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Girls to Men
Girls to Men press shotYoann Desmoyer-Davis

Trans participants call out Channel 4's ‘Girls to Men’ doc

We spoke to one of the transgender people featured in the ‘sensationalist’ film which has been accused of using footage in a way that was not agreed to

Last night, the documentary Girls to Men aired on Channel 4 as part of the channel’s “Born in the Wrong Body” series. It focused on the next generation of transgender men who are “proudly broadcasting every astonishing detail of their transition to the entire world”, highlighting surgery and physical changes, such as the growth of a beard and penis construction. It also at looked the trans people who are sharing their journey taking hormones on YouTube as Testosterone Diaries.

But earlier in the day, before it had aired, it became clear that some participants were not happy with the way they had been treated by film makers or the way trans stories were portrayed.

A response written by one of the trans people used as a subject in the documentary, CJ Bruce, went up on Autostraddle.

“Please note that there are at least two TPOC (trans people of colour) in there who feel completely used and honestly pretty much deceived by the producers of this show,” CJ wrote, going on to explain that, like their friend, the other trans person of colour referred to, Sabah Choudrey, were approached by the film makers, the title of the documentary was not “Girls to Men” but “The Testosterone Diaries”. CJ claims to have agreed to taking part in the doc, as long as it wasn’t sensationalised or focused around surgery and hormones. But as well as finding the title to be sensationalist, CJ claimed film makers used footage from personal YouTube videos in a way that was not agreed to.

The response from the public and the LGBT community was supportive of CJ, mostly tweeting to boycott the film or agreeing that the title was misleading. 

CJ was not alone. We spoke to their friend Sabah, 25, London, a young trans man who also participated in the documentary.

“It was last Christmas I was first in contact with a guy who works at Firecracker films – and I was really hesitant,” Sabah explained. “I know trans friends who have been in the media or sold their story and been exploited. But I chatted quite a lot to him on the phone and I talked about how it’s not as simple for me and not just about medical transition for me and that part of my life is actually quite significant compared to my trans identity. And he was really on board with it. I made it clear if I was going to do this it’d not just be about my surgery was and hormones and he was really happy with that so I felt really positive about our conversations.”

From here, Sabah provided his own self-shot footage. It was responses to five questions they’d sent over about topics such as dating and surgery. “I was really happy with what I’d said and it being shown on TV. But he left the production company just as I had submitted my footage, and that’s when Nick Sweeney took over.”

It was last week when Sabah said he was looking for the documentary online that he emailed Nick, unable to find it. “I asked what it was called and he replied “Girls to Men” and I was just like…what the fuck? It was such a shock because I had this idea of it being about masculinity and trans men and identities in an informative way instead of it being behind this sensationalist headline. It made me think, “Who actually are you trying to lure in with this title? And who is going to watch it?” It changed it completely.” 

Sabah says his reaction to watching the documentary last night was one of shock, finding it laughable.

“For CJ, they had taken the videos of YouTube but just ones of CJ’s surgery. There’s just a one second clip of my face and CJ with no shirt on. And that’s all. After all that, you didn’t even use our actual voices, we were just diversity points. It was very tokenistic. Nothing I or CJ said has actually been heard.”

Futhermore, the focus had been put on surgery and genitals. “I just thought if any trans men are watching this, they’re going to feel so shitty about themselves and think, I’m not a man until I have a dick, basically. It’s so basic and rudimentary. It’s not going to teach anyone what it’s like to be a trans man. It’s not going to teach young trans men about their transition because you know, they have the internet, we have YouTube and can look in our own community.”

Sabah continued: “The language was all about people taking “drastic measures” to be like the men they always want to be. It just felt like the voiceover was putting a wedge between this is what you are and this is what you want to be.”

This focus on genitals and the male body has been the main focus of criticism from those on Twitter. The question seems to be: why was a documentary about trans people called “Girls to Men”, which clearly implies the documentary is about girls wanting to become boys, rather than young trans men seeking to be recognised.

Dazed reached out to Channel 4 for comment and they said: “Every contributor who appeared in ‘Girls to Men’ gave written consent to be included in the film and, where necessary, gave written permission for use of publicly available footage. The title was chosen to reflect more accurately the experiences of the main contributors, who were all happy with this title. We are incredibly proud of these films which have all been made with a great deal of sensitivity and consideration in an attempt to raise awareness of the transgender community.”

This isn’t the first time Channel 4 has been accused of screwing up the stories of minorities. Only recently, Kieran Yates, a WOC journalist, had her documentary about Muslim drag queens essentially taken from her with little credit given by the company.

Sabah explained that his initial agreement to be in the documentary had a lot to do with the inital person he had been speaking with at the film company. “He’s gay and he’s Indian so we kind of bonded over that because we both knew what it’s like in a different culture, having these two identities we have to navigate. That’s the reason I trusted them and thought this was where my voice would be done justice, I suppose.” 

Once again, we come back to a glaring issue at the heart of these stories that need to be heard. There aren’t enough women, people of colour, LBGT people in control of telling them. These people are few and far between in the industries of arts, culture and media and until they are more prevalent, how can we be sure that minorities are being represented properly and not pushed further to the margins?