BBC Radio 4 continued with their one-sided and uncritical coverage of transgender issues on Monday evening (May 23rd) in failing to provide any analysis of the trend on ‘Beyond Binary,’ an episode, ironically, of the ‘Analysis’ series. The presenter admitted this from the start in a breezy statement which set the tone for the whole programme:
“This episode of Analysis won’t attempt to deconstruct gender, nor will it try to define exactly what gender is and where it comes from: what it will do is explore the concept of non-binary.”
With no definition of ‘gender,’ the concept of ‘non-binary’ can’t be understood either, which perhaps explains why the BBC chose to interview exclusively people who had transitioned from one ‘gender’ to the other in varying degrees, from the use of chest binders through to surgery, plus a cross-dresser. Rather than ‘non-binary’ we got ‘binary-affirming.’ If the BBC had defined their terms before making the programme, maybe they wouldn’t have made this mistake, but as it was, the show came across as a reverent and patronising celebration of a group of people who are clearly just as confused about the meaning of ‘gender’ as the BBC is.
Phil/Pippa, a cross-dresser who has ‘come out’ at work asserts himself as being either in ‘male mode’ or in ‘female mode’ and the presenter describes his female mode thus:
“Today Pips has long blonde hair and is dressed in a smart lacy frock, tights and court shoes, a beacon of immaculate corporate femininity.”
There are many women who would take issue with that definition of ‘corporate femininity’ as a regressive stereotype, but in any case, the length of your hair and the clothes you wear is not what makes you ‘female’ (which is a biological category). Presenting this behaviour of a middle-aged man as somehow progressive and pushing boundaries is a lie we are telling to young people, whose confusion came across clearly in the interviews. One young man who has ‘transitioned to a woman’ but sees himself as ‘not-man, not-woman’ says: ‘as soon as I saw the term ‘non-binary’ it made sense.’
A sixteen-year-old who is chest-binding and plans to have a double mastectomy says:
“When I go out in a dress I want to see myself as a boy in a dress – that’s the kind of non-binary I see myself as having.”
We have come full-circle: who is going to tell these kids there is a simpler answer, which is just to be yourself? The need to label yourself ‘transgender’ and the idea that you have to alter your body to fit your personality stems from a belief in gender stereotypes as fact for these young people. This is the story we hear every time:
“I was very tomboyish when I was younger, I wore boys’ clothes, I rejected pink and Barbies and all of those things.”
The parents’ investment in stereotypes is another feature of all the media stories we hear about ‘trans kids’ and in this case it was a daughter dressing up as a Pharoah for World Book day which was cited as an ’emotional and worrying time’ for the mother.
So far so predictable, but what marked this programme out was the casual admission of the key role of Tumblr in convincing young people that they are transgender. We are cheerfully informed that “the internet is critical; the majority find out about it online” and that “perhaps the most important social vehicle is Tumblr, the site housing millions of micro-bloggers.”
Jen Jack Giesling, a ‘non-binary New York based academic’ has collected more than a million posts with a trans hashtag as part of a research project, and says:
“There really isn’t a trans person I’ve met under the age of 30 who hasn’t been on Tumblr and hasn’t been significantly affected by the kind of images they’ve seen there and visuality, they’re sharing a lot of medical knowledge, where should I go, what surgeon should I go to, what does your surgery look like, like everyone shares surgery pictures…”
When Giesling’s surgeon sees his name as a hashtag on Tumblr, Giesling describes the moment thus:
“He could see all these people he’d done surgery on and he remembered them! It was really beautiful.”
We can only imagine how delighted he was.
This information could have been used as part of a rigorous and serious analysis of what is causing the huge increase in young people (especially teenage girls) presenting to gender clinics across the UK, but instead the credulous tone of reverence towards young people was echoed by Dr Polly Carmichael, Director of the Tavistock clinic:
“The non-binary group are challenging lots of people’s assumptions, for example if you feel you are in the wrong body and that for you you wish to realign your body to match the gender identity you feel, that is a pathway within the health system – certainly within the UK – that is well-developed. However, if you’re a non-binary person coming forward that raises some really interesting questions – but it certainly is challenging, if you like, pre-conceived ideas of ‘this is male, this is female’ and you may have young people coming forward who feel that actually they would feel more comfortable if they had some cross-sex hormones but they don’t want any surgery for example.”
“I think it would be fair to say that this is a developing language, the non-binary language, we’re all learning along the way.”
It is extremely worrying that the Director of the UK’s main gender clinic talks of biological sex as a ‘pre-conceived idea’ that is up for challenge. If we don’t distinguish between sex and gender, then ‘non-binary’ leads to the hormones-but-not-surgery choice flagged up here, as young people are led to believe that being somewhere on the spectrum between masculine and feminine requires bodily changes. Who is going to tell young people the secret that all human beings are ‘non-binary;’ that none of us are 100% stereotypes and that being human requires no labels and no medical interventions?
Who is going to speak about this issue without that patronising and indulgent ‘Look what these modern young people are doing!’ tone, and actually give them some facts, both about biology and the risks of online indoctrination into faith-based beliefs?
This is the BBC’s policy on the duty for impartiality on controversial subjects which we have used in writing our complaint. There is a template letter here, please take a moment to copy and paste (including your own comments if you have time) and submit to BBC Complaints. Thank you.