On Friday 13th January I counted myself very lucky to have attended Transcamp at Channel 4′s headquarers in London, a social innovation camp organised by On Road Media to come up with ideas to improve media coverage and awareness of trans people in the UK.
It was the first social innovation camp I’d attended so I was very excited and a little unsure of what to expect. The day started gently enough, with a some much-needed coffee and a little ice-breaker exercise to get everyone talking to each other. I got chatting to Alex Drummond (AKA @grrlalex on twitter), who’s brilliantly tongue-in-cheek youtube videos highlighting transgender issues I’d been watching the previous day. Anyone looking to read about transgender issues would do well to start with Alex’s book GrrlAlex: A Personal Journey to a Transgender Identity, the first chapter of which is available to download as a PDF.
Then we were shepherded into the cinema for an introduction to the day ahead of us and the issues we’d be working together to address. As this was a social innovation camp, we were set to be split into teams concentrating on children, families, media, community and comedy. But before we got started we were presented with an overview of 5 problems faced by the transgender community that we would be looking to address.
They were eye-opening, to say the least. Susi Green, Chairperson of the charity Mermaids, told of how her GP could offer no help or support after her young son had told her, “God has made a mistake.” Ayla Holdom said newspaper coverage of her decision to transition seemed to question her right to exist. We watched a stream of comedy clips ridiculing transgender people.
From there it was time for the groups to get together and get our heads down with brainstorming the issues, articulating what we felt was the nub of the problem and devising an effective, workable soltion. No mean feat when we had just under 7 hours to do it! Our Community Reporting group was looking to address the question: ‘Can we find a constructive way of galvanising the trans community to report on transphobia in the media in a way that can be acted upon?’ The group was small but well formed with a wide variety of skills from Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch, Software Engineer Rachel Lawson, writer Roz Kaveney, Social Entrepreneur Katherine Hibbert and Social Innovator and Developer Cassie Robinson.
But before we got cracking with brainstorming ideas we first had to explore and articulate the problem. For our group, this seemed to be the most time-consuming part of the process. We spent the morning discussing issues around media portrayals of the transgender community the community’s differing reactions to these, which sometimes resulted in friction and a lack of shared understanding. Roz created a diagram of intersecting circles showing how news stories featuring trans people invariably classified them as fraudulent, deceitful, whores, etc. and/or with erasure – failing to acknowledge their transition and constantly reffering to their previous identities.
The consistently negative portrayals reminded me of a secondhand book I picked up long ago Nothing but the same old story – the roots of anti-Irish racism, which did a lot to lift the veil from my eyes of how the media can develop a language of portraying a community as ‘different’ and ‘other’, somehow suspicious and inferior. It told the history of anti Irish racism from the year dot and starkly showed how the stupid Irishman who walks into the bar in so many jokes is much more harmful than he may at first seem.
By lunchtime we had managed to turn our discussions into a coherent sentence that we felt expressed the nub of the problem:
Many media stories that include trans people use problematic cliches which the community needs to identify and deconstruct.
However we hadn’t progressed quite as far with developing our ideas and had just two hours after lunch to refine them into something concrete! The clock was ticking…
Over lunch Rachel started mulling over the idea of a tool that somehow deconstructed media portrayals and explained why some connotations could be harmful, to raise awareness and promote a shared understanding where there might not be a shared reaction. When lunch was over Rachel made a beeline for the flipchart and outlined something that would aggregate news stories featuring trans people and illustrate the back-stories to the all-too-common themes they contained, with comments from the community and personal stories.
Whilst discussing how this might work Roz recollected how she and a group of fellow writers would often tick off reoccurring themes when reading sci-fi novels Bingo style, and so the idea for Trango! was born, refined and later pitched.
Trango! is a game that can be played on a computer or mobile. Whenever you read, hear or watch a news story featuring a trans person, bring up the Trango! scorecard and tick off the usual suspects that appear (deceitful, sex worker, erasure, etc.). If you tick them all off you win but if you tick none off (i.e. you’re reading a well-balanced story) you win even more!
Players of Trango! will be helping to create a database of media coverage of trans people which can show a general picture as well as be drilled down into to show colouration of coverage by paper/platform or even journalist. The database can be used to publicly award the ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ it highlights.
As players tick off items from the scorecard they will see comments, explanations and stories relating to them – helping them deconstruct and fully comprehend the underlying themes of news stories they are reading.
And the winner is…
Our team were pretty excited when it came to pitching Trango! We knew we had a good idea, but then so did everyone else. The pitches were all brilliant and very varied (my personal favourite was the Children group looking to build an online referral point for parents and launch it with an awareness-raising film over Anti Bullying Week).
So I was quite surprised when it was announced Trango! had won support from Unltd to apply for a start-up grant of up to £5000. Of course, making Trango! happen will hopefully build upon other ideas pitched at Transcamp, especially the Children and Media teams’.
Post Transcamp there are lots of emails flying around and a conference call scheduled for next week, when hopefully plans for next steps will emerge. All very exciting, thinking Trango! may well become a reality!