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Video about Hollyoaks’ new trans character

August 5, 2010

A reader (thanks, Paul) dropped me this link, to a short BBC article and video about the upcoming portrayal of a teenage trans boy, Jason Costello, on Hollyoaks. I don’t watch Hollyoaks – I am not a soaps person – but a lot of people do, and it’s refreshing to see a trans character being introduced to a mainstream show with a wide audience.

Ping Your Spaceman had a more detailed post a fortnight or so ago, which looks in much more depth at the unfortunate implications raised by a) choosing trans men as ‘gateway’ characters, implying that they are more comprehensible in some fashion than trans women, and b) having male trans characters generally played by cis women. It’s very good – do look at it for a more in-depth exploration of the issues surrounding the portrayal of trans characters on TV.

This post is a much slighter one; I just wanted to talk about this specific video that BBC Newsbeat have put out, and a bit about the BBC’s handling of the subject. This is the blurb accompanying the video:

Psychiatrists have told Newsbeat that young people with gender identity disorder need better treatment.

People who have the disorder are unhappy about being the sex they were born with.

Hollyoaks actress Victoria Atkin talks about her new role playing a teenage girl with gender identity disorder and shows us round the set.

Newsbeat also meets Ben, 17, who has GID, and has been advising Victoria on how to play the part authentically.

I was under the impression that ‘gender identity disorder’ had been largely obsoleted as a term, but apparently I’m wrong, or perhaps that’s mainly in US usage. Either way, GID seems to be the current terminology here (though the Gender Recognition Act 2004 uses ‘gender dysphoria’.) The description of Jason, a trans boy, as ‘a teenage girl with gender identity disorder’ is a spectacular fail, but I’m not entirely sure that the fault for this lies with the BBC – I think that whoever put up the webpage likely took their cue from the video, which consistently misgenders the character.

Video here (may not be accessible outside the UK). Transcript below the jump.

[Establishing shots of various Hollyoaks buildings – high school, shops – finishing up with an exterior shot of the pub The Dog and Pond. Actress Victoria Atkin, a young white woman with shoulder-length blonde hair, comes walking out holding a microphone.]

VA: Hello Radio One, and welcome to the set of Hollyoaks. My name’s Victoria Atkin, and I’m going to be playing the new character Jasmine Costello, who is suffering from Gender Identity Disorder. I’ve got to nip off now and get changed into my Hollyoaks High uniform for a scene as Jasmine, so I’ll leave you here, but I’ll be back in a minute. See you later!

[She walks offscreen. Cut to a T-junction with trees in the background. Atkin is now wearing a maroon school blazer.]

VA: This is the set we’re filming on today. It’s all a bit blended into one, actually. See here is Mobs [camera swings round to small cafe-y place ] which I like to call Moobs ‘cos it sounds much better. Anyway, this is Mobs, and this is the, er, the set in Crewe that we’re filming with today for our scene. This is Il Nosh [restaurant, tables outside], fine Italian dining, as you can tell, lovely.

[Cut to black. A white caption saying “A few scenes later, and ‘Jasmine’ becomes ‘Jason’…”]

[A corridor. Atkin is now in a dark-blue hoodie and grey beanie, her hair tucked out of sight]

VA: I’m, er, Jason now. Just had my costume change [tugs at her lapel] got my boxers on, got my, um, man socks on, and I’m going back on set to do a, a just quick flip-second [?] of being Jason. So it’s all very exciting, it’s all happening, so, come with me, come with me. Gotta put the man walk on now [settles into a slightly different style of walk, slightly hunched shoulders], doing all this.

[She walks offscreen. Cut to an outside shot of Atkin as Jason, being filmed talking to someone behind a pillar outside a cafe or similar, with a crewmember also visible. A new voice starts on the audio track]

New voice: The past month-ish we’ve been helping Victoria with – giving her our side of the story, and so she has the views of an actual person suffering from [short but noticeable pause] GID.

[Cut to a studio shot of a teenage boy in sports jacket and baseball cap – the voice is his. He’s not named in the video, but according to the accompanying article he’s called Ben. He carries on talking.]

Ben: I was about eight I think, when I thought well, something, something isn’t right, but I’m just gonna get on with my childhood. And then when I hit puberty I was thinking, eh, this isn’t right, you’re a boy, this shouldn’t be happening to me – I have to do something about this, this is, like, killing me inside. So from there I, um, researched it – I looked on Youtube, Youtube helped a lot. I went to my doctor’s and they referred me on to a specialist and things like that.

[Shot of a gold, heart-shaped ornament of some sort – hanging from a shelf?]

Ben: So the next stage is hormone blockers, and after that, after I’ve been on that for about six months, after that it’s testosterone, and – surgery, after that. [Pause] The programme’s aimed at young people, so once they’ve watched it they’ll understand more, rather than just jumping to conclusions and thinking it’s a bad thing.

[Brief shot of an extravagant wedding cake – lots of red and pink icing, red and pink feathers, and a bride-and-groom model on the top tier. Cut back to the same studio as before, this time with Atkin again.]

VA: I’ve played Cinderella before this, so I’ve played pretty, blonde . . . So I’m really glad that – I’ve always wanted to do challenging roles [visual cuts to a shot of Atkin as Jason running from, and being tackled by – it looks like – a girl, then shoved and pushed around] something I can get my teeth into. We don’t know who Jasmine will – when and who she’ll tell, and . . . At the moment she’s just sort of experimenting with these feelings, and dressing as Jason, and going out and . . . experimenting, and – we shall see. [Smiles]

[Cut to Newsbeat ident and music. End]

I have to say that Atkin’s consistent misgendering of the character as Jasmine rather than Jason doesn’t bode particularly well for things, if this is the general line on-set. It’s also troubling that she uses the word ‘experimentation’ which is as often used to belittle adolescent working-yourself-out as to describe it neutrally. (Trying on a bunch of selves to see what fits is experimentation, but it seems to get used a lot as a throwaway dismissal of people trying to sort out who they are as teenagers, with the implication that they’ll get over it.)

Ben, on the other hand, is pretty awesome: I wish I’d been as articulate as he is when I was 17 (I imagine that he’s had a lot of practice at telling this story by now.) His description of feeling dysphoria as ‘killing me inside’ hits . . . very hard, for such a simple statement. Hopefully it’ll bring it home to a few people exactly how important acknowledging and dealing with GID/dysphoria is – transition does seem to be brushed off far too often, in this country and elsewhere, as something essentially frivolous. (Amanda Platell in the Daily Mail – link goes to a takedown – is all too typical.) And Ben’s faith that the existence of Jason on Hollyoaks might actually change minds and help understanding is heartening as hell.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Skinner permalink
    August 5, 2010 8:07 pm

    To me “a teenage girl with gender identity disorder” makes far more sense than if it were to be “a teenage boy with GID”.

    Reason being, that if they use “boy” then there is no GID; that’s the outcome of/solution to GID, isn’t it?

    Why is it wrong?

    I am refering only to GID; it probably makes equal sense either way for “gender dysphoria”.

    Perhaps that’s why it’s a depreciated term?

  2. August 5, 2010 8:34 pm

    The wrong bit is to say “Jason is a girl” regardless of what phrases then modify ‘girl’. Trans boys are boys.

    I thought GID had been obsoleted as a phrase on the grounds that the ‘disorder’ bit contributes to the perception of transsexuality and/or transgenderness as, well, disordered or pathological states of being. Dysphoria has a somewhat more neutral meaning as I understand it, though god knows I’m hardly the person to ask.

  3. averydame permalink
    August 5, 2010 8:38 pm

    As a US-ian, I can confirm GID is a US-based term; I think it’s still the diagnosis in the upcoming DSM V. I am, however, entirely unfamiliar with how the NHS and UK health experts have developed their standards of care.

    The big, flashing neon “FAIL” sign that pretty much killed a lot of my faith was when Atkin cited Boys Don’t Cry as an inspiration for her character. There is a huge post I need to write on just exactly why I am fucking exhausted with people using BDC as an inspiration – and likely will, now that I’m reminded and irritated enough.

    But suffice to say that while I respect Bell’s faith, the fact they keep trotting him, and only him, out for all their pressers makes me very skeptical. Surely there are other consultants, even organizations, available.

  4. August 5, 2010 9:23 pm

    Looking a bit further, it seems that gender dysphoria is the common term in the UK, at least in official contexts (the NHS uses it, for instance.)

    Another of the trans teens in the Guardian piece, Daniel, seems also to have been consulted (I think? I may be misreading – they interview several people and not all of them were involved.) But it does seem odd at best, and a red flag at worst, that there don’t seem to be any advocacy groups involved in the production or even making public statements. Back when Coronation Street introduced Hayley Cropper they got an advisor from Press for Change onboard – though admittedly after they were criticised for messing things up. It’s hardly as if there’s nobody to ask . . .

    I’m not especially familiar with Boys Don’t Cry (beyond the bare bones of Brandon Teena’s story) or with other portrayals it ‘inspired’ – I’d be very interested to read a post about that.

    And thanks for stopping by 🙂

  5. averydame permalink
    August 6, 2010 8:43 pm

    Since I mentioned it, the huge Boys Don’t Cry post.

    I hope it helps clear some stuff up.

  6. August 6, 2010 9:48 pm

    Thank you!

  7. August 8, 2010 11:28 pm

    Re: averydame, I believe “Gender Identity Disorder” is being changed to “Gender Incongruence” in the DSM-V (or at least that is the proposed change) and the criteria have been adjusted in several notable ways, taking out issues related to sexuality and broadening the experience of gender between the male/female binary.

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