This week Mum and I went to see The Danish Girl starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. I don’t often go to the cinema but I was glad I went to see this film and now as we have a cinema with reasonably priced tickets (£4 a go!) I might start going more often rather than waiting for them to come on Sky or a streaming service.
The Danish Girl tells the story of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) who was born Einar Wegener and received the first gender-realignment surgery in the late 1920’s/early 1930’s. She was supported by her wife Gerda Gottlieb played by Alicia Vikander.
I was impressed by the acting of the two leads and am please they have both been nominated for Golden Globes and BAFTA’s (and I’m sure it’ll be Oscars next!) But I was particularly impressed by Alicia Vikander. I haven’t seen any of other films and thought she was very sympathetic as Gerda, who seemed an amazing women supporting her partner in times where gender dysphoria was completely unknown. The cinematography is impressive and I loved the Danish scenery, makes me want to visit Copenhagen even more! If you get a chance I’d really recommend you go and see this film.
In the last few years transgender issues and role models seem to be more common in mainstream media. On a global scale no one can not know about the very high profile transition of Caitlyn Jenner, (being part of the Kardasian clan was sure to guarantee that!) and many people are aware of Laverne Cox, the transgender actor who plays a transgender woman in the popular Netflix series, Orange is the New Black set in a women’s prison.
Jazz Jennings is a transgender teen who is one of the youngest people to become a transgender figure. She is a transgender rights activist who has had many high-profile interviews in the US and had an 11 part series detailing her life as a transgender teen called I am Jazz.
In the UK there has also been more transgender visibility on our screens. In January 2015 Bethany Black was the first transgender actor to play a transgender character in the UK in Russell T. Davies’ Cucumber and sister show Banana.
Paris Lees is a high-profile trans journalist and presenter. She was the first trans woman presenter on BBC Radio 1 and Channel 4 and on 31 October 2013 Lees became the first openly transgender panellist to appear on the BBC’s Question Time programme, drawing praise from commentators who included former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and the Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman. In 2013, Lees topped The Independent on Sunday’s Pink List, naming her as the most influential lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender figure in the UK. (Wikipedia)
Channel 4 produced a season of programmes in 2015 under the title “Born in the Wrong Body”. They featured, My Transgender Kid, Girls to Men and My Transgender Summer Camp as well as a number of shorts called My Trans Story. (All available via All 4)
Channel 4 is known for pushing boundaries but the BBC has also got in the act with BBC sitcom Boy Meets Girl in October 2015, featuring trans actor Rebecca Roots as trans character Judy who begins dating Leo played by Harry Hepple who is 14 years her junior.
Even Eastenders are getting in on the act being the first British soap to feature a transgender actor in a transgender role. Coronation Street had the first transgender character in Hayley Cropper, but she was played by a cis gender (someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth) actor. Rylie Carter Millington plays Kyle who first joined Soap in October and returned at the end of 2015. Bosses say the character is fresh and relatable and hope audiences take him to their hearts quickly.
The increase in transgender visibility in the media is welcome but there are still some shocking statistics in the UK.
The Gender Identity Research & Education Society (GIRES) estimates that about 1% of the British population are gender nonconforming to some degree. Around 20% of them are likely to seek medical treatment at some stage. The numbers of trans men and trans women are about equal.
A survey found that 48% of trans people under 26 said they had attempted suicide, and 30% said they had done so in the past year, while 59% said they had at least considered doing so.
By comparison, about 6% of all 16- to 24-year-olds say they have attempted suicide, according to the Adult Psychiatry Morbidity Survey.
In 2014/2015 there were 605 hate crimes recorded by the police against transgender people. This was a 9% increase on the 2013/2014 figure of 557 following increases from 313 in 2011/2012 and 364 in 2012/2013. Recording improvement are noted as a factor in the increase as well as more victims coming forward. (Hate Crimes, England and Wales, 2014/2015)
The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) was founded in 1999 to memorialise the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts held annually on 20th November to memorialise those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia. In 2010, TDoR was observed in over 185 cities throughout more than 20 countries.Typically, a TDoR memorial includes a reading of the names of those who lost their lives during the previous year, and may include other actions, such as candlelight vigils, art shows, food drives, film screenings, and marches. (Wikipedia)
Recently in the British press there have been high profile cases concerning transgender women in all male prisons. The BBC reported on Vikki Thompson who committed suicide at an all male prison in Leeds in November and has led MP’s to review prison service instruction. Tara Hudson was taken to an all male prison before a campaign led her to be moved to a female prison in November. There are currently 80 transgender prisoners in a general population of 85,977 male prisoners and 3,935 female prisoners. The current rules state –
- Prisoners should be placed according to their gender “as recognised by UK law” – usually as stated on their birth certificate
- If a person has obtained a “gender recognition certificate”, they will have a new birth certificate in their “acquired gender”
- Prisoners who obtain a gender recognition certificate while in prison “should in most cases be transferred to the estate of their acquired gender”
- But the rules also say some transgender people will be “sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process” that they could be placed “in the estate of their acquired gender, even if the law does not yet recognise they are of their acquired gender”
- Where issues arise, a “case conference” should be held to “review the prisoner’s individual circumstances and make a recommendation”
At the beginning of January, Maria Miller, chair of the committee looking at transgender equality called for gender to be removed from official documents such as passports and driving licences. She stated that a person’s gender was not relevant on official documents and created an unconscious bias in job and university applications. “As a society and a government we should be looking at ways of trying to strip back talking about gender, and only do that when it’s absolutely necessary. We need to understand that gender stereotyping can be as damaging for men as it can be for women. For individuals who have decided to transition but haven’t necessarily got the right documentation, it can cause problems. Why do we need gender on our driving licence? Why do we have to have it on our passport if it doesn’t really add identification? It’s not relevant. Australia has decided to degender their passports.” (as reported in The Guardian)
So we still have an awful long way to go. Something to think about.