Ria: Diary of a Teen Transsexual – Judgement Day

So last night, Channel 4 screened a documentary entitled Ria: Diary of a Teen Transsexual about a young trans woman, Ria Cooper, about her struggles growing up as a young trans woman on the Longhill Estate in Hull, Humberside. It was described by the narrator as “one of Britain’s toughest council estates”.

We see her highs, and her lows as she navigates her way through the sometimes fickle and inconsistent world of being a teenager. No more and no less.

However this programme followed a very different route to say, My Transsexual Summer. It was gritty, it was honest, and it was tough, and it was annoying, frustrating, and angering, but in the next breath inspiring too. Does it mean that because it sent out a different message to other shows, that therefore it is less valid? No. I think that there is room for every story, and that Ria’s story needed to be told.

Here in this piece, I shall attempt to explain why, and draw some conclusions, as well as addressing the judgements, counter judgements and criticism that has been levelled at Ria.

I want to open by stating an absolute truth. Transsexuality does not discriminate. Transsexuals come in all shapes, sizes, disabilities, colours and creeds. They also come from a wide range of social backgrounds as you might expect. 

Historically, council estates like the one Ria lived on are viewed with some degree of scorn by those who are more privileged. However, they can be in many cases fulfilling and friendly places.

Many of Ria’s friends did accept her, in spite of the fact that their pronoun use was all over the shop. Underneath all that, they supported her aims.

However, council estates can be tough places to group up. They tend to be based, much like the animal kingdom on survival of the fittest and conforming to norms. 

However, being transsexual throws the majority of those norms out the window, so, you have to conform in other ways.

It was a telling point that Ria’s sister I think said that she had never heard anyone in Hull aspiring to be a lawyer or a graphic designer or a lawyer.

For the most part, council estates are microcosms. They become your world, and as such, not having the same cultural capital as people from a more privileged background (though you can gain it later) you get involved in what that world has to offer for a young teenage girl, which was in the case of Longhill, testosterone fuelled boys. All Ria was trying to do was to conform to the social expectations of her world, and what she perceived a girl to be. 

Yes she went about it in a perhaps more exaggerated and clumsier way, but do  not forget she was feeling her round a new, fresh world post transition. We are bound to as human beings make mistakes and we all do it, so we should not sit in judgement on Ria’s mistakes.

I got mixed messages from Ria’s mother and stepfather about the transition process. On one level they seemed to understand, but on another not so much.When Ria’s stepdad was speaking regarding boyfriends and intimacy, I just wanted to gently explain that it was not a boy panicking about someone discovering their trans status, but a girl.

One of the basic tenants of transsexuality is that it is a mismatch between body and brain.

You get so excited and you want to do everything other girls do, including sex and intercourse. Just because your body is mismatched, it does not mean that that registers with your brain. So your brain gets horny, starts thinking nice thoughts and then, oh fuck, I’ve got 99 problems and my d*** might be one.

So what do you do? Do you lie? Or are you honest? It is a difficult judgement call on which way to go here. If you really liked someone you might be scared it would put them off, but on the other you may just want your privacy to be intact.

For me, when this issue came up at the gay club, I told people. But I do feel it created an unconscious division between us. Being lesbians my friends did not feel they could have sex with someone with a penis. Their loss! I think Ria just wanted to feel normal for five minutes, and not be perceived as a freak. It is an inbuilt mechanism in  all of us to crave acceptance and love, and Ria Cooper is no different.

Let me turn now to the issue of blockers and Ria’s money situation. Let me say it like it is, if you have not been in that position yourself, you are in no position to judge.

During the period after the second visit to the Tavistock Clinic, Ria’s life seemed chaotic. But this is what early transition is like. On the one hand you have these medical professionals validating and confirming what you know, on the other you have people trying to re-learn you and make sense of you.

Ria perhaps did not take the blockers because she was not ready to, or was unable to process the consequences of doing so. However that does not in itself make her a bad person. It makes her human.

Cleethorpes I think, saw Ria at her happiest. For her and her friends, it was normal teenage escapism from the humdrum of estate life. And you know, I just knew she was never going to be able to keep to her friend’s no shagging rule.

I knew it was about as likely as the sky turning green, though the physical violence saddened me. I could empathise with her pain of wanting what every teenage girl wants, whilst at the same time, getting there was not going to be a straight, easy or simple road.

I also felt for her as stealth became harder to accomplish, as the full effects of a male puberty were felt. I hated mine with a vengeance, so I know only too felt how it is.

Now let me turn to sex. Yes kids, sex. Across social media today, Ria doing sex work to finance herself has provoked outrage, inside and outside the trans community.

Let me start by saying this right off the bat. Sex is normal, sex is enjoyable, and most of all nothing to be ashamed of.

But what has angered me and I mean really fucked me off, is how nasty and vitriolic and contemptible people have been about it. People have called her a slag, accusing her of giving the trans community a bad name.

Well pardon me but I do not think in any way one person can hold the perception  of an entire community in their hand.That is hyperbole and obfuscation of the very worst kind.

Ria is responsible for herself and her actions. You and I are responsible for ourselves, our actions, and how we react to her actions.

Let me be clear, sex is one of the most basic, primitive desires in humankind. We all need it, and we all want it.

But yet, we seem to go all Dickensian and intellectually snobbish when money is involved, and prudish.Why?

It is no different to sucking your boyfriend’s cock or licking out your girlfriend’s vajayjay. Except there is money, and as Sarah Savage pointed out in her earlier blog, some people may enjoy the sex.

With limited options available, Ria wanted to make money, and make money fast. We all, after all need money to survive.  This seems to be the motif I am left with when I think about Ria’s life; survival in a tough place.

Some of the vitriol that has been directed at Ria is shameful. Sex is after all, a passport to love and affirmation and internal happiness and authenticity. All I think is that Ria has gone via the scenic route to achieve her goals. None of us can know what we would do in her situation, but there is a demand for sex workers otherwise prostitution would not exist. I applaud Ria from the heart for being so honest and candid about her life, truly. What I would like to see is better protection for sex workers to make them less vulnerable, and proper legislation, with the objective of legalisation.

Then enter the vivacious, confident and loveable Paris Lees. She stated that she recognised a lot of Ria in herself and wanted to help. You see, the thing is, when Paris opens her mouth, you know she is doing it from a place of genuineness and honesty. She is a beautiful person who has been there, seen it and done it, and got the Transtar T-shirt y’all. Boom!

She was positive, non judgemental and oozed empathy from every pore.I tell you today, if more people were like Paris and less like the ill-informed idiots who have been abusing the privilege of social media to talk shit, the world would be abundantly better.

For the huge moral stigma around prostitution stink. Prostitutes are seen as scum, along with the homeless and minority groups. We need to change our mindset. Ria is trans. She needs support just like every other transperson. We cannot just support those narratives which conform to our sensibilities, or leave us warmed up like soup on a cold day.

As a community, we have a duty and responsibility to support everyone, regardless of our different backgrounds. What brings us together, namely the trans lived experience is far stronger than what divides us.

Concluding, I thought last night’s documentary was great, and an emotional rollercoaster. The response not so. What we saw in the reactions I feel was a very British response, to a very un-British warts n’all raw documentary.

Yes it struck a very different note to My Transsexual Summer. MTS was celebratory and positive.However, if you seriously think that every trans documentary following it has to be fluffy and rosy and in P!NK’s words Fuckin’ Perfect then you are sadly mistaken. This is because although the trans label unites us, all our lived experiences are different.

Just because one documentary by one production company sent out a very positive narrative, it does not mean that other narratives are then rendered redundant and become excluded. There is room for all narratives.

Any human being with a brain can understand and respect that, and we as the trans community should too. 

All that prevents people from doing so is their own prejudice. I hope over time this will change and people will reflect.

Yes MTS was fab, but it is not the only trans story that needs to be told. However positively we spin things, being trans at times is difficult if you do not have the right cultural capital, the right environment, and the right support, when you need it most. But in spite of adversity, with a true spirit of determination, Ria carried on.

Maybe her story made us feel uncomfortable, angry, sad, or with a bitter taste over our sex work prejudices. But Ria has friends, they pull her through, and because of that she will continue to thrive. Just because the documentary shone a light on a side of trans life we may not have seen, does not mean the documentary in turn should be seen and not heard.

Ria is part of a diverse trans community, and that is something we should celebrate. We cannot just stick our fingers in our ears when a particular diversity mystifies us. We must use it to allow our minds to be broadened, thus allowing education and empathy to take place.

The amount of value judgement I have seen disgusts me to the core. I hope I never have to see it again.

Why? Mainly because I do not live in a vacuum or a glass house and know how it feels to be judged.

Think what you like about Ria, but she is determined and courageous and I celebrate that. In many ways she proves how high transition stakes can be. She had no cushion, nor safety net. Her narrative is valid because she is a valid human being. She therefore has a right to tell her story. I for one am glad she did.



2 thoughts on “Ria: Diary of a Teen Transsexual – Judgement Day

  1. While I agree with you on some aspects of what you said, I still think we are all entitled to our own opinions and my opinion was based on how she presented herself in the program, she may well have turned her life around and I hope she has. I understand totally what it’s like to live on the breadline, so I can relate to her on that level and why she may have felt like turning to prostitution, however the way she talked about boys just simply disgusted me and I had every right to express how I felt about that.

  2. Thankyou for that comment people don’t understand how I feel about all the bad comments I have been crying all night and day over it. I did what I did and I needed cash and to feel loved because I just needed some man company and I was feeling low. Thankyou for this story it has put a smile on my face 🙂 xx

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