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.