I’m Charlie Craggs, the author of To My Trans Sisters – an anthology of essays written by trailblazing trans women – the campaigner behind Nail Transphobia – a pop-up nail salon offering the public a chance to sit down and have a chat with a trans person over a free mani – and now the presenter of BBC3’s Transitioning Teens.
This documentary was the biggest project of my career so far. But since it came out, I’ve struggled to promote it or even talk about it because I have felt completely floored by the transphobia in British media. Some days I have struggled to get out of bed, let alone work.
Transitioning Teens follows me as I travel around the country meeting the trans teenagers at the heart of the current media debate, constantly talked about but never talked to. All their stories are different but linked by the fact they have all been waiting years for a first appointment at an NHS gender identity clinic.
In England, in some cases, people wait more than three years for a first gender identity clinic appointment to discuss transitioning. My documentary sheds light on what these young people are having to resort to while on the excruciating waiting list – things like buying hormones online and starting to transition themselves.
Seeing the desperation of these young people really hit home. I was in their shoes just eight years ago. The first person I met, a 19-year-old student called Jess, had been on the waiting list for a first appointment at the gender identity clinic for two years at the time of filming. After catching up with her recently I found out she is still waiting today, almost a year later.
Jess told me that she would "rather disappear off the Earth" than wait to transition. As a result, she started buying herself hormones without the supervision of a doctor because she couldn’t bear the wait. Nobody should be managing their own transition like that at 19.
I’d often cry after meeting the young people in my documentary because how they’re being treated, and how I was treated, is just so wrong. It’s also just unnecessary; it doesn’t have to be this way. Their stories will always stay with me.
I also met Alex, a young trans man whose family has paid thousands and thousands of pounds for private healthcare because of the struggle to access NHS services. All I could do was watch when his mum burst into tears while we filmed.
Alex is 18 but he was 17 when we were filming. Like Jess, he had spent more than two years on the waiting list before he and his mum Kerry went private. When I met him, he was six weeks into taking testosterone. His mum told me that it was costing more than £100 a month. She couldn’t really afford it and was cutting her spending elsewhere but she would rather go without herself than risk her son ordering hormones online.
"Thinking about finding the money [to stay private] for the next few years isn’t something I can dwell on, because it won’t help me, and I won’t be able to help Alex, but I feel like I’m failing my child," she told me.
Alex was advised to stop taking hormones because NHS protocol is to offer psychological help and sometimes puberty blockers – drugs that stop the onset of puberty – for teens under 16. At 17, because Alex had not taken blockers and gone straight onto hormones privately, he was told he would have to wait until he was over 18 to be seen by the NHS’s adult gender identity service.
Since my documentary came out, I've struggled to promote it or even talk about it because I have felt completely floored by the transphobia in British media. Some days I have struggled to get out of bed, let alone work.
Suicide and attempted suicide rates are really high in my community. Almost 48% of young trans people have attempted suicide. I myself felt suicidal at the start of my own transition; I can’t imagine feeling worse than I felt at my lowest and attempting suicide. If waiting years for medical help, on top of all the other hurdles we face as trans people, wasn’t hard enough, being "debated" on a weekly basis in the mainstream media and on Twitter makes life close to unbearable. Where is the compassion, especially for these young people who are suffering?
I was so grateful to be given the opportunity to tell my story, and the stories of the young people I met, to such a mainstream audience and to be able to take control of the way our stories were told. But shortly after my programme came out, the BBC ran what I can only describe as a hit piece on my community. The article was headlined "We’re being pressured into sex by some trans women" and depicted trans women as sexual predators in a way that felt very reminiscent of how gay people were talked about in the media in recent decades. It was straight-up fearmongering.
Articles like this have real-life consequences for the lives of trans women like me, especially when they’re published by sources which carry as much reach and respect as the BBC does around the world. We know that there has been a surge in transphobic hate crimes across the UK in recent years – the number of reports has quadrupled over the past five years, coincidentally around the time this "debate" started in the media.
Globally, 2021 was the deadliest year for transgender people since records began. Three hundred and seventy-five transgender people were murdered. That’s the highest number ever reported.
The amount of transphobia we’ve seen in the British media recently has taken a massive toll on my mental health, so much so that after pouring my heart and soul (and a year of my life) into my documentary, I didn’t have any fight left in me to promote it. I spent the month after it came out in bed, trying to build my strength back up only for it to be knocked back down when this latest hit piece by the BBC came out.
The most shocking part of the article to me was that the BBC chose to include the opinions of Lily Cade, who has made extremely transphobic remarks on her personal website (which is now down), including calling trans women "evil pedophiles" and saying: "If you left it up to me, I’d execute every last one of them personally." The BBC subsequently had to remove all references to her from the piece.
How was it allowed to happen? In a letter addressed to BBC Director-General Tim Davie and posted on social media, Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle detailed how MPs had asked if proper journalistic processes were followed when the BBC published the article. Russell-Moyle also wrote that Davie was asked whether he believed the piece to be balanced – which he said he did – and why there were no trans voices included in the report if the BBC is so committed to impartiality. It’s a good question but it’s not the only one I have.
Just as I was getting over that article I saw that the BBC had pulled out of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Programme and Workplace Equality Index. Why? It wants to remain "impartial" on the topic of trans rights, according to Davie.
It feels like blow after blow. Labour MP Nadia Whittome summed up my feelings perfectly when she shared the Desmond Tutu quote: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." How can Britain’s public broadcaster be "impartial" on trans rights which, whether you like it or not, are human rights? Deeper than that, how can Davie call the stance he’s been taking "impartial"?
This has been a really hard couple of months for me, as a BBC presenter and as a trans person. Before I was a TV presenter, I was an activist; this week actually marks eight years of Nail Transphobia. Reflecting on the last eight years I’m honestly shocked at everything I’ve achieved – as a council estate girl I never thought I’d be a BBC presenter – but honestly, I’m more shocked that in a lot of ways things are worse for trans people now than they were when I started campaigning.
From the attacks in the media to the attacks in the street, as we mark the highest number of trans murders on record this Saturday for Trans Day of Remembrance, I ask: when will things change?