New documentary to retrace Britain’s forgotten trans history – how 12 trailblazers roadtripped for change in 1975
An untold story from Britain’s transgender history will form the basis for Inverness Or Bust, a new documentary by the trans-led, award-winning non-profit film project My Genderation.
Inverness Or Bust is a story about friendship, allyship and trans Pride in 1970s Britain, focusing on a roadtrip in 1975 that saw 12 friends travel to Scotland to visit a sympathetic doctor.
The group, who came from across the UK and travelled to Scotland in two cars, had been told that Dr Martin Whittet, then-head of the Craig Dunain Mental Hospital, was willing to try to provide healthcare for transgender people.
This was at a time in Britain’s history when stigma and discrimination against transgender people was at severe levels – and Whittet faced heavy opposition from within his own hospital for being open to treating trans patients.
Stephen Whittle, one of the group and later part of Press For Change, the trans activist group that helped bring in the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, said that Whittet was remarkable because he “treated us like ordinary people“.
How did you come across the story of Inverness Or Bust, and this group of people who went on a road trip to meet a doctor in Scotland in the 70s?
Fox Fisher: After I took part in a 2011 documentary called My Transsexual Summer, it opened a dialogue with the nation about transgender people. Millions of people watched the series and many reached out, and one of those people was Nemo, an older trans man (his name has been changed for privacy reasons).
After meeting him for the first time, it was clear that Nemo was incredibly isolated; he was living as stealth and his best friend Alice (aged 83), a trans woman, had just passed away, in his living room. We began meeting on a regular basis for lunch, and he would tell me the most incredible stories of coming out as trans aged 14.
Nemo told me about a horrible doctor that still haunts him today, and he also told me about a very kind medical professional, Dr Whittet, who was the head of an asylum in Inverness. His best friend Alice was who Dr Whittet originally made contact with, and she was one of the drivers on a special road trip to meet the doctor. A core group went from Manchester to Inverness.
It was a story that I felt was so powerful and really needed to be told, so I got in touch with the others, and from there we’ve been able to piece together the story.
Why do you think their story has never been told before?
They simply haven’t had the platform or ability to tell it. Back in the day there was such stigma and discrimination against transgender people, and the media was incredibly negative.
Even today the UK media is notoriously bad and most stories about transgender people are told by people who aren’t trans. The conversations are always focused on the alleged problems transgender people cause, as opposed to the actual stories of how transgender people have been treated or are being treated in UK society.
Many of them haven’t until recently felt able to tell this story, and we are so happy we get to be a part of this and help elevate their voices to give us some insight into trans history in the UK.
Why is it so important to tell this story now?
Trans people’s stories are so rarely told, especially in a historical context. Trans people have been around since forever, but we rarely hear their stories as often they have not been recorded or even destroyed and hidden.
The UK barely has any recorded trans history and we feel that this story is an important part of preserving that history before it’s too late to tell it, or it gets forgotten. Most of the people who went on this trip have either passed away or are in their late 70s and we feel such an obligation to give them the platform to tell this story, as we believe it’s a powerful way of showing people how trans people have been treated in UK society, and the challenges they faced.
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Who are the key people in the film?
The three key people at the moment are Carol, Nemo and Stephen and they all have different versions of the same story! Carol is just recovering from cancer. Nemo and Stephen haven’t seen each other for many years.
They were all a part of the original group of people, which was a much larger group back in the day. While the story is going to be about them taking the same trip they took back in the day while reminiscing about the past, a big part of the movie will be the people they meet along the way.
We aim for them to meet with young trans people across the UK, to create a cross-generational conversation about trans issues then and today, and the challenges that we still face. Even though we’ve come a long way, there are still many things we still have to fight for, and we believe this will give hope for the future and put things into perspective.
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What has your work with My Genderation taught you that you’ll be bringing to this project?
What makes My Genderation unique is that we are an entirely trans-led team, creating films about transgender people, for everyone. This might seem like a very basic thing, but most content about transgender people isn’t made by transgender people themselves, so the focus and the angle always becomes slightly different than if a trans person made it. Being trans gives us invaluable insight and experience into our lived realities, and we are able to draw more more depth and nuance out of people’s stories.
One of the greatest things we’ve learned along the way is that elevating people’s stories is so hugely rewarding and it allows the people we film to gain such confidence about themselves. People who trust you and know you’ll do their story justice are so much more at ease and the content created really allows people to see themselves authentically.
That level of authentic and real storytelling is what we will be using to help us create this film, and we are so committed to doing it justice and allowing different voices from diverse backgrounds to be a part of this film, to showcase the wealth of the trans community and what we stand for.
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If people can’t donate, how else can they help support you to make Inverness Or Bust?
If people can’t donate, they can share our fundraiser, tell their friends about it and generally spread the message out there, and why they think this film is so important.
What we really need is to get people as excited about this project as we are, so if you can spend a few minutes sharing and writing why you believe in this project, and encourage others to donate or do the same, then that’s going to make a huge difference.