Thanks to Newsround Blog for drawing our attention to the above video, My Life: I Am Leo, which airs on CBBC, the BBC channel aimed at children aged 6-12 years old.
The documentary was first shown in November 2014, again in early 2015 and is repeated today. It is part of the Bafta award-winning My Life series produced by Nine Lives Media for CBBC and it has recently been nominated for a Royal Television Society Programme Award in the Children’s category.
We don’t want to judge any individual in this documentary, particularly the child at the centre of it; our concern is with the overall message being sent to young children, and the myths which are propagated through the story of Leo. When referencing the story we will refer to Leo as ‘he’ out of respect to this young person, and we will use his story only to make wider points in reference to the general ‘trans narrative’ being pushed here.
First, a look at the BBC’s role as the leading children’s broadcaster in the UK, with CBBC reaching 58% of 6-12 year olds. The Director of BBC Children’s, Alice Webb, says:
In a world of rapidly changing media, the first thing I want to underline is our unwavering commitment to exceptional, distinctive public service UK children’s content.
The BBC is going to keep making and broadcasting incredible content that kids can call their very own – content to inform, educate, entertain and inspire all the UK’s children.
In the broadcasting of I Am Leo, CBBC misinforms children in several key ways, either by omission of facts or false information. Having never commissioned a documentary about gay, lesbian or bi-sexual young people, the most obvious message CBBC sends to children here is that if you feel in any way ‘different’ to other kids of your sex, you are probably trans. The lack of any reference to the far greater probability that a child is actually gay or lesbian is a serious omission which lays CBBC open to the charge of biased broadcasting and homophobia.
In the programme there are no statistics presented at all which would inform and educate children about the wider context within which Leo’s story takes place, not even a list of facts at the end, such as information that the overwhelming majority of children, by adolescence, have grown to accept the sex they were born.
There is also no explanation of the distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender.’ Although it is mostly a child speaking throughout, terms like “opposite gender” go unchecked and the concept of being “born in the wrong body” itself is presented as an accepted fact rather than an individual feeling with no scientific basis in reality. It is not possible to be “a boy in a girl’s body” as this video gaily asserts.
The animated graphics in the video go further: we are told “Some hormones are for boys and other hormones are for girls,” a fiction which is illustrated by a row of figures being sprayed pink and another row being sprayed blue on a kind of conveyor belt of production of girls and boys. The pink girls then have pink brains added, and the blue boys get blue ones, as we are informed “Most people’s hormones, brains and bodies all match so they know if they’re a girl or a boy.” Those pink girls who don’t feel very pink then have blue brains added, and the blue boys who don’t feel very macho have pink brains added. These children, we are told, are “transgender.”
Visually, what better way to emphasise to children that gender stereotypes are true and immutable: that a normal girl is 100% ‘feminine’ and a normal boy 100% ‘masculine.’ This is the kind of sexist stereotyping we have fought for so long to undo; the kind of stereotyping which mostly harms and holds back girls. The animation reinforces the idea that, for example, girls are clearly not suited to science and maths and it’s because of their pink lady brains. The video manages to put across both the message that any child with unmatching ‘hormones, brain and body’ is abnormal, at the same time as presenting “trans” as just a normal variation of childhood.
The gender stereotyping is reinforced throughout the whole video; partly by the omission of any discussion of what a ‘girl’ is or what a ‘boy’ is (a discussion which would have exposed the stereotypes and questioned them) and also by the wholesale acceptance that it is ‘gender’ which defines you as a girl or as a boy – so, some sort of personality type – and not biological sex.
The only clues as to what Leo means by the assertion “I always knew I was really a boy” are the references to girls having to wear dresses and have long hair, whereas boys get to wear different things and have short hair.
Leo’s story follows the established narrative of “trans kids.” As a little girl, Lilly (as she was then) hates having her hair long and wearing dresses, the mother loves doing Lilly’s hair “in little bunches,” Lilly rebels by cutting her hair off and insisting she is a boy, and finally mum looks on the internet and finds an explanation: Lilly must be transgender. At no point is any other explanation offered or explored; there is no option that Lilly might be a girl who just doesn’t fit that ‘feminine’ stereotype, either because it’s simply not her personality, or because she may be lesbian. Lilly herself will now probably never find out as ‘she’ is now a ‘he,’ affirmed and socialised as a boy and on track for puberty blockers followed by the inevitable full transition. Leo gets to go on the t.v. and now hopes that by telling his story he will help other transgender people accept themselves. Every “trans kid” story follows the same script. The role of online political trans activism in the creation of this story is not examined.
Girls insisting that they are boys is not a new or unusual phenomenon; for many girls, the ‘feminine’ stereotype they are meant to embody is boring, stifling and rage-inducing. Watching this programme will convince more girls that it’s possible to really be a boy. All the plus points (attention, acceptance, t.v. appearances, documentaries made about you) are not balanced by the reality that Leo will become a lifelong medical patient, taking off-label hormones with well-documented risks and side effects, possible surgery including amputation of healthy body parts, sterilisation and the probability of a shortened life-span. ‘He,’ despite all this, will remain biologically female. It is irresponsible of the BBC to present this path as a kind of happy lifestyle choice.
During the programme, we see the new Leo sitting in a park talking to three girls who are his friends, supporting him with words of acceptance because “everyone’s different.” Would a girl who dressed, presented and played football like Leo be so easily accepted on those terms? Everyone being “different” seems to be OK as long as they either stay within their ‘gender’ boxes or change sex to fit their personalities.
We want to reiterate that the purpose of this blog is not to attack Leo and his family; we wish them only the best. What we take issue with is CBBC promoting to all children harmful and discredited ‘brain sex’ theories and the damaging message that it is ‘gender’ that distinguishes girls from boys, not biological sex. CBBC broadcasting this video with no further explanation represents a failure in duty to provide accurate and balanced information, and exposes a lack of research on a subject which will have a big influence on children and how they understand themselves at the most fundamental level.
CBBC: My Life: I Am Leo 10.20am Monday March 21st 2016
To make an online complaint to the BBC click here.