Butterfly, ITV’s landmark new drama, stars Anna Friel and Emmett J Scanlan as the separated parents of a transgender child.
Written by Bafta-winner Tony Marchant (Garrow’s Law), the three-parter tells the story of two people who are fundamentally divided over how to support their youngest child, Max, who from a young age has identified as a girl.
Here, trans people and parents of trans children give their verdict on episode one of Butterfly…
The first transgender actor to appear on Emmerdale
“ITV’s Butterfly is a landmark story shown in a way that’s never been seen before. Growing up I remember hearing about Anna Friel’s groundbreaking lesbian character in Brookside and years later she’s breaking the mould again as the mother of her transgender daughter Maxine. Butterfly centres around an ordinary family dealing with the pressures of everyday life alongside the discovery that their 11-year-old child is trans.
“The story explodes in the first episode – recently separated Vicky and Stephen are on the verge of being confronted with a huge decision, one many parents can’t imagine facing.
“When I was a kid growing up there wasn’t any transgender representation anywhere, it wasn’t something spoken about in school and definitely wasn’t associated with an ordinary family on mainstream television. I’m now very fortunate to be an actor, playing Emmerdale’s first ever transgender character Matty Barton. Something my childhood dreams definitely couldn’t have imagined.”
Ash Palmisciano as Emmerdale’s Matty Barton
“It is of course unusual to be born transgender and yet it does happen to ordinary families just like the Duffys in Butterfly. Episode one echoes all opinions on this topic – you see the very real expectations of a son through Maxine’s dad and the never-satisfied grandma, Barbara, played by the fantastic Alison Steadman.
“It’s truthful, dark, heart-breaking, beautiful and a journey that even the viewer has no choice but to embark on. A story that connects with any loving parent who ultimately wants happiness for their child. I’m extremely excited for the world to begin to see a true insight into what it really takes for a child like Maxine and her family to embark on this journey.”
Anna Friel and Callum Booth-Ford in Butterfly
Transgender 16-year-old art student (writing under a pseudonym)
“To be honest at times watching Butterfly was hard for me. The depiction of Maxine’s early years was very close to home and reminded me of my own experience, trying to fit in but not fitting in, trying to please others, trying to please society but desperately wanting to be myself.
“It is really important to present young trans girls through a positive light in the media, so they are not alienated or fetishised, but seen as real people in real families. I hope Butterfly will continue to depict the human journey of trans young people and their families accurately and portray it to a much wider audience.
“The opportunity to see Butterfly not only as a great bit of TV but an advocate of trans and particularly trans children and young people is huge. My hope is that people will watch Butterfly because they are curious, but leave with some understanding of what the reality of being trans is.”
Anna Friel, Callum Booth-Ford, Emmett J Scanlan and Millie Gibson in Butterfly
Mother of a transgender child
“Butterfly addresses family reactions to a transgender child, like my son. He was my daughter until, aged 12, and after months of unexplained distress, he explained our mistake and his desperation to live true to himself. It took time for us to accept him as a boy, but once we did, he returned to the happy, optimistic child we know and love.
“Butterfly deals with some themes of transgender life that will be familiar to many in the trans community – well-meaning relatives presuming a child is making a cry for help because of their parents’ break up; those who think it’s a trendy fad that a child can be coerced out of, and the fact that the reactions of others can cause great misery.
“The latter rang particularly true for us. There is nothing intrinsically miserable about being trans, but it’s upsetting to constantly explain a non-negotiable part of your identity, justify your clothes, name and pronouns. Butterfly highlights this admirably – we will all learn from watching.”
Founder of My Genderation and advisor for All About Trans
“Trans people desperately lack authentic representation in the media, and Butterfly is one of the few fictional shows that manages to portray the struggles and lives of trans people in an authentic manner. In the current hostile media climate and rise in transphobia, hopefully this series will allow people to humanise the issue and look past the moral panic surrounding trans children.
“While it touches upon gender stereotypes to a certain degree in terms of activities and expression, it highlights just how differently society still views boys and girls. Butterfly shows us that people just don’t come out as a trans on a whim, and that is often a long, difficult process that is full of shame, secrecy and hardship. Parents of trans children often go through their own transition before they are able to come to terms with their child being trans, and it underlines the importance of supporting and loving your child no matter what.”
Co-director of My Genderation and advisor for All About Trans
“In a world overrun with documentaries about trans people and their lives, Butterfly starts a much needed discussion about trans children, that will hopefully blow away some of the misunderstandings and confusion about trans children.
“Butterfly is one of the first fictional TV shows that offers the viewers a realistic glimpse into the lives of a trans child and their family. It offers the viewers a chance to connect to a trans child, and allows them to empathise with their struggle. While it portrays the classic hesitant but ultimately more supportive mum and the opposing dad, it shows an authentic struggle that many parents of trans children go through. Parents that have trans children can testify that this is often very difficult for them, that it’s a lot more complicated than them sending their kids off to get hormones and surgery at the first sign of them not conforming to gender expectations.
“It tackles important topics such as the idea that trans children aren’t really trans, but just gay. It also shows a supportive family member that is accepting of their sibling no matter what, which is such an important and a positive way to show how easy it is to support your loved ones. Ultimately, it shows a young person that desperately wants to be themselves, something that every child should be able to do.”
This article was originally published in October 2018