Day Two of the conference arrived and, unfortunately, I missed the keynote as I overslept (blame the comfy hotel bed, not me- honest!) but I did make it in time for one of the most interesting, culturally speaking, of the panels for me. Day Two was billed as the Youth Day, and so I was unsure of how much would be beneficial to me, however, as with everything in life, we can always learn something new, and Day Two was hugely stimulating in a way I had not expected!
‘Creating Trans Visibility Online’ was really interesting and was hosted by artists who were profound and challenged gender/queer stereotypes, making art and film that is inclusive in many ways.
CampbellX was the first presenter and they/he brought to life their experience of queer/trans media, in particular, the lack of a trans/queer narrative in ‘modern’ movie making. Campbell (and many others!) are working incredibly hard to redress this imbalance. I have to admit, I had never seen Campbell’s work prior to the conference, but I am slowly going through it (so little time in real life to achieve everything I want- I know you all feel the same, too!) and loving the work.
What Campbell is doing is bringing to life what it means to be a trans/queer creator and how this affects us all in terms of visibility, community and normalising it within our lives. Heck, what actually isnormal? Normal for me is everything from one end of a spectrum to the other end, but creators like Campbell are helping us to navigate the spectrum sensitively, accurately and in the most normalising way possible. I would highly recommend viewing any of Campbell’s work- Desire, Visibility and Studlife movie and others.
*Please do note, that I cannot possibly give the panellists, Campbell in particular, enough time without writing whole reviews and essays, and as we discussed in the first part of this review of the conference, this really is the TLDR; version J*
Fox Fisher and Owl(having been described as a nonbinary ‘power couple’) presented a video they had made ‘Josie and Poppy’ which depicts a young trans girl, in the present, discussing what it is like to be trans with an older trans lady and really shows the contrast and difference over time, in coming out. I really enjoyed listening to this panel- everyone was so informative. Fox and Owl are Trans campaigners, and (bless them!) have even had the misfortune to try to inform (and educate!) Piers Morgan, which is, let’s face it, an impossible task even for the calmest and most rational of people!
Fox and Owl work with media and film outlets, often for free, to help give advice about presenting trans/queer actors on television and film. Sadly, often their opinions and experiences are cast out as being ‘too out there’, which is a really sad response to the narrative of trans/queer people’s lives; how can you have a cis gender person tell you what your experience of being trans/queer is/should be. After all, how can you write and film a trans experience if you are cis, and coming from a heteronormative standpoint?
I hugely admire Fox, Owl and Campbell for the work that they have done, and continue to do; making media that shows the normalcy of trans/queer relationships and life, we’re taking greater strides towards inclusivity. The hard work and effort that goes into the work that Rights activist do is exhausting and, often thankless, but it is worthwhile and absolutely essential that it is done.
We were also shown a small amount of a campaign called ‘My Trans Body’ which shows trans people’s experience of what their bodies are like and how they feel in their skins. Again, surprisingly enough, we all have bodies- some are different shapes and sizes, some are different colours, some with tattoo’s, some scars, some people are fine with showing their bodies, others are a little more reserved. Guess what? That’s like everyone. A trans body is a normal body, so making this campaign is a huge step for helping anyone cis to understand that trans people are not defined by their bodies, but society wants our bodies to define us- we are all trying to be the person we want to be, psychologically and physically. I cannot imagine the strength, brevity and courage it takes to be in a campaign like this, and I am so blown away by the work involved. *I watched this again just now, and it is about the 10th time I have watched it and I stillhave goose bumps every time!)*
Our final panellist was Sascha Amel-Khier, the co-founder for the e-magazine ‘Beyond the Binary’. For many cis gendered people, nonbinary can be the most difficult gender expression to understand, the implication of which is that there is little attempt by mainstream media to represent non-binary at all. I can only think of a couple of nonbinary characters in tv or movies, and their representation isn’t positive. Sascha created Beyond the Binary in response to this void, to give representation for nonbinary people, accessible to all!
Sascha talked about the realities of starting up in media, and the difficulties in becoming visible on internet search engines when your demographic is not main-stream. In order to appear high enough in search results, contributors have to create drama in their narratives, as this is what has been defined as interesting by the search algorithms. It is not that creators of non-binary content want to drive their agenda with drama, but without it is difficult to reach their audience. In this way the media infrastructure is perverting the content in what should be independent spaces, creating a more adversarial environment than other wise exist, generating controversy in favour of understanding.
Social media can be quite brutal and the comments sections are an intense example – especially where there is controversy. Reading negative comments about yourself and who you are, every day, gets incredibly overwhelming. The panel shared their strategies for dealing with trolls and unkind comments, the general consensus was simply to block accounts and delete comments, but some choose to interact and use the opportunity to fight ignorance head on.
Sascha and the panel shared their experiences with, for example, the YouTube algorithm being transphobic and homophobic; considering some non-explicit content as offensive for being a trans subject, blocking content from users, based on gender – a protected characteristic.
It is well documented that trans teens often suffer from depression and isolation, many having little support from their family who are ill-equipped to support them with issues that they cannot relate to. If the media infrastructure had no barriers to strong positive trans role-models, many trans teens would be able to receive the support they need for figuring out their identities and how to live their own trans lives. The fact that currently, the infrastructure of social media squashes down the work of trans creators, when combined with the general lack of a platform means that fewer questioning trans people are getting access to the help they need and that cis people are being further enabled to ignore the trans community.
Sascha talked about their experience of being nonbinary, which was a hugely empowering talk to witness; Sascha described how being absolutely unapologetic about their gender, their experience is that this makes others acceptance of the ‘nonbinary’ descriptor more acceptable, and hence, normalises the gender debate quickly. Being able to be so unapologetic enables confidence and confidence makes everything so much easier, no matter who you are!
The final panel for me, was the panel that was run by Sascha, from the previous panel, which brought the discussion of trans spaces in our schools, something that is of particular interest to me. What made this panel even more relevant, was that trans kids from the age of 12-18 gave their experiences of being trans in schools today and two teachers who are trans and working in schools, both experiences being very different.
The personal stories brought to this conference were humbling and amazing; the strength involved to attend school, or work, when you’re going through such a big experience has to be exhausting. The panel asked one main question at the beginning of the session; “What one person made things better at school for you?”. I guess this can be extrapolated through gender and experience, but it is a very valid question. Who are you inspired by? Who are your allies? Who can you talk to or get support from? Who may be a challenge to talk to and therefore someone who makes things better becomes even more important. That one person can make a huge difference to your life.
There was a discussion around the difficulties of coming out at school; the fact that it is mentally draining, stressful and not straightforward for a lot of trans kids. Perhaps it may be easier to go with stealth, but the resulting anxiety and stress can be much more scary; the thought of being ‘caught’ or ‘not passing’.
The take home is that the support you have around you, and the allies you find along the way, will always be important in your life, however, you identify, but for trans kids, it can be almost an essential lifeline to cope with school, developing and growth.
I would highly recommend next years GI conference to anyone who wants to learn more; I came away from the conference feeling more informed and a sense of deeper understanding with regards to trans issues. Not to mention the people and discussion!