Louis Theroux’s “Transgender Kids” TV Review

Camille with Louis Theroux

Transgender issues have been covered before a fair bit on mainstream television, but there is always the fear of misrepresentation when it comes to them being interviewed by people who know pretty much nothing on the topic. Louis Theroux asks Nicki what bottom surgery is, showing that he doesn’t know much about transgender issues from the off, but of course this isn’t a bad thing, he is there to learn and his non-judgemental, open-minded approach allows him intimate access a surprisingly large range of transgender people.

What makes Louis Theroux’s documentary stand out a little from previous programmes done on the same subject matter is his exploration of fluidity in gender. While we do meet some children, such as Camille (born Sebastian), who appear dead-set on which gender they want to present as. Camille explains that she is “both a boy and a girl” right now but wants to be a girl and prefers female pronouns. We meet Camille’s therapist who explains that Camille has been consistent in her feelings about gender for 18 months, and to her this is reason enough to take her identity as a female seriously and not just pass it off as a phase. Camille’s parents are incredibly open-minded when it comes to allowing Camille to express her gender freely, they let her wear what she wants, act how she wants, and in a touching scene we see her impersonate Lady Gaga with a heart-warming enthusiasm.

However, not all children Louis interviews are as clear in which gender they identify as. Cole (sometimes known as Crystal) does not seem as set on a particular gender as someone like Camille. What is interesting about Cole’s story is that although he clearly does at times identify a lot more comfortably with a feminine role, he is a lot more fluid on which gender to be on a day to day basis. He has what his parents refer to as “Cole days” and “Crystal days”. With his mother, Cole appears more inclined to identify as “Crystal” and as such decides to wear girl’s clothes and act more feminine. However, Cole’s father is a lot less ready to allow his child to decide at this stage in his life to change gender, and so when he is with his father, Cole assumes the masculine role he was assigned at birth. The fluidity we see in Cole brings up an important argument about whether we should allow children as young as the age of five to decide to take measures to such as hormone blockers which stop the process of puberty until the child decides for sure which gender they want to present as.

Cole reveals to Louis near the end of the show that he would be content with growing up to be a man. When Louis tells Cole’s mother about this, she regretfully says that it would be much easier for him to stay presenting as male, for social and safety reasons. Cole’s mother is an admirable woman who only wants to do what makes her child happy, and seems to have dealt with his situation amazingly well, although I can sense the doubt and fear in her voice as she talks to Louis. One criticism I would say about how Louis presents this segment of the programme is his lack of acknowledging the identity of genderqueer, which it seems to me, is what seems Cole may identify most strongly with.

Young children put in very adult situations. Louis gets on the same level as kids, goes to have ice cream with Seb, showing his immaturity?

Sebs grandparents not happy with transition, demonstrates both sides of the argument. Mother is clearly very confused about how to feel and who to listen to: her father or her child. She says its “very different on a day to day basis” when you are with Seb.

Louis meets other trans kids – teenagers such as Nicki who talks about her struggles with accepting herself as a believer in God, and having others accept her at school. Her strength is courageous, as we see her tear up a bit as she describes the abuse she has to put up with at school whilst putting on her make-up. Louis later shares his own experience of growing up with her saying that for him, 14 going 15 was “probably the hardest year of my life”, a statement which seems to genuinely comfort Nicki.

Along with exploring the stories of transgender kids, Louis delves briefly into the actual surgery involved in physically transitioning. Louis asks very candid, intimate questions about what gender dysphoria actually means for different people. Even when in the surgery, talking about how to create a believable-looking phallus, Louis does not focus on the logistics of transitioning, but rather the emotional reasons as to why some people choose surgery, and why some do not.

Louis’ documentary is a great introduction into the world of transgender issues, and although some parts of the spectrum are left out, Louis explores a wide range of experiences with grace and respect, and it is certainly pleasing to see so many accepting parents who fully support their child and are not weighed down by social prejudice.

The documentary shows that there is by no means a straight-forward answer to dealing with kids who are gender non-conforming. The therapists involved in these situations seem to prefer to work on a case by case basis, which to me, for now seems like the best way to go about it. At the end of the programme, when questioned on whether there is the possibility a child may choose to transition, but then change their minds, one therapist says “there might be a possibility to change later, but they’ll be alive to change”. This thought-provoking line reminds viewers that, for a lot of children, gender dysphoria is not just a passing phase but a very real problem, which needs to be addressed and not ignored.

Where I find the time to workout

Fit Is a Feminist Issue

I’ve been asked many times “Where do you find the time to workout?” so I will share my secrets with you. First though, since I don’t want to self identify as a bad feminist, I need to do my privilege check. Being busy is automatically a privilege. Friends who’ve lived in poverty/through times of unemployment remind me that having a lot of time on your hands can be a sign that things are going pretty badly. So on to how my privilege plays out around time to workout.

  • My full time job is 35 hours a week, no overtime, I flex time so my job stays neatly within that time box.
  • I can walk my commute because I can afford a place close to my work. Commuting AND exercising at the same time!
  • My teenage sons are physically and emotionally able to care for themselves unsupervised
  • My feminist partner does all the…

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You May Not Like Feminism – But There’s an Undeniable Need For It

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Yes, I'm an Actual Feminist

Many anti-feminists often argue with me about the need for a women’s rights movement. They tell me things like:

  • the wage gap doesn’t exist
  • women are naturally inferior beings, it’s biologically proven
  • women who are sexually assaulted are just asking for it
  • women already have the right to vote, what else do they need?
  • feminism is just there to make women hate men and make women want to be lesbians

There’s a certain amount of willful ignorance here – these anti-feminists want to blatantly ignore facts, statistics, personal claims, etc. Look at the sheer number of lawsuits in this country over sexual and domestic violence, look at the number of reported cases. Tell me there isn’t a problem there – I dare you! I really do! You know what? Forget the statistic for a moment. Go out on the street and ask a woman if she has ever felt uncomfortable around…

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The Problem With Pick-Up Artists

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

I remember being around 10 or 11 years old and my brother telling me about a new book he had just started reading. It was called “The Game”, and he told me it was a guide on how to approach people and make friends. He read a few passages, told me a bit about the author, and immediately I was intrigued. Looking back now, I think the only reason I seemed so interested in the book was to suck up to my brother, but either way I asked him more and more about the book, with which I was fascinated.

He told me “The Game”, was a system, which helped people approach strangers and be friends with them. Little did I know that really it was only men who played ‘The Game’, and it wasn’t friendship they were looking for. The first few chapters seemed innocent enough: lessons on confidence, how to speak louder, appear more friendly, even a section on how to clean yourself (just in case you smell bad). But reading on, the chapters become stranger to me. They focus more on women and less on making friends. More on how to ‘read someone’ and less on how to appear friendly. It wasn’t till later on I realized this book was less of a “how to make friends guide” and more like the Bible of Pick Up Artists (PUA).

At the time, using a system or ‘game’ to get to know someone made sense to me. If you find it hard to make friends or you want a relationship, then sure, learning how to approach people you don’t know in a non-threatening manner is always a good skill to have. But the problem with the Game is that it treats people (particularly women) just as that: a game. Pick up artistry came into the public light thanks to Neil Strauss who wrote the book my brother had showed me, and after him more and more men found themselves wanting to get in on the PUA lifestyle. Soon reddit forums started popping up about the subject, and newer, more “experienced men” started writing their own book, claiming they had the best methods on how to chat up women money could buy.

A lot of the advice seen circulating around PUA forums involves simple confidence building skills including how to hold eye contact with someone, how to start a conversation with a stranger and how to dress well. There are certain pieces of advice on these forums and in PUA books which help to distinguish it from regular everyday self-help books. Terms such as “target” and “alpha male” are used by PUAs on certain forums, making the whole system sound rather douche-y and bone headed. Some PUAs have made headlines for the gross sexist advice they had been giving men in their books or on their websites; in one of his books on how to pick up women, famous PUA Ken Hoinsky, aka “TofuTofu” on Reddit, gave advice which basically advocates sexual abuse:

“Decide that you’re going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.”

It has gotten to the point now where some sites such as Jezebel.com have given guides on how to spot a potential PUA and avoid them. The irony of the situation is certainly rich, but it also shows just how uncomfortable some of these “artists” are making people. Although most men looking to PUA forums are, I’m sure just shy people looking to improve their communication skills with women, I’m afraid that the men who run these sites are determined to change these sweet men into power hungry alpha males who forget that women are people, but instead choose to treat them like a game.

The danger of PUAs gaining popularity is their ability to shape men’s perceptions of women. Vulnerable men see these PUAs as the man that they wish they could be: confident, sexy and most importantly a ladies man. But if everyone was a PUA, what would women be but just a piece in their game?

My Review of Cucumber, Banana and Tofu

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What I loved most about Russell T Davis’ groundbreaking series Queer as Folk was its “no fucks are given” attitude. Its crudeness, sass and general feeling that it just didn’t care what other people thought was beyond liberating. In the first episode alone there was a scene involving a 15 year old boy being rimmed by a significantly older man. The show wasn’t apologizing, in fact, it was celebrating this boy’s sexual awakening, the colours and sounds of Manchester’s Canal Street shone through the screen in an exciting and tempting way, making the technically illegal antics of that first episode so enticing.

I was glad then, when I saw the first episode of Davis’ adaptation trio Banana, Cucumber and Tofu had not lost that fast-paced, wild and uncontrollable sexuality. The name itself was wonderfully obscene: the different foods referring to the different stages of an erection. Sex is what drives this series, and the celebration of sex in all its forms is at the forefront of the new adaptation, just as it was in Queer as Folk. Of course, sex isn’t all that its about. Davis uses the three separate series to encompass many different aspects of queer life, not just the stereotypical man on man we’ve had to see again and again in LGBT TV and cinema.

Cucumber is the father of the trio. An hour long, each episode follows the relationship of older gay couple Lance and Harry. They are old men living in a world made for the young. Their relationship breaks down for a number of reasons, but ultimately all it really comes down to is sex. As Harry puts it, he’s just looking for “one more cock”. They feel left out of the gay scene, which is catered only to the young, attractive males of Manchester, and this feeling of emptiness affects them both, ultimately leading to a dramatic breakup after a failed attempt at a threesome.

Cucumber

Cucumber is complimented by another series shown on e4 straight after called Banana. Banana is the younger, funnier sibling of Cucumber, focusing on some of the minor characters in the show. Each episode is its own story, exploring the life of a different character each time. This makes for a whole range of intriguing episodes which attempt to reach out to all corners of LGBT life (sometimes trying to fit in too much at one time). The feeling of modernity also comes through strongly in this series – technology is emphasized in many episodes, something I think is very important to include in any television series about young people. From the young boy who we see using Grindr at his parent’s dinner table, to the trans woman who’s private photos get leaked by her ex boyfriend onto Facebook. These experiences are not just relevant, but important to viewers nowadays who’s lives are being affected more and more everyday by their smartphones. Banana is fast paced and funny, although being only half an hour long, it lacks the some of the intimacy seen in Cucumber, and indeed some of its drama. What makes Cucumber so riveting is the suddenness of the tragedy that befalls one of its main characters, but without an ongoing plot, Banana feels somewhat dissatisfactory, I always feel like I want to know more of the characters in each episode, but you can only find out so much in a half an hour time slot.

Tofu is a bit of a different one. Shown exclusively on 4od, Tofu  is a series of short videos interviewing real-life people on almost any and every aspect of sex. From topics such as coming out to why some people choose never to have sex, those from all walks of life give their opinions; porn stars, actors, YouTubers and even just housewives. The series is fun and the episodes are short enough to watch without getting bored, but in my opinion, the episodes are no less informative or entertaining than many YouTube videos you can find which cover sex and relationships. Tofu is definitely the weakest of the three, but it still serves its comedic purpose online as a web series.

Overall, I was pleased to see Russell T Davis had not lost his sensual and energetic writing in his new series, and I was especially impressed to see that he had not focussed the series entirely on the young crowd in the LGBT community, which is too often pushed to the front in gay TV. Cucumber felt like a story about what happened when the Queer as Folk boys grew up, but its daring sex scenes and new pushing of boundaries shows that Davis hasn’t lost any of the appeal which made his first LGBT series so groundbreaking.

The Internet for Women

Is the Internet good or bad for women? woman-computer-vintage1 The Internet is incredible. It has allowed the current generation of young people to be able to access the most information of any previous generation. It has allowed us to connect to people on the other side of the world faster than anything before. It has given people a voice with which to speak their minds in an environment, which could be seen by hundreds, if not thousands of other complete strangers. It has allowed people to find their purpose in life, for some, it is their purpose in life (see any famous YouTuber). The Internet was made to create opportunity. Opportunity for learning, for discovering, for meeting, for helping. But it has also given opportunity to hurt and mislead and exploit.

Despite the good and the bad the internet was made, in the words of the inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee, “for everyone”. The Internet was created as a place of equality. No matter what race, gender identity, sexual orientation, the Internet was made free for everyone. The Internet allows us to access information on almost anything we can think of. But the Internet does not have a regulator. It can’t tell us what information is accurate, what might be damaging, what might be helpful. The Internet is just there. We have to decide how to use it ourselves, and we are, for the most part, free to do so.

Now this is where things get tricky. While the world wide web was certainly intended to bring about a whole new lease of freedom for people and their ideas and opinions, its lack of a supervisor means that there have been some intense clashes amongst its communities, with certain people using the internet to control and deaden the voices of others, just as they would in real life. While being online can give people the courage to speak up about matters that may be hard to talk about in real life, the anonymity of this environment has also created a whole new way of manipulating and hurting others. The technical term for this is ‘cyberbullying’, but this phrase to me sounds far too pedestrian, as if it only affects 12-year-olds who get a comment on Facebook saying their nose looks funny in a picture. In reality cyberbullying stretches far beyond the school playground and can have devastating, even fatal consequences.

Despite the fact that the Internet is supposed to be a place for everyone, women unsurprisingly still have to dodge sexism in the virtual world if they choose to make their gender known. Inappropriate comments on YouTube videos, leaking nude pictures onto Facebook and forums, which talk about actively seeking to destroy feminism are but a few of the misogynistic obstacles that women have to face when they go online.

The number one thing young female YouTubers complain about when it comes to being online is the sexist abuse they face in the comment section. Same goes for female Twitter users, bloggers, journalists. Whatever they write about, however they say it, women are guaranteed to experience misogyny in one way or another. If a man does not agree with something someone has to say online, and said person happens to be female, then it’s all the more likely that he will use the person’s sex as a means of demeaning their point. In the same way someone may write the word ‘fag’ in the comments of a certain video they don’t like very much, the words ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ also remain firm favourites for male Internet trolls.

But what can we do about it? It seems nowadays when we talk about sexism we have to say “not all men” before every sentence. But why? Of course we know that not all men act this way. Of course we’re not trying to generalise the whole male species, we’re just trying to point out the problems that are being ignored. When we have to dilute our language so much to avoid offending men, we start missing the point of the argument entirely. The Internet is great. But like all platforms of free information and opinion, people end up exploiting it. More needs to be done to ensure women are respected online, but unfortunately, I don’t think this can happen until women are better respected in real life.

Religion and Celebrities: When does a fan become a follower?

Last year I visited the Church of Scientology in London for the first time as part of a university trip. I think it took a total of five minutes after entering the building for one of my friends to whisper to me, “So disappointed Tom Cruise isn’t here”.

You probably already knew that Tom Cruise was a Scientologist. But did you know that Nicole Kidman is a devoted Roman Catholic, and that lead singer of the Killers, Brandon Flowers, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church)? Maybe not. The way some super fans worship and idolize their favourite celebrities does certainly seem to echo the religious practices witnessed today. In the same way that a devout Catholic might keep paintings or symbols of Christ, a devout Ryan Gosling fan would no doubt keep the same sort of imagery, just in the form of posters in their bedroom.

Pete Ward, the author of ‘Gods Behaving Badly: Celebrity as a “Kind of” Religion’, wrote about the relationship between religion and fame in great detail, and used the image of Michael Jackson performing Earthsong in the 1996 UK Brit Awards to emphasize the intensity fan worship can be: “Jackson was joined on stage by a crowd of people in tattered clothing, and as the song came to a close the singer took off his shirt and his trousers to reveal white robes. Again bathed in light, Jackson stood as if crucified.”

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This powerful language is almost gospel in nature – the image of a pop star blessing his fans in such a ceremonial manner seems ridiculous, but it demonstrates the sheer power fame can have on society. Celebrities like Michael Jackson resonated with many people on what seemed like an almost spiritual level (and his music still does today). His greatest fans did not just admire him, but felt a connection with him, whether it was through his music or simply his unusual persona. The many controversies that surrounded his musical career and personal life made his image all the more captivating.

Of course the idea of celebrity worship is not something new to us. We’ve been using the terms “rock god” and “pop idol” for years now, and we can see from the deaths of John Lennon to Kurt Cobain, the amount of grief people can express for celebrities is almost at times like some kind of religious outburst. The death of Princess Diana was such an immense tragedy for so much of society all over the world that it could have been compared to the death a saint. She was loved by many, but also cursed by fame, which ultimately led to her untimely death. Diana’s death revealed a lot about how our society uses religion as a comforter and a way of bringing people together. Rev Dr David Hilborn said that those who reacted most emotionally to Diana’s death were looking for a “religious reason” for what they were doing. Hilborn believes that such emotional events bring out a “pre-programmed” religious instinct in people.

But is celebrity culture really so powerful that it can actually make us consider faith on a new level? We are all aware of the affect that celebrity culture has on certain people. Ask any One Directioner and they will tell you being a hard core fan-girl is more than just liking someone, it’s about admiring them so much that they become a sort of Messiah in your eyes. You want to like what they like, do what they do as a way of feeling closer to them. Even though they haven’t met them, they feel a certain connection to their favourite celebrity, which is similar to the connection one may feel to a deity. They may not have spoken to this deity, but they nevertheless feel a pull towards them, in a way they cannot easily explain.

However, it could be argued we have not always had this level of worshipping culture surrounding celebrities. Hollywood didn’t realize straight away that selling the personal lives of the most famous actors and musicians would have a huge financial benefit for them. Tabloid magazines, paparazzi and TV news channels all have a lot to gain from our obsession with certain people. It has gotten to the point where we no longer see celebrities as humans, but more as objects to gawk at. When Shia Laboeuf famously wore a bag over his head bearing the phrase “I am not famous anymore” at a film premiere, he said that he was influenced a real desire to withdraw from public attention, and to be seen as a human rather than an object. In the same way that companies use celebrities as a means of funneling their products to the masses, organized religion has also been criticized with using fame to create a more ‘glamorous’ image for themselves. Tom Cruise is a good example of this. He has been essential in promoting the image of Scientology for many years. In his book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” author Lawrence Wright wrote about Cruise: “There’s nobody more important in Scientology since L. Ron Hubbard. [Cruise is] the front of Scientology.”

However, being as open about one’s faith as Tom Cruise is can be risky, especially as a celebrity. Having a religion attached to your name can automatically subject you to ridicule and judgment, which you may not previously have been faced with. Lead singer of Mumford and Sons, Marcus Mumford, has commented on how loaded labels such as ‘Christian’ and ‘evangelical’ can be. It was revealed in a Rolling Stone article that Mumford’s parents are the founders and leaders of the U.K. branch of the Vineyard, “an evangelical Christian movement that practices faith healing, emphasizing the power of the Holy Spirit.” The God-themed lyrics of a lot of Mumford and Sons’ songs do call into question just how much is for show and how much is drawn from Mumford’s own religious upbringing. When asked if he would call himself a Christian, Mumford admitted that the word Christian “comes with so much baggage”. This fear is certainly understandable. Any famous entertainer who openly calls him or herself Christian will inevitably face a certain amount of bias from society and even their fans. If they don’t live up to the stereotypical goody-goody Christian lifestyle by refraining from swearing or being seen out drinking, they will be shut down by conservative Christians as well as some liberal non-believers who aren’t satisfied, who might not think being Christian and fun goes together.

Despite the parallels between celebrity and religion, we still don’t immediately think religion when we say celebrity. We have a tendency to forget that celebrities are in fact real people, who also wonder about the meaning of life just like the rest of us. The stereotypes which surround celebrity life – money, scandal, sex – are not exactly things we tend to associate with religion. However, with the increase in social media at an all time high, we are the closest we have ever been to the rich and famous. To be a famous celebrity nowadays means you could be seen by most of the world, and the influence you could have on those people is potentially immense.

Whether it’s Michael Jackson’s biblical imagery in his performances, or the ever-growing number of celebrities joining strange New Religious Movements like Scientology, faith will always be able to connect to celebrity culture in some way, but who knows where our obsession with this lifestyle will eventually lead us.

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