Words: Brittany O’Neill
Images: Channel 4
Channel 4’s Genderquake series, described as a ‘non-binary answer to Big Brother’ placed eleven people of a range of sexualities and gender identities, who variously identify as cisgender, non-binary, genderqueer, intersex, and trans, in a house in Sussex to live together for a week. As the series progressed, the housemates shared their life stories.
Although the idea for the programme was greeted with suspicion by some, by the end, most were won over, with even the Daily Mail describing it as casting ‘fascinating new light on the sex and gender debate’.
However, a live Genderquake debate, broadcast by Channel 4 and featuring Munroe Bergdorf, Caitlyn Jenner and Germaine Greer among others, was less successful, descending into transphobic heckling from the live audience.
What lessons can we take away from Genderquake?
- Some people don’t choose to change gender – yes, it can happen to your body naturally. Housemate Brooke, aged 24, was born a boy but began developing female characteristics in her early secondary school years. At the age of 13, whilst attending an all boys’ school, she began to grow boobs – sadly, she was also targeted as a victim of bullying. Eventually, she was diagnosed with Klinefelter Syndrome, which meant that she was born with an extra X chromosome, affecting the early stages of her puberty.
- People’s views often change once they educate themselves on the LGBT community. 21-year-old Tom expressed his views confidently; “There’s male and there’s female, you’ve got a penis or you’ve got a vagina”. Although Tom had never encountered a transsexual before, he was quick to make judgments. After spending many hours in a detached Sussex household, exchanging life stories with numerous different genders, he later admitted, “I have learnt more in the last six or seven hours than I have in my whole life. It’s f***ing crazy!”
- Gender non-binary people DO exist! For those of you that aren’t aware (there seems to be a lot), people that identify themselves as non-binary do not consider themselves as exclusively feminine or masculine. One may feel just as much male as they do female (yes, you can be both). Genderquake housemates enjoy a pint in the local pub, when a man told Saffron that being trans has “all become quite fashionable, it’s nothing more than that.” Saffron later fearlessly bites back in frustration, “Those people who says that we don’t exist, I’m right f***ing here”.
- Some transsexuals simply want to exist as their current gender after they have been through surgical change, instead of continuously feeling pressured to inform lovers and acquaintances of their biological sex at birth. The ‘Big Brother’ style, two-part documentary leaves the ending of episode one on a cliff-hanger, as Romario was confronted by his housemate Markus, who questioned his gender identity. The scene felt uncomfortable when housemates noticed Romario’s surgical scars, when he arose from the sea after a quick swim.
- Reality TV still has a long way to go after Channel 4 used cheap, shock tactics such as a Jacuzzi evening shared by housemates, alcohol consumption and what seemed like a deliberate trip to the beach; the camera zooming in to highlight emphasis on the participants trans bodies.
Genderquake: the housemates
Brooke, 24, who has Klinefelter syndrome, which means she has an extra X chromosome, was born a boy, but she began growing breasts and developing female characteristics when she was 13.
Cambell, a 22-year-old trans woman who has undergone hormone treatment since she was 16 and has recently completed gender reassignment surgery.
Marcus, 32, a gay man from Milton Keynes, who likes to wear make-up
Phoenix, a “freaky alien child” who identifies as 70% female
Tom, a straight man from Barnsley with uncompromisingly traditional views.
Saffron, 21, identifies as non-binary, and prefers the pronoun “they” over “he” or “she”.
Charlie, 19, was assigned male at birth, but identifies as a woman. However, she only started transitioning after her stint in the “Genderquake” house.
Dan, 21, is a cisgender heterosexual guy from Barnsley — meaning he’s straight, and defines himself by the gender he was assigned at birth.
Phoenix, 22, who was born a boy but says he’s “70% female”
Romario, a 30-year-old from Birmingham with conservative views on gender, confused his housemates on a seaside day out in Brighton after they saw he had top surgery scars.
Filomena, 27, a single straight woman from Dublin.