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Comment: Channel 4 Secrets of the Living Dolls was little more than a freak show

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  1. “Nowhere in the “Dolls” programme was any explanation given to motivation, beyond “escapism” and “that’s how I want to be for that day”. But the “why” question is also thrown at trans people, and there’s rarely an answer that’s deemed acceptable. Trans people just “are”.”
    I’m not sure what you are saying. That they should have explored motivation, or that they shouldn’t…

    As for the freakshow element – it’s fairly understandable, given the widely accepted Freudian observation that people find dolls ‘uncanny’. This isn’t down to prejudice, but is a natural reaction to something that comes close to being human but not quite. Robots ‘suffer’ from the same reactions.

    I’ll accept that there might be some cross-over with trans issues here, but I’m not sure lumping them together is all that helpful

  2. I am not sure harmless people, enjoying the hobby, should be expected to hide away from public view, just to avoid upsetting the sensibilities of trans people.

    The same goes for drag queens, who have been the subject of similar trans ire.

  3. Sometimes the trans community need to get a grip and stop throwing its toys out if the pram. What next banning pantomime dames?

    The programme was clearly not about trans people but about a group of men who dress as women for kicks.

    1. the author doesn’t represent “the trans community”, she comes across as a pompous know-all barking up the wrong tree but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support the trans community as part of the wider LGBT community on the basis of one stupid article

  4. Gah rants like this annoys me that LGB is grouped with T. Following on from Amy’s comments above, it wasn’t that bad and seems more like, as elegantly put, the trans community is “throwing its toys out if the pram.”

    1. the author doesn’t represent “the trans community”, she comes across as a pompous know-all barking up the wrong tree but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support the trans community as part of the wider LGBT community on the basis of one stupid article

    2. Because LGBs never “throws its toys out of the pram”? Please do not lump the entire trans community together and assume that this article articulates a collective opinion. Also… It’s very sad that you seem to be so keen to drop the T from your precious acronym, and distance yourself from a community that shows SO much support to all other groups!

      On the programme itself… The problem is that on the whole the public are quite simple in their understanding of gender and sexuality and tend to bunch completely different groups into the same box that falls into their frame of reference. So for example when I told my mum that I wanted to be a girl she immediately assumed that I was a gay transvestite because she had seen documentaries. I had to spend time explaining the difference between fetish and gender dysphoria, and that I was still very much in love with my wife. A lot of people don’t see all the subtle shades of grey that make up trans, they only see it in black or white.

    3. So where you have an ill educated misconception that views all Trans as ‘men getting sexual excitement from wearing woman’s clothes’ a documentary like this does not help educate, it only adds additional stigma and negativity. I feel that the documentary could have gone a lot further in explaining the motivation behind the activity, and exploring the differences between ‘dolling’ and T.

      I have to say though, I fully support dolls in the expression of their individuality! I’d hate to meet one in a dark alley though, I found it a little creepy…

  5. PantoHorse 9 Jan 2014, 12:41pm

    I can see little comparison between people who seem to fetishise cross dressing, as these dolls do, and the lived experience of being trans, and the author herself says she doesn’t feel C4 has done trans people a dis-service with the programme. So what’s the point of the article? It’s like the author is trying to compare apples with cheese just for the sake of it.

    Also, with the barbs made at ‘part-time’ trans women and the pejorative quotation marks around ‘en femme’ and ‘alter-ego’ the article does exactly what the author says is so unhelpful and hints at a hierarchy of worthiness.

    I can’t see what’s helpful about this article.

  6. When I was at uni in the mid 90s, I did a course called “Sex, Gender and the Law” and we naturally covered trans issues. The way it was explained to us was this:
    Describe how you know you are male/female without any reference to a single internal or external physical characteristic. You can’t, but yet you know you are male/female. Now try to imagine what it would be like to know you’re one, but see the other in the mirror.

    I don’t know how accurate that is but it certainly made me begin to think about how hard it must be.

    1. I remember thinking, the body is drastically less “certain” of its sex, than the mind is of its gender. It needs a literally constant hormonal reminder via the pituitary/gonad loop, to tell it which genes to express, otherwise it quickly reverts to androgyny. Humans just aren’t THAT sexually dimorphic.

      Once you see such dramatic changes in yourself, it’s impossible to see people the same way ever again.

  7. My partner and I watched the programme, found it fascinating and failed to see any comparison with the trans-gendered; perhaps the writer of this article is looking for things that aren’t there to make a scene. The doll thing is just a paraphernalia based fetish similar to transvestism but perhaps a bit more extreme. I suggest that most people understand the distinction between transvestism and trans-genderism.

  8. Helen Belcher 9 Jan 2014, 1:22pm

    Oh dear – so much misunderstanding. Firstly I think Channel 4 could have done this completely differently and moved away from the “freakshow” documentary element. It fell into the stereotypical way trans people are covered.

    The part I took out, because the piece was already too long, was about labels. I have a remarkably wide definition of “trans” – if I have one at all, that is. I don’t care for arguments about who is and who isn’t trans. The folk in the documentary were exhibiting, to my mind, one of the aspects of being trans. Does that mean they were trans? Who knows – because who knows what trans actually is!

    But the central point is that most folk watching would not be able to distinguish between those presented and, say, transitioned transsexual people – and there was no context given. Coverage like this does cause problems for trans people.

    Should Channel 4 have given coverage to “dolls” – I have no problem with that at all. My problem is with the way it was done.

    1. BlokeToys 9 Jan 2014, 1:41pm

      “It fell into the stereotypical way trans people are covered”

      But it wasn’t about trans people, it was about a sexual fetishistic enjoyment of wearing latex suits to appear strangely feminine.

      I think what the readers here are saying is that you are associating hairbrushes and hedgehogs, because they’re both spiky. People can generally tell the difference, so to suggest that it increases stigma or misunderstanding of trans issues is a little simplistic.

      Although I didn’t watch the show, I would be more inclined to suggest that they failed in discussing male sexuality in general and the diverse nature of sexual enjoyment. It’s an assumption, but it’s a complaint I often have whenever I see one of these titillating shows where they never really explore the sexual attitudes of others beyond pointing and laughing.

    2. Benjamin Cohen 9 Jan 2014, 1:45pm

      I would have liked to know a bit more about why the guys did it, when they realised they wanted to be dolls etc. I’d have also liked to know how they discovered the concept at all. In addition, another question left unanswered was how and why did the family featured invent the FemeSkin. That would have been really interesting…

    3. if all these people don’t seem understand you perhaps you’re not a very good writer I thought the point of writing was to explain something to people and have them understand what you are trying to say. this just comes across as a rant and telling people what you don’t like and where they went wrong, what good does that do anyone? I have been post op for 20 years now and I can honestlt say I much prefer to see the younger generation who have a can do approach like Fox and Lweis off of my transsexual summer who now make films themselves, than hear bitter rants like this

  9. Infected Genes 9 Jan 2014, 1:58pm

    Of course the show wasn’t about Transsexuals what are you idiots? Do you really think that’s what is being said here? No its about the simple fact that a lot of people cannot see the difference between these people and Trans people and the show set terrible precedents on the nature and attitudes of Trans people.

    If you didn’t know the difference between the two than you would assume that all transsexuals are people who like to dress up as the opposite sex for fun and amusement and to be different yeah that isn’t damaging one bit. A lot of what people in this show said will be taken by the common populace as being the views of the Transgender community and that is dangerous especially considering a lot of them were fine with friends family and even strangers feeling their breasts to see if they are real, you do realise that, that already happens to many Trans people without their consent and if people see people that they view as being no different to Trans people being ok with it they’ll assume they’re all ok with it.

    Now I have no problem with the people in this show they are free to act as they wish I mean some of them may well be Trans but not realised it yet considering that, that is quite common in the drag community I wouldn’t be surprised, but just like the drag community they are playing along a very thin line between harmless fun and being insulting I can’t tell you the amount of people I’ve spoken to who have gone into depressive spirals over a drag-queen that took it too far.

    However that’s not my problem with the show my main problem is that this is another example of channel 4 making freak shows out of people and actually hitting a double-whammy by making fun of two groups of people.

    Anything that doesn’t help a cause only damages it. Did this show help either the lives of these men or Transsexual people that Bigots are likely associate them with? No. Did it infact hinder their acceptance by society? Yes. That is litterally all that needs to be said here because seriously you must have a very…faithful…view of hummanity if you think they’ll be open minded enough to see the differences.

    1. Well said, facepalming at most of the other comments…

    2. I think it’s related to the way the human mind categorizes ‘stuff’.
      If the only bird you were aware of was a white swan, it would have its own class, and the bird class would be redundant. The appearance of a black swan would force you to recategorize what you knew. A pigeon, and so on.

      Sorry for the dodgy analogy, but the point I’m trying to make is that exposure is never ultimately a bad thing for a minority group, since it forces people to form more nuanced classifications. At least in the long run.

  10. Well it is channel4, even the news is over sensationalised.

  11. Thiss is an incredibly offensive article.

    The writer is speaking out for trans people yet casually throws out the word ‘freak- to describe a different subset of humanity.

    That’s appalling.

  12. Poppy Rose 9 Jan 2014, 2:57pm

    I am transgender and live 24 / 7 as a woman, to me dolls was just scary, it might have been different had these guys just gone for the body suit, but to wear a mask that did not do any woman justice is just plain wrong, but that said its their choice and they are free to dress as they like. Just not around me please.

    1. Al Robinson 9 Jan 2014, 7:35pm

      Poppy, I have to say I find your comment quite discriminatory, prejudiced and intolerant. To use the terms “just plain wrong” and to say “its their choice and they are free to dress as they like. Just not around me please.” is shocking.

      How would you feel as a trans person if someone said those things to you? How can you expect acceptance and tolerance to be the person you are if you cannot give that to others?

      “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi

  13. Mister Fister 9 Jan 2014, 3:55pm

    The programme was interesting and I found out about something of which I was completely unaware. Until I read this article I hadn’t associated the programme with trans issues and I still find it a stretch of the imagination to link these two very different subjects.

  14. Kevin Barnard 9 Jan 2014, 5:55pm

    Poor reporting from pink news. The show hand nothing to do with transgender nor did it even mention it at the time. No one appears to have made the link but them. Creating an issue where there is none.

  15. .....Paddyswurds 9 Jan 2014, 7:01pm

    It would be interesting to know the viewing figures for this piece of garbage. If there were more than a thousand viewers at any given minute of the “show” I would be greatly surprised. Just what was Ch4 thinking when buying such a waste of an hour. I’m betting the sponsors for the hour were non too pleased, and are probably looking their money back…… In a word …GROSS!

  16. The bit of the prog I saw was about a man in his 70s. I felt a major motivation for him to be a doll was to escape his own mortality and his declining sexual power as an older man.

  17. Mark in Halifax 9 Jan 2014, 11:11pm

    Yes, it was a bit of a freak show, but not for the reasons Helen Belcher sloppily talks about in her article. Helen love, there was nothing trans about it so stop banging that drum. It was purely a programme for people to watch slack-jawed, whilst pointing at men in hideous latex costumes. And before you start accusing me of any phobia, those masks were AWFUL! It’s my personal opinion and I’m entitled to it. That said, I think the programme probably achieved what it set out to do. Several people said they wanted to expose the hitherto secret world of dolls and I don’t really see how they could have done that in any other way. All but one of the members of the public who interacted with the dolls were astoundingly positive in their comments and I think it portrayed them in the best way it could. I may not like the look of them, but damn they have the right to wear these suits if they want to and more power to ’em!

  18. For what it is worth I have to agree with Helen on some level, having read her article I take it one of the participants allowed someone to squeeze their fake breasts, well if that is true, then this programme could very well have a negative effect on transsexual women trying to just get on with their lives (however difficult that may be given how transphobic society is/can be), as someone who has suffered at society’s hands I feel television has to tread very carefully, I could have qualified my point further but it would have been too traumatic to recall it in type on the internet. Transsexuals do not “throw the toys out of the pram” given the difficulties we face every day what with abuse, threats etc can’t we at least expect television executives to commission programmes which are respectful.

  19. The show had nothing to do with trans people at all. It was just men who like dressing up in female costumes. It had as much to do with trans people as men who like dressing up as Santa Claus. I also disagree that it was a freakshow. I’ll be honest and say to start with I thought they were a bit odd, but by the end I really felt for them and hoped they’d be able to live their lives as they wanted. That’s the sign of a good documentary. Surely anything that opens people’s minds up to new things has got to be good?

  20. Purity Vendetta 14 Jan 2014, 5:58am

    Another piece of sloppy writing by Belcher. I’m a transsexual woman and don’t feel that the people in this programme would ever be seen as relating to my transsexual gender status. Me thinks this says more about the mindset of Belcher and her rather uncomprehending Trans Media watch Allies. Lets face it if Belcher thinks that MTS ‘Broke the mould’ this shows how out of touch she really is. MTS was yet again another throw away marginally sympathetic freak show populated by specially chosen bigots, liars, fruit bats and the terminally naive.

    Look Helen, most of the better informed member of the trans* world are well aware that you and your friends are blatant self publicists who will start spouting rubbish at the drop of a hat. You do the more sane and lucid trans* people a grave disservice but hey ho their will always be someone who simply likes the sound of their own voice. Please don’t set yourself up as a trans spokesperson.

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