Trans Comedy Award: A personal perspective

Trans Comedian / Project Lead

If like me you read on-line editions of newspapers and have a passing interest in the media and how it works, you cannot have failed to see the furore over the last couple of days of the Suzanne Moore & Julie Burchill "transphobia" debacle (which is still garnering lots of digital columns in the broadsheets) - Read more detail in Claire's blog post on the Trans Comedy Award site.

With all this in mind it truly highlights the need to change peoples perceptions and to break down the barriers of fear and assumption. That is why the Trans Comedy Award was created. It is a great initiative, because it recognises that to change opinion we have to work together.

The BBC tells great stories and has a proud history of developing great comedy scripts through its writersroom. The trans community live the trans experience first hand, day to day and are the best and only source if you want to find out what offends them and what makes them tick. So by joining forces with the trans community who are driving this project  and the BBC who are supporting it through the award money and expertise we can encourage trans themed comedy scripts that are funny, positive and that cut through all the negative, inaccurate deadwood that have muddied the waters over the years, blocking out what truly lies beneath.

Already we have had some great questions in from scriptwriters wanting to know more about the trans experience. To check these out, just click the links to be taken to the article.

  1. What types of hormones do transsexuals take and where do they get them?
  2. How does a transgendered person go about choosing a new name?
  3. Where can I find out how long a pre-op has to live as a man or woman?

So here's a thought. Why don't we all put down our mud. Draw a line under it all and invite each other to the party. Naive, crass, clichéd, or wishful thinking? Whatever! Here's our contribution, where's yours?

So enough venting, did you know that you can start submitting your scripts this week? What you haven't finished yet. Don't worry you still have till Feb 28th. Maybe your still half way through your script. It's going well and you have really nailed those characters, but is it funny? Are the situations realistic? Does it reflect real life?

Of course I can't tell you, I haven't seen your script. After all it's Claire Parker, not Claire Voyant. Being trans myself, it's not been a bed of roses and while there has been a lot of angst and physical/emotional roller coasters rides along the way, it has been tinged with loads of humour and delicious irony, so read on for some "real life" stuff.

I realised a long time ago that people were fed up with the myriad of documentaries and shock, voyeuristic programs purporting to show the trans experience. Contrary to the popular tropes and memes on telly, I do not spend sixty two percent of my time in front of a mirror putting on make up, and believe me when I say, I'm worth it. Neither do I supplement my pension by working the streets for money. So in order to challenge these stereotypes I took up stand up comedy, as it's a great way to connect with an audience and to tell a story. The stories connect  because they draw on the similarities between us all.

So what's all this blog about? Well it wont be my life story for one (far too involved and probably not relevant). What it will contain are glimpses of a life that I feel script writers can draw on to affirm their work and get them over any walls they may be camped against.

Along the way I will dip into many topics from my stand up, my own experiences, autobiography and everyday observations. So bookmark this page because over the next couple of articles we will be touching on.

  • Coming out
  • Pronouns and the older relative
  • Work
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Marriage
  • Being a lesbian
  • Faith
  • Clothing
  • Health and the big day

So lets kick off with Coming Out.

Everyone at some time in their life "comes out", it's all a matter of degrees really. Whether it be confessing to be being a secret lover of the film Mamma Mia or to coming out as gay (and no, they are not mutually inclusive). Of course much has been documented about the emotional upheaval of someone coming out as gay and the various levels of response from loved ones that were exhibited.

Coming out as trans is not much different. There is one element to coming out as trans though that does come with a complication, in that, if you plan to transition you effectively come out to everyone; friends, family, work colleagues even people you see on a daily basis like shop workers or ticket collectors for instance.

So you can simply tell people but you also come out just by transitioning. All the time you don't pass you send a clear signal that you may be trans. By contrast If you come out as gay you don't necessarily wear it on your sleeve unless you are very effeminate.

Probably the hardest people to come out to are your parents and they can react in many ways. After all, they invested so much in your perceived gender and perceptions can be hard to change. Obviously the longer you leave it the harder it is for mum or dad to come to terms with it. Add to this the statistic that the average age of someone transitioning is 43 and you can probably guess that some don't take it very well.

In my comedy I use the following to portray just how hard it is to get across to a family that you are transgendered.

Of course there's no easy way to tell your family your a transsexual.

Mobile phones are obviously not an option.

In my case I just got the family around the dinner table and started dropping heavy hints.

"Hey, guess what, I can multitask." - Not a sausage.

"I need to go to the loo, fancy coming with me mum?" -Nothing.

"Hey dad, remember my wedding when you said were not losing a son but gaining a daughter."

My coming out was a mixed affair and in many cases the reactions were unexpected. My remaining parent was fine and said "your still my child". When all the tears had dried up, the hugging had subsided and the relief had calmed me down I also took the opportunity to tell her that I fancied women and that I was actually a lesbian.

One huge awkward pause later and a stare that could could split atoms and I'm greeted with an "oooookaaay, so when you lived as a man were you a lesbian then?". Not to be outdone I then retorted with the fact that my new girl friend was also a male to female post operative transsexual and what did that make me?. Another longer puzzled stare which fell just short of smoke from the ears. Then "it's all too confusing, but your still my child". A lot more tears, hugs and forehead crumpling ensued.

Now, at this point I should have quit while I was ahead and shouldn't have pushed my luck by announcing that I had also started going to church. It was too much. My parent was now on the ceiling and not in a Lionel Richie way.

As for telling friends, one of the strangest things happens when you announce to them you are trans. It seems to polarise them into having to decide if they will support you or not. It was at that time that I discovered who was actually a friend and who turned out to be just an acquaintance. It was strange. Had you ask me before hand who would stick by me and who would run away I would have guessed about 90% incorrectly. I had my university friends pegged as supporters, I mean they are educated for pities sake, but they disappeared quicker than a prison officer from Hartlepool in a canoe. In contrast one of the roughest and doggiest people I knew simply said "no worries darlin, if you need any cheap clothes just let me know." On reflection though, telling "friends" was a positive thing because I didn't have to waste any more life on people who actually weren't.

Coming out at work is also like a game of Russian Roulette. You simply don't know what to expect. Just because a company may worship at the alter of diversity and have all the badges and statements to back it up, it is individuals who react and not companies and coming out can often mean that people will try to encourage you seek out new employment opportunities. In my case I discovered that my department was closing and we all had to reapply for different parts of the company. Unfortunately they discovered that there were jobs for all but one person. Needless to say I did not keep my job, although ironically I was the first person to ever be made redundant which I'm sure was a coincidence.

I even heard of a large company that said they would totally support a person who came out and that they should take 2 weeks leave so they could pave the way and set all the correct expectations. Upon return they discovered that the company had had a corporate wide organisational reshuffle and luckily they only had to lose one person. No prizes for guessing who.

Other people can often fare a lot better and some companies recognise that trans people are an untapped labour source (often highly skilled), and treat them as any other employee. In fact apart from 6 weeks medical leave for the major op we are hardly likely to be dropping little ones and taking periods of maternity leave. So leaving the morality of that statement aside for one minute we are often a good investment.

I have made a little light of describing coming out but one should not forget that it can break families apart and be devastating for all concerned. It's very rare for a spouse to stick by someone for instance and for many, coming out is like resetting your life, making you start all over again. I know of very few things that divide people more than being told that someone they thought they knew is actually a different gender. I have had best friend's declare in the past before they knew about me that they would do anything for me, even to the point of "taking a bullet for me". Where are they now?

One of the main problems I have noticed amongst friends and families is that they get obsessed about how "they feel" and how it "affects them", as if they are actually going through it and not you. I even had someone say it was worse for them as it was like "I had died" and that I had "no rights to put them through this". To be honest I'm still the same person, I just express myself differently now. Thankfully most of them came round, eventually.

Well I hope that little insight into coming out helped, I'm off to watch Pierce Brosnan sing on a Greek island. Shhhhhh

Till next time, happy writing.


© - This article and extracts of Claire Parker's stand-up are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced in any form without prior consent.

Follow Claire on twitter @ItsClaireParker

Claire Parker is a Trans stand up comedian and is project lead on the Trans Comedy Award.

Trans Comedy have joined forces with BBC writersroom to launch The Trans Comedy Award - an exciting new talent search for TV comedy scripts featuring transgender characters and/or themes - find out more about what we're looking for and how you can enter your script.

Browse resources, ask questions on the forum and read blog articles on the Trans Comedy Award website.


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