Abigail Austen on her Trans American Road Trip: “fighting transphobia is now as big as the original battle for civil rights”

The first British Army officer to complete gender reassignment surgery from male to female turns her attention to the USA in a new Channel 4 documentary


With under a week to go before one of the most headline-grabbing US Presidential elections in history, Channel 4 tonight turns its attention to the current state of transgender rights in the country – and its future under a possible Donald Trump presidency.


My Trans American Road Trip, 10pm, follows Abigail Austen – who was the first British Army officer to complete gender reassignment surgery from male to female – as she travels to North Carolina and investigates the state’s controversial bathroom bill. The legislation dictates that one can only use the public toilet prescribed to the gender of one’s birth and has caused uproar for its infringement on civil liberties for transgender people. The film is eye-opening – revealing institutionalised prejudices against the trans community that are unsettling to observe.

“It was a challenging programme to make – personally, professionally and morally,” says Abigail. “It was very difficult to listen respectfully to some points of view – for legal reasons, we could only show the family-friendly version of what was said. I got the law changed in Britain for trans servicepeople, and I’m proud of my service in the US as well. Experiencing ingrained discrimination in a country that I love – I just thought ‘What the heck is happening? I thought we were doing okay – I thought things had started to change.”


“I think fighting transphobia is now as big a battle as the original battle for civil rights in the Sixties,” she adds. “It goes to the heart of what it means to be an American – okay, there are no marches in the streets but the bathroom bill is excluding everyday Americans from basic human rights. Gender, race, disability, and gay rights are all issues that have made such progress, but what’s left are transgender people. You only tend to hear the good news lately, but things aren’t wonderful for the trans community. I’m in a privileged position of living freely as my true self, but I still get regular phone calls and letters from people who say ‘Help, I don’t know what to do.’”

Abigail says she hopes the film serves as a warning about the future.

“North Carolina is not alone – there are 22 other states in which the bathroom bill was only defeated at the last minute, and 11 more who have tabled the issue until after the election. I hope this film is a document about a country at a turning point. It’s so important to me, because it affects me; I’ve got skin in the game. Hate breeds nothing but discord – if you can’t get on board with us, at least try to manage acceptance.”


My Trans American Road Trip airs tonight at 10pm on Channel 4