Category Archives: Social inequality

BBC three and Transphobia – Round we go again

About a year ago the BBC messed up with “Russel Howard’s Good News” (see here for more info). Now it’s the turn of “Snog Marry Avoid?”.

This programme is hardly a bastion of good taste but in the past I have quite enjoyed it. I have a strange fascination with totally overdone looks – enormous fake eyelashes, tiny glittery outfits, big hair, all that (the complete opposite of how I present myself, incidentally). There are some problems with the programme which I won’t go into now, but when I heard that it had been transphobic I had to check it out. I haven’t watched since a new presenter took over, although POD (the Personal Overhall Device – a fictional “make under” computer which analyses participants looks and changes their outfits, hair and make-up) is still there and still voiced by the same person.

So I took some time out of my revision schedule to check out the episode (on iPlayer here). The offending comment is at 25 mins 30 seconds (approx). Someone on Facebook kindly transcribed it:

POD – Who are you?
SMA Contestant – I’m Rachel.
POD – Are you sure it’s not Richard?
SMA Contestant – Why?
POD – Pod computes that with those eyebrows, eyelashes and ridiculously big hair, you look like a transexual.

All said in POD’s usual condescending and disparaging tone. I will admit that there is a lot that’s problematic with this programme, not just this particular exchange, so perhaps I should have lower expectations. Regardless, the derogatory use of transexual in this context is inexcusable. I can’t imagine the BBC allowing a similar exchange based around a woman looking like a lesbian.

I complained, dutifully (the complaints form is here if you’re interested). I know some people object to people going out of their way to find things to complain about (or even complaining about things they haven’t even watched) but I think it is legitimate to investigate whether a broadcaster has made a mistake and do something about it. Here is my complaint in full:

I was really shocked by what I heard on Snog Marry Avoid?. I have previously enjoyed the show as a bit of fun, but POD’s words were like a blow to the head. It is totally unacceptable to use transphobic slurs ever, not least in the name of entertainment.

Number one – to remark in a way that is meant to be negative that someone looks like a trans woman is outright transphobia – would the BBC air an episode where POD said in a negative way that someone looked like a lesbian? I certainly hope not, but I also doubt it. This is no different, because transgender people suffer from discrimination and abuse, partly due to the media coming out with “gems” like this.

Number two – were the woman to have been trans, her name would likely not have been “Richard” anyway, since Richard is typically a name for male people and trans women are female, so would almost certainly not have a name like Richard.

Perhaps the term POD, or the scriptwriter, was looking for was “drag queen” – female impersonation is completely different from being transgender (transgender is an umbrella term which includes transsexual). This is not a complicated distinction and I would hope that at least one person involved in the making of this programme could realise this.

Thank you for your time. I hope you can improve standards in the programmes you air in future.

It was written in a bit of a rush and I’m concerned that I’ve said something problematic. Feedback appreciated, as ever. But I think it makes the main point clearly enough.

I got a very quick response from the BBC as follows:

Thanks for contacting us regarding BBC Three’s ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid?’ recently.

We understand you were unhappy POD suggested that a participant in a recent broadcast looked like a transsexual.

This was meant as a light-hearted comment and was typical of POD, which we hope viewers will be familiar with, but we’re sorry for any offence caused.

Please be assured that your concerns have been raised with the production team who will bear this in mind for future editions of the programme.

We’ve also registered your comments on our audience log made available to BBC staff across the Corporation.

Thanks again for contacting us.

It’s good to know that it’s ok to be bigotted and prejudiced as long as it’s “light hearted”. I don’t think I’m quite being ignored though, which is something. It’s interesting that all BBC staff can see complaints (your personal details get removed according to the website) and I wonder whether that will raise any comments internally.

I’m not sure where to go from here, whether to push over the “light-heartedness” of the comment. I’ve got a reference number for contacting them again if needs be. Really I should be focusing on my exams, so I might give it a few days to work out where to go next. However I definitely encourage anyone who’s willing to watch a bit of junk TV to watch the episode and complain.

A note to myself

Starting projects is never easy. Some aren’t so bad, when you know what kind of structure they need, but blogs are definitely a challenge. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t actually start them until I’ve already got several finished posts that I can publish at the same time, but I’m just going to go out on a limb and start here.

Something has crossed my mind a few times recently. I try hard to be sensitive to prejudice and systematic discrimination. This grew out of my interest in feminism and LGBT issues; I became aware of the concept of priviledge and started to explore my own in all its dimensions. There is a long way to go, but right now I am interested in something called “ableism” which I don’t think is that well known (this seems like quite a good explanation of what it is). In particular I am interested by ableism related to mental illness.

A whole host of commonly used insults are directly related to ableism. Things may have gradually shifted but so many were originally explicitly related to disability, whether physical or mental (this is an excellent resource on these kinds of things). It can be hard to wean yourself out of using them, although I am trying. “Crazy” is the most insidious I find – it gets used a lot in emotionally charged political debates, and is often applied to politicians or others who speak publicly who voice opinions we find seriously distasteful. This is particularly common when people take misogynistic or homophobic attitudes, ones we feel that any reasonable compassionate person couldn’t hold. But people do say and believe these kinds of things and we have to find a way of talking about those views without resorting to terms related to mental illness, even if somehow we feel (and I’ve definitely felt this) that they must not have a good grasp on reality if they really think that way.

Looking at myself, I generally consider myself well-versed on mental illness, due to some personal experience, but recently I’ve noticed that it’s very superficial and is analogous to “I’m a woman so I can’t be a misogynist”. I’ve got to look much harder at myself, at how I use language, at how I feel about people who seem to have mental health problems that are much more serious and long-term than anything I experienced.

This is a topic I’m sure I’ll come back to, as I start to articulate more of my shortcomings and the collective shortcomings I see around me.