Late night telly produced a gem recently: the incredible Belgian film, Ma Vie en Rose. It’s the poignant story of a little boy who announces his desire to be a girl and the emotional battles he and his family face as a result. After they are shunned by neighbours and the father loses his job, their initial bemused acceptance turns into anger and despair, much to the pain of 7 year old Ludovic who just wants to marry Jérome (who is, unfortunately, his Dad’s boss’s son – never a good scene). Ludovic tugs at your heart strings; the confusion and mistrust is visible in his eyes as he struggles to understand why his normally loving parents begin to unravel, snarling at him, being violent with each other and worst of all, cutting his long hair as swollen tears roll down his cheeks. He just wants to be a girl. He doesn’t want to be a boy who happens to like other boys, every part of his being wants to be a girl. After triumphantly coming to the conclusion that the additional ‘X’ chromosome accidentally fell to the floor during the Tic Tac Toe game his parents played to create him, he is even more delighted to wake up with a sore tummy, as he knows that sore tummy equals period, which equals being ‘a real lady now’. He is utterly beautiful and as you watch you are willing the parents, who you also feel for, to accept him and be on his side.
It is one of the best films I have seen in terms of transgender issues and would make an ideal film study at secondary school level as it achieves the key aim of the work DRM are doing; it invokes empathy. It doesn’t explain why Ludovic wants to be a girl and nor does the viewer care. We like him and we want him to be ok. If I pitch my workshops with young people accurately, they usually like me and want me to be ok. And when I challenge them even further, perhaps they start to understand that there are others like me, LGB or T, who they don’t understand, but they just might like or at least want to be ok. Children learn empathy at a young age, but if there is none floating around their homes, they harden up; there is no room for understanding or softness when none has been afforded you. However, if teachers and other significant adults can respect, care for and simultaneously push their students’ boundaries, empathy can develop in those who have been labelled ‘no hopers’ or symbolically placed in the ‘too hard basket’. I have seen the most vehemently homophobic student go from shouting abuse to claiming that nobody should have to hide themselves or change and that society needs to be more accepting. All in the space of an hour and all because he had some grease applied to the rusty cogs of empathy which resided within him.
It is too often seen that LGB people disassociate themselves from the transgender element of our community. They come lower in the pecking order, face far worse abuse and the last thing we want to do is have our starting-to-be-socially-accepted ‘gayness’ sullied by their even weirder behaviour. At least, this is what I understand the unspoken thoughts of transphobic homosexuals to be. This is a travesty. We can not expect to take our newly granted rights, our growing social acceptance and freedom to be ourselves, and shut the gate on people whose struggle for acceptance is often greater than ours. We’ve all floundered with identity and fitting in at some point; for transgender people, this is an even greater trial. We need to help and support each other, not turn our backs and scamper off with the emergency food package while others starve behind us.
Dealing with the transgender issue can be a prickly topic in schools. How do teachers talk about this when most of us don’t understand it ourselves? It’s like this: we don’t have to understand, we just have to tolerate each other’s differences. We have to make it clear that difference is fine, in fact it is interesting. We need to encourage students to think critically, to ask why such discrimination exists against people that above all, need understanding and respect. I have taken a transgender F to M rapper into a secondary school in London. A girls faith school in a very low socio-economic area with a wide cultural mix. Although we were more than a little nervous, the outcome could not have been better. He sat on the stage, told the girls his story, answered their questions with dignity and humour, then he rapped. Not my kind of music but the girls couldn’t contain themselves. Literally. After the performance, throngs of them rushed the stage trying to kiss his hands and face – I had to restrain some of them. This was music induced hysteria at its best, but it also provided me with one of the best and most unexpected moments of my career. These girls knew this person used to a be a woman and a lesbian, then became a man and was now heterosexual; a confusing notion for most, but they simply didn’t care. He was hot and he could sing. He was a person before he was a label.
So to those who struggle with the transgender thing; whether you’re straight or LGB, challenge yourselves a little on this topic. Watch Ma Vie en Rose and remember that the person you might disassociate yourself with, or make insensitive comments about to fit in with your mates, that person is just Ludovic, but grown up. Have some empathy.
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