Diversity Conference January 2016

In November 2015, London-based Channel 4 lawyer and former Meadowhead student Madeleine Robinson gave a talk on careers in media and law to Y11s and sixth form. Following the talk, Y12 student Noah talked to Madi about transgender issues which Channel 4 have addressed in some of their documentaries. Noah clearly made a big impression on Madi, as Channel 4 contacted the school a few weeks later, inviting Noah to be a delegate at their DIVERSE conference at Channel 4 HQ on 19th January. Channel 4 even paid for Noah and their mum to travel down to London to attend the event.

The conference was attended by over 200 delegates from all aspects of Channel 4’s operation, and included a video message from Luther and The Wire star Idris Elba, keynote speeches from comedian Jessica Hynes and presenter Sandi Toksvig, and talks from artist Grayson Perry and performer Asifa Lahore. Noah has written an article about the day – please read it below. The school are very proud of Noah for representing us so well, both here in school and when rubbing shoulders with television’s great and good. Perhaps next year Noah will be giving one of the speeches!

Over a month ago, on the 19th of January, I went to London for a diversity conference, hosted by Channel 4.

This was the (surprisingly excellent) result of me quietly telling one of Channel 4’s lawyers how she could change her language to avoid perpetuating transphobic stereotypes. She was actually very chilled about it, all things considered. Clearly, she saw my excellent knowledge of social issues and thought, “That’s the stuff I like to see. I will bring up the fact of their existence with respect to the conference we have planned.” They even paid for my (and my mom) tickets there, which was pretty great.

[Pictured: My mom, me, and Madi Robinson] Channel 4 diversity conference

So, naturally, we had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch an early train, from here to London. The ride over was okay, as far as I remember (that is to say, I don’t remember much of it. Therefore it must have been good, or so unspeakably bad that I’ve blocked out all memory of it). We also got oyster cards, which is a novelty if nothing else.

So, after arriving at Channel 4, I successfully interacted with other humans and managed not to run away, screaming and crying. We were then seated, and a lot of very important people talked. I can’t remember their names, but I do remember that one of the CEO’s of one of the companies looked a lot like Jim Caviezel, except a younger version, and with a different accent. I would have taken a picture, but I live in constant fear that people will judge me. (Naturally, this restricts my actions. A little.)

One of the CEO’s mentioned that their company (BBC? Sky? I forget. Go google it.) works to have a 50/50 split of male and female employees at their company. That’s nice, I thought, but how hard are you working to employ gender nonconforming people, who have a substantially harder time finding work than their binary counterparts, and as a result a shocking proportion often turn to sex work, despite being no less qualified for work in industry and media? (Clearly, I didn’t say this, and if I did I would have articulated it in a much less accusatory way. People tend to resent new/’new’ ideas if there’s a condescending, or otherwise negative emotion associated with the imparter of the information.)

So, the moment for me to raise that gem of an idea passed, and I silently resented both myself for not asking, and the greater western world at large for providing subpar education on gender identity and for failing to take a (loud) stance against cisnormative behavior (that is, actions that oppress and the systematic erasure of people who do not identify with the gender they are assigned at birth).

But then, I did get the chance to ask another question, though this one wasn’t with regards to gender identity. Recognising that I would hate myself if I didn’t ask, I took the opportunity. It was with regards to a study on sexism on television, and my question asked if they made a distinction between challenged and unchallenged sexism. (They didn’t include challenged sexism in the study. It was really interesting, actually, as well. Did you know that 6 *unchallenged* sexist incidents occur per hour at primetime television on a given channel? Messed up.)

So, it wasn’t a terrible experience. There was a lot of useful information at the conference, even if there was a transphobic slur used at one point and I was misgendered multiple times. What I’m saying is, while it wasn’t awful, there was an unfortunate, but not surprising lack of knowledge of nonbinary people by attendees at the conference.

One conversation went approximately like this:
STRANGER [to our group, consisting of 3 females and myself]: Excuse me, ladies!
ME [raising hand awkwardly]: Not a lady, but sure.
STRANGER [apologetically]: Oh, I’m sorry!
ME: It’s no problem!

So, a reasonably pleasant encounter, when you scale it up against the other kinds of ways society imposes gender roles onto it’s members.

Other encounters weren’t so pleasant:
ME: I’m not a girl.
STRANGER: Oh! Okay. [PAUSE] You do look like a girl, though.
ME [internally]: As a general rule, it is impossible to accurately quantify an entire group of people with arbitrary standards, such as femininity and masculinity. Our bone structures are incredibly diverse, and rarely concisely representative of our genitalia nor our gender identity, even among cisgender members of the same sex. Your phrasing of ‘a girl’ implies that there is such a thing as The Girl, whom everyone that has been assigned female at birth looks similar to, and that there is an objective standard of what it means to be female. Do not imply that your perception of my gender presentation is anything other than you forcing your preconceived notions onto my magnificent, specifically non gendered flesh suit.
ME [also internally]: Which girl? Which girl do I look like? Tell me so I can take out my doppelganger. For drinks. And a beautiful evening out under the stars.

ME [externally]: Okay. I mean, it’s worth noting that gender presentation doesn’t equal gender identity.
STRANGER: Yeah, yeah, of course, it’s just a little weird because I have friends who are lesbians and they dress, what’s the word-
ME: Androgynously?
STRANGER: Yeah, that! Maybe when you’re older you’ll decide to present differently. [Literally the exact same argument that homophobes tell their gay kids when they come out, except replacing ‘sexuality’ with ‘gender presentation’. Sigh...]

ME: Okay… But, I mean, if I was presenting androgynously now then you probably wouldn’t be questioning my choice of gender presentation.

The conversation pretty much ended there, due to timing of the next talk. We didn’t reach a conclusion that I considered satisfactory, though. We took a selfie together after she tried to convince me to become a neuroscientist, quoting that we ‘need more girls in science’. Which is a very valid point, but missing the point in question that I am not a girl/female/lady/however you want to spin it.

You know what the sad part is? As microaggressions against trans people go, I’m one of the lucky ones. Given that I was assigned female at birth, and am a white person, I am far less at risk and suffer from substantially less transphobia and gender-based violence than my assigned male at birth and non-white counterparts. So, hey, as things go it could be worse.

Still, for a diversity conference, it’s somewhat upsetting that I was misgendered twice by some of the people who were actually giving the talks:
ME [addressing two women who gave the talk on sexism, referenced above]: Hi!
RESEARCHER 1 [Talking to her colleague]: She’s the one that asked the question about challenged and unchallenged sexism.

RESEARCHER 2: Oh, I remember her, yes.
ME [Having already stated that I do not use she/her pronouns]: They, but yeah, that’s me.

I recall being offhandedly misgendered other times in the conversation,   Channel 4 diversity conferencebut when you’re trans, you often have to make a choice between ‘do I want people to refer to me with the correct form of address, which will require multiple stated corrections of their pronoun usage’ or ‘do I want to avoid stepping on people’s toes and just hope they’ll pick it up on their own’. I chose the latter, which was less of a choice and more of an appeasement of my anxiety around others, though I did throw my gender dysphoria under the bus for that one.

But hey, there were free drinks at the end. I’m pretty sure I was the youngest person there, given there was alcohol on a table and you could just grab it, without regard for needing ID. Of course, being an upstanding member of society (and one who thinks alcohol is yucky, at that) I chose to drink 3 cokes instead. Hey, I never claimed not to be a freeloader. I also got a selfie with Jessica Hynes, which was cool. (Sorry for blinding you with my hair, Jessica) (pictured right)