Emmerdale is a popular long running soap from the UK with over 9 million international and domestic viewers so it’s a forgone conclusion then that this series has immense impact on societal perceptions. What is acceptable and what is not.
The latest episode made a serious blunder, one that needs a closer look and a proper redress after a transgender woman was specifically hired to play a trans role. Not a everyday experience and one that most trans actress’s would jump on, as Samantha Valentine did.
During the episode there was a competition by cast members to see who could get the most hookup numbers at a gay bar. When they regrouped to compare the results one actress proclaimed she had the most phone numbers but Marlon Dingle (Mark Charnock), objects saying : ‘That’s not fair, that’s a he not a she.’
There have been numerous reports of this, all originating from and quoting the shows management.
Creative director John Whiston apologized saying “It is a huge disappointment to me and to the team that in this instance such unthinking and old-fashioned prejudice should have crept into he show in this way. “Apparently it was added at a very late stage before filming when the show was in danger of under-running.”
So according to Whiston the bar scene was just a last minute ‘filler’ that incidentally, accidentally without forethought or malicious intent, was transphobic in nature.
I call bullshit on this.
Transgender actress Samantha Valentine now tells us what really happened.
Well it all started when a friend of mine who does work as an extra called me and told me to get in touch with a certain casting agency as they were looking for a transgender woman to to play a barmaid in a gay bar for a popular UK soap opera (emmerdale). I though about it and I decided to go for it because I thought if they want someone transgender it must be for something positive.
I called the casting agency they told me what was required (nothing about what would be said about trans women either) and they emailed me details once they decided to hire me (no audition) of where to go and the time for me to get their, the only other contact I had with the TV station was the wardrobe department when they wanted my measurements in which i mentioned I was a transsexual woman (well they say I was a transvestite I just corrected them), anyway once I got on the set for filming, the episode was about two couples taking their lesbian to a gay bar in hope to pick someone up.
I was told when I was to walk in and take a tray of empty shot glasses from the cast and walk to the bar with it, I thought “why do they need a transgender woman for this, any woman could do this”?
When they filmed it there was no problem with it and it was done, then later on I was to remain in the background to them for the rest of the filming that day, anyway later on the script required the cast (including the men) to go around the gay bar and try to get as many numbers as possible from lesbian’s (yes the men had to do that too?).
When they came back later on to see who got the most numbers one of the female member of the cast said “I got the number off the barmaid” (me) then her boyfriend (in the soap) said “that’s not fair that’s a he not a she”. This completely shocked me as I was not told about this.
I wasn’t told about this and was then I realize why they wanted a transgender woman for the part. I was numb for the rest of the afternoon when we left and was taken back to the TV station to make our way home I was talking to one of the other extra’s and she too said that it was disgraceful what they have done, but I was angry and tired and i just wanted to go home.
The next day when I woke up it dawned on me immediately and I broke down i must of cried for over an hour thinking I was a fool. Why didn’t I say something there and then, what are people going to say when it gets aired? And the bigot’s now have ammunition to shout at me with as well as the usual crap they shout at me. I didn’t get out of the bed that entire day nor did I eat anything. I just lay in bed depressed.
The following day I woke up and decided to do something about it. I checked online and found a charity called Press for Change who are legal expert who specialise in transgender law.
I called them and told them what had happened. They then told me to email them what had happened as well as sending them all documents from the casting agency. When they got back to me they told me that the TV company had broken two laws, one in the gender recognition act and another in the discrimination act. We decided to do a letter to send to the head of the TV station and the head of the soap opera stating to them how they have broken the law and we then gave them an ultimatum to change it in five working day or we’ll see you in court.
They changed it in three days but I asked them why they wanted a trans woman for the role considering as it looked like it was for a bad joke. They didn’t give an explanation for this they just cut out the derogatory scene, they just said it must of been overlooked before they filmed it.
I don’t believe that for one second, the soap for a long time has done situations involving gay and lesbian people including major characters who have come out as gay and have dealt with it in respectable and positive way why they couldn’t of done this with me I don’t know.
I feel this is a missed opportunity for them to use an actual transgender woman in a soap opera the first in the UK (they used a cis gendered women to play a trans woman in the soap coronation street).
Although I had won this I feel we still have a long way to go before we are accepted and not being made a joke of.