Why we decline

I’ve written many times about the asymmetry of trans coverage: of the hundreds of stories and items published and broadcast about trans people every week, hardly any of them feature trans people or allies and most platform anti-trans activists, often misleadingly presenting them as ordinary mums or feminists with “reasonable concerns”. So you’d think that when trans people are given a platform, we’d gladly take it.


With very, very few exceptions I stopped accepting invitations to talk about trans issues more than a year ago after it became very apparent that I was being set up. The best I could hope for was the chance to listen to an anti-trans fanatic spouting lies that I would only be given 30 seconds to try and counter; sometimes I would be ambushed, only told when I went on air that the item I’d been asked to come on was actually an excuse for someone from Spiked to talk shite about trans people for almost all of it. I’m much more cynical now, and on a few occasions I’ve listened to items I’ve declined to appear on and had my fears confirmed: mostly they’re intended to titillate, not educate; gladiatorial battles where the trans person is the Christian.

It’s easy to fall for this stuff, though. Media people are so nice, and they’ll tell you how important it is for your voice to be heard, and how keen they are to show the real story. And then they put you in a room with a bunch of pissed bigots shouting “penis!” at you.

You’d think I made that one up, but no. In May 2018, Channel 4 aired a programme called “Genderquake: The Debate”. It wasn’t a debate; it was more like an episode of Jerry Springer or Jerry Kyle. The trans participants were shouted down by an audience that appeared to be a bunch of pissed bigots; it later transpired that the audience was a bunch of pissed bigots. Posting on Mumsnet, audience member Posie Parker – yes, the same Posie Parker of “Adult Human Female” fame, an avowed anti-feminist who runs anti-trans events popular with neo-nazis – said that “we were repeatedly encouraged to heckle” by Channel 4’s floor manager. Professor Stephen Whittle, a trans man who was also in the audience, confirmed this.

Sadly it seems that Professor Whittle has been tricked again.

In October 2022, Trans Safety Network – a group of academics and researchers who do great work reporting in depth about trans rights, healthcare and anti-trans activism – posted on Twitter:

We have become aware of a documentary being produced by Brook Lapping Productions, on behalf of Channel 4 that is currently attempting to recruit transgender people and allies to talk about “the trans debate”… [we] are very concerned at reports that the suggestion of including some transgender people on the production crew “wouldn’t be impartial”. We would strongly urge anyone contacted to think about engaging…”

They also shared a document by one person who’d been invited to contribute, a document that laid out their serious concerns about the show.

And those concerns have been proven correct.

Rather than the documentary contributors were told they’d be in, a documentary trying to give a fair account of the trans “debate”, it turns out to be a puff piece about anti-trans activist, academic and author Kathleen Stock that frames trans people as sinister figures hell-bent on silencing the brave professor.

Some of the contributors, including Professor Whittle, have put together a blog about it.

On the documentary you will see many trans & non-binary (TNB) people & their allies. Most will be shown taking part in lawful but noisy protest. Only a few TNB people and one ally will speak, and only one is given any substantial opportunity to speak.

There are some specific complaints about errors and what appears to be false framing of trans people throughout the documentary, which hasn’t been broadcast yet but the contributors have been shown. But the core issue is much more fundamental: the contributors simply weren’t told that they were being invited to contribute to a documentary about Stock, whose views are well known and endlessly publicised in print, online and on radio and TV, and had they known that was the subject they would have refused to have taken part. They may not have been put in front of bigots shouting “penis!” this time, but they were tricked just the same.

In their conclusion, the contributors say:

We took part in good faith hoping to find a way forward. We all had doubts about taking part, but in the end took the production team at their word.  

We were misled and misinformed.

This is horrifically unethical, of course, and it shouldn’t happen. But deception is something trans people and allies are sadly very used to. As Elaine Scattermoon, a trans woman who herself has been tricked by a supposedly friendly journalist, posted on Twitter:

This keeps happening to the extent that most trans people in the UK I know will just refuse to take part in any TV or radio show just because there’s an extremely high chance it’s just a trap and the framing will be used against them. We’re jaded but for good reason.



, , ,