At one point during BBC2’s upcoming comedy Boy Meets Girl, Rebecca Root’s Judy is on a date and telling potential new squeeze Leo (Harry Hepple) what it was like being born transgender.
“It’s like being born in prison, never having a release date,” Judy says during a dinner that could have been incredibly awkward and ended – like most of the character’s previous dates – in disaster.
Fortunately for Judy and for viewers of this charming new comedy, the date goes swimmingly and Leo thinks he may have found “the one”. Judy is delighted that at last a romantic encounter hasn’t been spoiled by her admission that “I was born with a penis” in the first of many tender and heartwarming scenes in the comedy written by Elliott Kerrigan.
But for Root, it was that line about prisons that resonated the most with her personally.
“It wasn’t my line; it’s Elliott’s line. But the fact is it resonated with me. When you’re trans, it feels like you are being born in prison. I don’t know if it still happens, but it used to happen that a pregnant inmate would give birth and the baby would be born in prison, and it’s not the child’s fault. I don’t know what happens now…
“It’s that idea, that notion of being somewhere which is not your fault. You’re born somewhere, and it’s not your fault you’re born in prison, it’s not your fault your mum’s in prison for something, but it’s something imposed on you and that’s the thing with being trans – you feel like you’ve been given a prison sentence for something you didn’t do, from the off, from birth.”
Root – who changed her name by deed poll from Graham after she transitioned in adulthood – was around five when she had the first inkling about who she was.
“I think most of us will say that they realise from a fairly early age, and it’s usually around four or five. For me, I’d say about five. I remember I always knew that there was something wrong, y’know. And you can’t articulate that as a toddler, you can’t say, you just get a sense of something not right. So you spend your life trying to live with that.”
She has experienced her fair share of cat calling and abuse over the years – and has been beaten up once. In the comedy, Leo’s family – especially his wisecracking brother James (Jonny Dixon, below right) – are the ones who have to grow to accept his new girlfriend. But she is hopeful that “in the next couple of years”, bigotry will no longer be an issue.
“Now we’re being taken seriously as part of the fabric of society – and about bloody time, too,” she says referring to US shows such as Transparent and the outpourings of support for Caitlyn Jenner, the ex-Olympic athlete formerly known as Bruce.
“Certainly in the entertainment industry, we’re always on the look out for something new, something different, and I think that’s what has happened. People are sort of saying ‘oh I wonder what’s next, what can we next write about, what’s next going to draw in a new audience or have a fresh approach to comedy or drama’.
“And it’s like 25, 30 years ago with the gay experience for people like Michael Cashman in EastEnders and the Anna Friel kiss in Brookside – sexual orientation had its moment, ethnic minorities had their moment. And when you see someone of BAME background in a soap or a drama nobody says ‘oh look at that Indian person, why is there an Indian person in that show’. They’re just a person.
“Similarly with sexual orientation, nobody now makes a thing about ‘why is that person gay, there must be a reason why that person’s gay’. No, they just happen to be gay. Big deal. And I think now, we are finding that with the trans experience and yes, ok, Boy Meets Girl has strong trans themes, of course it does because of the nature of where it came from. But it’s a love story as well at its heart.”
Boy Meets Girl begins on BBC2 on Thursday September 3rd at 9.30pm
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years writing for Stage newspaper, Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times, The Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.