Saturday 22 October 2016

The TV Guide: Another love story

Boy Meets Girl is a new BBC drama about a couple who fall in love, except that here, one of them is transgender, and played by a trans actor

Emily Hourican

Published 31/08/2015 | 02:30

Rebecca Root and Harry Hepple in Boy Meets Girl
Rebecca Root and Harry Hepple in Boy Meets Girl

Don't we all love a tipping point? We've had tipping points for flu, Aids, Prada handbags and corporate greed. And last year, according to Time Magazine, came the transgender tipping point, apparently reached when it put Emmy-award-winning trans actress Laverne Cox, who stars in Orange is the New Black, on its front cover.

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Since then, Caitlyn Jenner has completed a journey that began as Olympic gold medallist Bruce, broadly documented in I Am Cait, which began on the E! network in July, and now the BBC has cast a trans actor in a trans role, in its latest series, Boy Meets Girl.

The fashion industry was quick off the mark, of course, with models such as Geena Rocero, Lea T and Andreja Pejic blazing a trial on runways, in Vogue and in campaigns for Givenchy, Redken and Rimmel London, but until recently, TV and cinema were more likely to cast non-trans actors in trans roles, a kind of gender version of the old process of 'blacking up,' practised routinely until as late as the 1960s. Even now, Eddie Redmayne has been cast in The Danish Girl, a film about Lili Elbe, one of the first recipients of gender realignment surgery, rather than a trans actor.

And so, even though Boy Meets Girl isn't ground-breaking in terms of content - it's a sitcom, and one that goes gently at that, far more conventional than controversial - the casting of Rebecca Root as Judy, a woman who finds herself being chatted up by an eager young man one night in a bar, and to whom she must speedily say 'Leo, there's something I must tell you . . . ' feels like a watershed. Not least because Judy's realignment, from male to female, is the starting premise of the show rather than the be-all and end-all. As Rebecca Root says "Yes, there is this underlying current of Judy's background, but then at the same time it's irrelevant. It's just a love story. It's gorgeous." The series, she says, will "demystify my community, increase the visibility of the trans community," then adds "It's 2015 and we're only having this conversation now. But better late than never. It's a wonderful moment."

Boy Meets Girl was created by writer Elliott Kerrigan for The Trans Comedy Award, a competition organised by BBC Writersroom and the media education group All About Trans. Much of the comedy, and the sweetness, turns on the reaction of Leo, played by Harry Hepple (above right, with Root, above left) to Rebecca's bombshell - initially he's distracted by whether or not an actor from Towie might be sitting behind them; when he does take it in, he is endearingly accepting about it all (in fact, from the trailer there seems to be a hint of Joe E Brown to Jack Lemon at the end of Some Like It Hot: "Well, nobody's perfect") - and how the pair, navigate family and friends once they become a couple.

The series not only shows romance between the lead characters, but even a couple of sex scenes. This is brave, because for all that transgenderism might have reached a tipping point among celebrities, among the rest of the population there can still be a huge amount of mistrust and aggression. Rebecca recalls having stones thrown at her in public, and once being Tasered by a man in a park. Asked whether she worried about the extra attention that being in a prime-time show might bring, her response was "That shit happens to trans people all the time. It's just normal, everyday life."

On screen of course is where normal, everyday life often begins a process of change and acceptance. Where the public first gets to see and identify with characters who are complex, unusual, different in some way. Where viewers can slowly get to know people who aren't like themselves; grow to tolerate and like them and then, hopefully, expand this tolerance into actual life. That's the real tipping point.

Boy Meets Girl, BBC 2, Thursdays at 9.30pm

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