Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Louise Jarvis, Superstar

Interesting piece of scheduling on ITV1 last night. The annual Pride of Britain Awards, which features lots of brave children, was preceded by a documentary with the fashionably sensational title My Mums Used To Be Men. Yet it was more moving and inspirational than the programme that celebrated individual acts of courage.

12 year old Louise Jarvis lives with her transexual father who is now a woman and her father's friend who is also a male-to-female transexual. The programme let Louise tell the story and, whatever help she had from the production team, she conducted interviews and did 'pieces to camera' with a fluency and professionalism that was as impressive as her maturity, intelligence and courage.

The story has to start with one of the worst cases of irresponsibility by the press that I've ever seen. A newspaper found out about this family and ran a sensational story which called them 'Britain's Weirdest Family', regardless of the effect this would have on a 12 year old child and the inevitable bullying and name-calling it would cause at her school.

To try and repair the damage, the family went on the Trisha talk show but this backfired when members of the studio audience made abusive and ill-informed comments. It should be said that, before any of this, Louise's father, now mother, had made every effort to protect the family's privacy and even sent Louise to a school in a different village.

This documentary was Louise's attempt to present an accurate picture of a family that was different but at the same time very ordinary and intensely loving. She succeeded brilliantly.
The only minor criticism I would make is that the programme didn't include a proper explanation of transexualism, other than Louise's own basic explanation. This would have been useful because many people confuse it with transvestitism or think it is just being gay carried to its logical conclusion and are unable to distinguish between gender and orientation. I've even met gay men who made these mistakes although I suppose gay men are as likely to be stupid as straight men. And even an intelligent woman like Germaine Greer seems unable to understand the subject and has made offensive comments against transexuals.
One of the burdens of all sexual minorities is that we get confused with each other. There may well be people who think that when I've drawn the curtains in the evening I slip into a hot, black little number and fishnet stockings and visit chat rooms as Winifred Lupin. Indeed, I've had people make remarks to that effect in the belief that it was good-humoured badinage and revealed their deep understanding of what gay men do. It goes with the territory, as they say. You shrug your shoulders, mutter 'dickhead' under your breath and get on with your life.

Louise succeeded in tracking down a 12 year old boy who also lived with a transgender parent and they bonded immediately. Their joy at finding they were not the only children in the world in that situation and that they could support each other in the face of social abuse was one of the most moving things in the film.

In a precocious example of "making the personal political", Louise gave a talk to a local youth club, accompanied by her two mums and, if childhood were not such a bad indicator of future adult life, one would like to think we were seeing an early speech by someone who could make a major contribution to society, whether through politics or some other channel.

It's extraordinary that there will have been some people watching this programme, just as there were people in that Trisha audience, so twisted by bigotry or religious dogma that they would accuse Louise's parent of child abuse rather than the bullies, name-callers and tabloid journalists who had tried unsuccessfully to crush this remarkable child's indomitable spirit.

Maybe Louise got her courage from the mother who used to be her father. I always say that gender dysphoria makes being gay seem like a picnic and I am always in awe of the courage of transexuals, not because of the surgery which is something they desire above all else, but because of their fortitude in asserting their true identity in the face of ignorance and prejudice and in a way that is of necessity dramatic and very public.

I didn't really expect Louise Jarvis to pop up again on the Pride of Britain Awards and be feted by a celebrity audience and meet David Beckham or Ant and Dec. But I hoped she might and in a just world she would have done so.
The paradox of Louise's life is that she's leading a very ordinary life in a close and loving family unit in rural Middle England yet, because people have such a problem with sexual minorities - or, in this case, gender minorities - she has become an eloquent voice for many other children in similar situations and for whom a stable and loving family is more important than labels or gender.

On the off-chance that Louise does an internet search after her 60 minutes of fame: Louise, you're a star and an inspiration. Many unknown people that you'll never know or meet will be awarding you their own personal Pride of Britain award and wishing you, Sarah and Kate every happiness in the future.

22 Comments:

At 7:13 PM, Blogger zaphod said...

It sometimes seems that society loves someone who is different. It gives 'em something to hate.

 
At 2:26 AM, Blogger portuguesa nova said...

Kids are incredible. Really. How do they do it?? When do we lose that? I hope that when Antonio and I give birth to some poor sod we live next door to people like that--transexual or not--so that we can send them over to play every day.

 
At 7:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Willie - I've always considered myself an open-minded, liberal, unprejudiced person. I try to understand an individual's motivations and emotions and, by and large, can empathise with a wide variety of sexual, political and behavioural differences.
But a couple of years ago, an old friend (male) decided to become female. She went through a long period of social and personal adjustment and eventually underwent the op in Thailand.
And I just don't get it. I've read plenty about it. I've talked to her at length. And I just can't see it. It's come as rather a shock to me - I thought I was one of the most accepting, open-minded people possible, and I'm faced with incontrovertible evidence that I'm not as flexible as I'd thought.
I suppose what I'm trying to say in this little post is that transsexuality is a very, very tricky issue for people to relate to.
I've got some work to do on this one.

- Tony -

 
At 8:52 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

Nicely put, Mr Zaphod. I find there are plenty of people to hate for causing misery to others without hating people simply for being 'different'.

pn: that comment shows that when Antonio and you have a child he or she will be a lucky sod.

tony: I'm not an expert on this subject, although like you I've known and talked with a transexual. And the scientific knowledge is still far from complete. So I write this with some hesitation and lots of caveats.
You say your friend 'decided to become female'. But I suspect she would say she had always been female. She underwent surgery to align her physical body with the gender she felt herself to be. It's a cliché and probably an over-simplification to talk of 'a woman trapped in a man's body' but it's probably an effective, simple way of putting it.
I agree that it can be difficult for people to disentangle the different strands of gender, sexual orientation and feminine/masculine traits. I usually think of it as a series of unrelated spectrums. For example, some straight men are very camp, e.g. Bruce Forsyth. Some camp, gay men are sexually dominant and some butch, gay men are sexually passive. This all seems designed to confuse people.
Returning to transexuals, where it gets complicated for people to understand is that, just like anyone else, transexuals can be gay or straight. A straight male-to-female transexual will be attracted to men because she is a 'straight woman', not a 'gay man'. A gay male-to-female transexual will be atrracted to women because she is a lesbian woman, not a straight man posing as a woman.
This all makes perfect sense if you are able to separate the different concepts of physical gender, sexual orientation, and what one might call 'brain gender'. But I agree that it's confusing, particularly if people are determined to give primacy to physical gender. I wonder if men have a greater problem with this because the removal of the penis represents the ultimate destruction of identity and self-worth.
Finally, since you wrote with such honesty, I will say that I find it difficult to understand why some non-transgender men, whether gay or straight, wish to dress as women. I don't find it offensive and I would defend their right to do so. Yet, oddly, I find it easier to empathise with transexuals than with cross-dressers. So, not a prejudice but an empathy-failure and all of us have those if we're honest enough to admit it.

 
At 9:38 AM, Blogger cello said...

I think Tony's difficulty might be less to do with transsexuality per se, but the shock of learning something new about someone to whom you are close, and having to assimilate that into your relationship with them. An equivalent shock might be finding that you were adopted, or that your Dad had been in prison.

I believe myself to be as open-minded and tolerant as it is possible to be, yet I was temporarily traumatised when my sister decided she was really a lesbian at the age of 50. She had two teenage sons and it also floored them for a while. My sister and I are very close and love each other to bits. I thought I knew everything about her, but I was wrong and that took a bit of getting used to.

 
At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cello - you are right -it did come as a shock. Suddenly I seemed to have sidestepped "normal" life into in a Channel 4 documentary :-)

But I think my real difficulty in accepting my friend's realignment is that I can understand the concepts of physical gender and of sexual orientation, but I can't get my head round "brain gender". I don't, personally, seem to have any great fixed concept of myself as a "man", as such. I'm just me. I dress as a bloke, 'cos that's what I've always done, and it would be somewhat unusual to turn up to work in a frock.
So what does being a female in your brain entail? A preference for empathy over rationality? Being better at verbal IQ tests than spatial? An inability to read maps? A penchant for frilly underwear?

Sorry if this sounds flippant, but my friend does seem to be trying to wholeheartedly embrace sterotypical traits that feminist philosophy has been working to reject over the last 50 years.

- Tony -

 
At 4:55 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I can see the difficulty in discovering something about someone you thought you knew well. I have a similar problem of adjustment if I find out that someone I like is a Conservative.

Surely another person's 'brain gender' is something we can never hope to understand. And although writers and actors try to get inside people's heads, in reality we can never discover how another person experiences the world or experiences themselves.

Your last point, Tony, was probably what annoyed Germaine Greer and it's a common criticism of transexuals that they create a parody of femininity. But this may simply be a reaction against being previously constrained within an unwelcome straitjacket of masculinity.
And they have to be able to pass as a woman for a lengthy period before doctors will perform surgery.
I think it's an unfair criticism. The day that the majority of women abandon stereotypical feminine traits will be the day that transexuals may do so too. (ditto, in reverse, for female-to-male transexuals).

 
At 1:27 AM, Anonymous Jo Gilbert said...

So we in Oregon just saw the Hot Docs show on BBC America and it is clear that Louise Jarvis is a pioneer, a loving young woman and her strength and courage is amazing, as is that of her mums !
I have done a quick search and this is the only site I can find ; it is old. If anyone knows a more reliable way to contact this young woman, let me know..........

 
At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

go louise! :p
jodi xxx

 
At 11:26 AM, Blogger louise jarvis said...

hi my name is louise jarvis and thank u all very much alsoooo sorry for not replying but i never knew about this site until now thank u

 
At 8:25 PM, Blogger Abbie said...

Louise,

25 years ago I had a daughter with a man who felt just like your mums. We were married for 15 years and raised our daughter to open to all people. When she was 15, her dad decided to transition and we were divorced.
I just want you to know that even though her dad and I went separate ways, we are still good friends and care for each other very much. Our daughter is now 25 and has a wonderful profession. She finished high school and college, making a lot of friends.
I watched you last night on BBC and wanted to hug you and say "you're going to be fine". I see the same strength and determination in your face I see in hers. You have a good heart and people who love you. Remember, you aren't alone and you will be okay!

 
At 2:43 AM, Blogger niema said...

Louise is amazing...I live in san francisco and have seen a lot of transgender persons. but seeing someone like louise is so great. I wish you and your family all the blessings in the world Louise.

 
At 4:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in middle America and only just saw this documentary.

Honestly, I too have tried to "understand" transsexuals and transvestites, but I don't. What I think is more important, however, is that I accept it. There are a lot of things in this world that I don't understand and that does not make those things wrong. Frankly, I hope everyone gets the chance to live their life as they feel most comfortable.

Louise is an incredibly articulate, honest, and thoughtful young woman. If we are a product of how we are raised then Louise is certainly proof that her mums are doing something right. I will undoubtedly never get the chance to meet her, but I hope she knows that she is someone to be proud of.

I tried to find something more than the summary of the doc and this was the only place I found anything! Thank you for creating a venue for this discussion.

-amber

 
At 11:50 PM, Blogger Wen said...

Louise is remarkably sensitive, intelligent and far more mature in her thoughts and heart than any of the people (no matter what their age) who harass her, her family or otherwise invade their private lives. I would consider it a great honor to meet Louise and her mums, they have risen above the pettiness and ignorance of the world around them. She is a wonderful role-model for people of all ages. I hope Louise and her family have all the happiness and peace we all deserve.

 
At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi dear.i am from denmark..i saw your program from 2005..how are you doing today??i am 40 with one child..you are great..

 
At 9:21 PM, Anonymous Ulla said...

Hei Loise.
I am a woman from Denmark 44 years old, I have seen your program today, and I was very fascinated by you. But I was so sory to hear, that because of your parents choice you was being bullied. I think you have a wonderful and caring family. Hope you are doing well today. Love Ulla
kaltoft23@hotmail.com

 
At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Roseanne A said...

I just saw the documentary on Louise, Sarah and Kate on BBC America, and was so struck by the courage and presence of this lovely young woman, Louise.

Together these three woman are a truly beautiful, warm, loving family of enviable strength. My warmest thanks and admiration go out to the three of you for sharing your story with the world. I admire you all, and like everyone who has seen your show, cannot help but be awestruck and inspired by Louise's courage and tenacity.

You, Louise, have effected change this world. I hope you continue to be a force to be reckoned with.

 
At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am from America and just saw the BBC show with Louise and her mums. I think you are a wonderful person Louise. Your mums are kind and loving. You have a wonderful family. Shame on the bullies. I am sure you will find more good friends like the ones you now have. Have a wonderful life!

 
At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Michelle said...

Michelle from Australia - Louise you are so brave and beautiful. Stay strong sweetheart. xoxo

 
At 11:45 PM, Blogger crimson prophet said...

I was touched moved and inspired by Louise Jarvisand her two moms. What a fabulous documentary that show's the best in humanity..... A world without judgement, invalidation. Both moms are doing a great job from what I could see.

Lousie is an absolute inspiration of what it takes to be a change-agent, to teach humanity a new lesson in kindness and empathy.

This production was a bold move that showed courage, compassion and unconditional love. Well done to the producers, to Louise and her brave parents (who had the courage to be true to themselves.)

Thank you for sharing you story and I am delighted that finally it was shared responsibly and with integrity.

In admiration
Mishka (Australia)

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger blikor said...

I love Big Ass

 
At 6:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are already a rock star louise/ jill australia

 

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