Let me begin this entry by asking you a question, what is fame, apart from a well known film musical, and a component of Lady Gaga’s album title?
Well my friend Beth loves my definitions, so I an going to start with 3, and then unpack everything from there.
The definition of fame is;
“The state of being well known to many people.”
The definition of infamous is;
“Being well known for some bad deed.”
The definition of invaluable is;
“Extremely useful, indispensable”
Fame comes in many shapes, sizes and forms. Lady Gaga is a figure of worldwide renown, so is famous. Major Charles Ingram, of the bad cough on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is of course infamously well known for cheating a quiz show out of thousands of pounds, and of course a map is invaluable, alongside a sat nav when you do not know where you are going in thick fog.
But there has been much debate around the motives and reasons behind My Transsexual Summer going on tour, and the documentary itself, and how representative it is of the trans community yadda yadda yadda. At the outset, I want to make it clear that I am in no way associated with Channel 4 , My Transsexual Summer, or its’ participants. My views are mine and mine alone. Others may have different viewpoints, as can be seen from the myriad of different opinions expressed across the Internet, but in this blog, I shall express mine.
One thing Channel 4 are particularly good at, and latterly BBC Three in the digital age are good at too is producing superbly informative documentaries. I think the secret to their success lies in a great recipe. They are non sensational, and relevant, and the focus is always on the participants, not whizz bang poppy production techniques and endless talking heads.
This was absolutely true of My Transsexual Summer. Me and my carer Zina (who lives and works with me 24/7) watched it together.
But before it started, I felt a huge sense of excitement and anticipation. I wondered what it would cover? Would there be an on screen team of counsellors or psychologists on hand? Would it get too tippy or full of advice and daily counselling?
But what excited me also was the breadth of people who had put themselves up for this. All very different people, with very different life experience, all together in one beautiful transsexual umbrella..
As with any television show, there were highs and lows we were all privileged to witness. There is one main high and one main low that stand out for me. The high to begin with the positive was seeing Karen’s end goal come to fruition before our very eyes. The crescendo and climax of the journey, her surgery and her vajazzle coming to fruition was a gut wrenching moment to watch. I can imagine all too well the sense of relief and catharsis she must have felt because, being in the same predicament, as well as lesbian, the sense of completeness it would bring me would be amazing.
The low moment for me, and for many others I think, was Drew’s rejection at the bridal shop. The blatant transphobia of the owners was laid bare for all to see. The excuses that were made were so baseless, and pitiful and without foundation or reason, other than transphobia. But that said, I am glad that the incident did not end up on the cutting room floor just because it made uncomfortable viewing. This is a pretty good example of the kind of discrimination the trans community endures on a daily basis, and is based purely on ignorance and fear and prejudice rather than actual knowledge.
Also it made me giggle rather darkly when the woman who Sarah went to see about renting a room was worried about “having her windows put through”. It was in Brighton love, not the Bronx.
I will be congruent at this point and say I added them all on Facebook. But I have to say, I did not add them because of TV. I added them because of my own history and because the programme resonated with me, because I am trans.
Before the programme I have to say I very rarely celebrated it. It was part of my story and people knew about it, but it was more of an inconvenience to me. I was a person who would always see it as a burden rather than something to be proud of.
But My Transsexual Summer changed all that. My blogs are now linked to on my Facebook profile. I am happy for people to know who I am and as the musical Hairspray suggests, where I’ve been. Frankly watching the programme made me think, well if this lot can do it, so can I!
It was also my counsellor Tina who I talked about adding them to Facebook with. She said they would have lots of friends and “fans” i.e people who were not trans but who had watched the show just out of genuine curiosity. Cool, I thought. They accepted. But that said, I was not starstruck. I never have been. A person is a person is a person. I could have a camera plonked in my face. I would still be myself once the camera is off.
But, the show is not without its detractors. From what I can see, the detraction seems to centre around two main themes, the club tour and the go fund me pages which some cast members have set up.
I am going to be candid from here on in, so if you do not want to see a personal view, look away.
Still there? Oh good.
Some appear to believe that by going to club events, and other stuff, the cast are milking their fame. To use one of Tina’s favourite words, poppycock.
Those who see it as milking really misunderstand how the world works in 2012. With the advent of social media, the world is much more connected. It is no longer enough in this social media age just to watch a programme, wait til the next episode, then the series ends.
Especially with journey based series, and a journey as fundamental to the people who make it as the transsexual one, psychologically, people develop a sense of attachment to participants, their journey becomes important to the viewer and they feel a part of that journey. So it is natural that they will want to connect with them. These days, watching TV is not enough. People want to meet people by more personal engagement.
In my view, the My Transsexual Summer cast are not milking but simply responding to demand. The show was clearly loved by a lot of people and the daily comments and wall posts and messages on their Facebook pages show that. Transsexual life is hard enough without putting yourself out there under scrutiny as well so I applaud them for that.
Secondly, the gofundme pages. I have seen a lot of mud and bile, as well as positive comments slung at the people who set these up.
I will tell you that for those without a moneytree, or who have been refused a loan, that the NHS is not an easy place for transsexuals to navigate as it is effectively a postcode lottery.
So I do not blame cast members for taking this step to secure funding for themselves. Moreover, the fact that they are prepared to put themselves out there shows the extent of their level of need. I alluded to suicide statistics in the last post. This is not a joke. Transsexuals have, will try to, and will commit suicide because the pain of living with gender dysphoria and being transsexual gets too much. It is a condition which begins at birth, and an individual quest is to make good and right the incongruence between body and soul.
Nobody is being forced to donate or having their arms twisted. If they do, it is their choice and theirs alone.
There has also been criticism that the show did not do enough to highlight people living outside the binaries of male and female gender.
A valid point perhaps, but not for this show. Going into that kind of thing would have caused people to mix their metaphors. This was an entry level programme, designed to introduced the viewer to the issue of transsexuality. One TV show cannot hope to cover everything in a short period of time. Programme makers also want programmes to be accessible, not to blind their viewer with science.
But I liked the simplistic formula, which proved to be a gem. No talking heads and no theory, just good honest exploration and storytelling from the cast themselves.
To conclude, I want to return to the original question of what fame is. Anyone who knows me will know that as well as reading and writing I love music and musical theatre.
This post turned my mind to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Sunset Boulevard. It has two central characters, Norma Desmond, who was once a famous actress, is hoping to return to the silver screen, later to discover that they only wanted the car for their film, not her.
Joe Gillis, on the other hand is infamous, befriending Norma under false prentences for her fortune.
However, the My Transsexual Summer cast are none of these things. They are not fame hungry, they are ordinary people who have told their story.
However, no doubt that story will have been invaluable for some, not to mention life changing. Through them raising their head above the parapet, people will feel better about themselves, or even if struggling with other issues, transsexuality incorporates many other things.
Donna in particular has been vlogging on YouTube to help others with confidence. A very altruistic act.
In a sense I think the My Transsexual Summer cast are famous. Just not in the way you would expect. They are famous, not in a limelight way, but because people have shared their struggles. So they are famous in people’s mind and soul, as we can learn frrom them, and others can learn from us. So we are all famous.
But as Donna said in a recent vlog;
“If you can’t be yourself, then who can you be?.”
True sentiments sister!!
So, famous, yes but in a good unselfish way that benefits others. Infamous? No. Invaluable? Most definitely.