in the lovely movie Boy Meets Girl, or Saga Becker in Something Must Break. Whilst not without their faults, both these films for me are great examples of strong trans leads and storytelling.
TE: How can the trans community effect the practice of casting cisgender men in the roles of trans women?
KA: Ultimately its about changing attitudes. There are many out there that are campaigning and raising awareness, but even those who have large platforms or successful shows, ie Jen Richards and company from Her Story are still not entirely listened to. I feel there is a gradual shift towards this but with the nature of trans communities and how diverse we are, there will always be those that give validity to the actions of those that work in the media. Those trans people who are happy to sing the praises of the cisgender actors. This fight won’t be won overnight unfortunately, but hopefully with more trans people getting opportunities and showing people how valuable we are to a production and a story about trans experiences then people will wake up to this.
TE: You mentioned that the media tends to portray a lot of trans women as sex workers. Do you think that may be because by in large there is a higher percentage of trans women in sex work?
KA: That’s a good question, not one that I think there is any specific answer for. I mean the optimistic answer there would be that perhaps people did do research and for this reason this is the case, or maybe that the only interaction writers have had is with an image on a porn site or it could be another reason altogether but if I think about it from a writer’s perspective (not something I claim to be ) It would make sense that having the trans person play a sex worker would make writing in the quips about genitals a lot easier and then leading to the usual situations i mentioned earlier.
TE: Why do you think a lot of trans people – trans women in particular – resort to sex work?
KA: Society plays a very large part in this, Whilst it is said that there are more rights for trans people in the workplace, we know that to not be the case. discrimination is still rife, and many are left with no other option but to enter into sex work just to survive. We all have bills to pay in life and trans people are no different. The problem with employers is that it is very easy for them to discriminate before you even get in the door. If you are a trans person who does get a job interview and goes in and is the perfect interviewee, skilled or even over-skilled for the job you are applying for the employers can easily write you a few days after the interview (if they bother to even do that) and say you were not the right candidate for the job. This is an easy get out for them. Reasons for them being discriminated against could be anything from how they present which upsets the poor cis people to the issues faced by those that do transition in the workplace tend to find themselves bullied out of work due to the battles with fellow coworkers over rights, name changes, or the dreaded bathroom wars. This leads to them feeling uncomfortable enough that they have to leave. This I should point out isn’t always the case. There are jobs where trans people come out and are lucky that everything goes smoothly, but i hear more bad than good in my day-to-day interactions with fellow trans people across many industries.
There is also the fact that the fetishization of pre-op trans women that drives up business. There are many people out there who would pay the money, so if the demand is there then to many it’s an attractive prospect to supply. Personally having never done sex work myself but considered it in the past I know I was driven by money, with no knowledge of the mental and physical implications that can arise from working in the industry never mind personal safety. My knowledge of this only comes from speaking with those that have engaged in sex work. Its my opinion that listening to those for whom this is actually their live is important in improving the conditions and rights for all those in the sex work industry.
TE: What must society do to begin to break down the barriers that exist for trans people?
KA: That’s an entire thesis right there. There needs to be a change in attitudes towards listening and working with us to help support trans people rather than feeling like our requests for basic human rights are an attack on them… (well sometimes it is) but you know what I mean. Visibility is helping with that and many cisgender people are now at least aware of what a trans person is, even if they don’t agree with it or understand it. Education plays a part in this, and part of the series I do with the BBC Trans 101 is aimed at doing this, albeit in a slightly different way to what I’ve seen. Excluding the trolls who love nothing better than to flame up the usual arguments of chromosomes and what junks you have, I have found that taking the time to explain some of the basics to cisgender people and tell them the harsh realities of our shared experiences many will at least be more open to acceptance.
Those who work actively in campaigning and policy change need to really pick up their act though. It seems that a lot of organisations are happy to say they are inclusive and work with trans people but stating you are and doing are two completely different things. There are great people out there doing great things, but then there are those that whilst perhaps not intentionally holding things back are through a stubbornness or ignorance… and then there are those who are actively trying to harm trans rights. I saw comments recently about how the trans movement are 10-20 years behind the gay rights movement, which I agree with, but in time history shows that fighting against us is the wrong side of the argument to be on. We just want the same basic rights as everyone else, nothing more and nothing less, and us getting them is not going to harm your current life situation: the sun will still be there, the ground isn’t going to crumble, and god isn’t going to fire nukes from a cloud in anger because we got a job just like everyone else.
TE: Do you see yourself as an activist?
KA: Yeah I would say so, i do a lot of activism work for other projects, but i think anyone working for equal rights is an activist in one way or another.. but compared to some people i know and admire i would feel like an imposter brandishing the title about.
TE: One last question: What would you say to the supporters of legislation like North Carolina’s HB2 law?
KA: Fucking hell, that bloody law is one of the most ridiculous things i have ever seen. The fact that its legalizing the right to discriminate against all LGBTQI+ persons should be enough for any sane right-minded person to go hold on a minute this is fucking wrong just shows how much prejudice there is still out there. I wonder if these people even have taken a second to consider the fact that at some point in their life they might have a friend or family member come out and thrown into the path of that train wreck of a bill. Money is being taken out of public funds and moved into defending that bill that is unenforceable in regards to the bathroom debate. I mean there’s the story of a trans activist in going to a piss in the woman bathrooms in Pat McCrory’s building and informing the police of what she had just done and them being like “huh?” and “what?”
I mean if that doesn’t make them think somethings up then fuck knows what will? I would add to that actually that as I mentioned earlier, when time has passed and history tells the story of this fight, they will find themselves on the loosing side because its clear as day to everyone else how absurd it is that trans people are sneaking into bathrooms to molest people. Rapists do that not trans people… we just need to pee.
TE: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.
KA: Thank you for having me.