In Boy Meets Girl, the BBC has tried to make a trans romance but sanitised it beyond recognition

They shouldn't have shied away from grittier issues

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The Independent Online

“Here is your mission, should you decide to accept it: we would like you to create a side-splittingly funny romantic comedy with a transgender person as the central character.  As well as being hilarious, the storyline should help to educate the masses in transgender issues - and you need to do all of this while being careful not to offend the notoriously touchy trans community.  Oh, and it needs to be suitable for a 9pm BBC2 weekday audience. Good luck out there!”

Sounds like an impossible mission to me, but writer Elliott Kerrigan and his chums at Tiger Aspect have done their best to fulfil these criteria in the new Newcastle-based sitcom, Boy Meets Girl, the first episode of which hit our screens last night.  On the face of it, it’s a typical er, boy meets girl story as Leo falls for Judy.  However, there are two obvious elephants in the room: she’s nearly the same age as his mother, and, it also turns out, she’s a trans woman. The rest of the story is about how everyone else deals with this novel situation, including Leo, who deals with both elephants with remarkable nonchalance.

It would be unfair to compare the BBC’s first foray into transgender drama to recent American trans-coms like Transparent, which is just so different.  There’s something a bit 1970s British comedy about Boy Meets Girl.  I applaud the BBC for being brave enough to commission something like this and I’m sure the transgender community will welcome the positive publicity and general awareness it lends trans people everywhere – but I’m not sure it works as a straight-up romance story. In trying to satisfy a long set of criteria and shying away from anything that could be deemed offensive, the comedy suffers. A bit more daring could have ultimately done a lot more good.

I recently interviewed Rebecca Root, the actor who plays the trans character, Judy. “More and more trans performers are coming through nowadays so it's terrific that we are finally getting to play decent trans roles,” she told me. “That said, it's also empowering to our community that trans actors can play cisgender roles, as I did recently in ‘The Danish Girl’ and ‘Hollyoaks’.”

There are many warm and relatable characters in Boy Meets Girl, as well as some killer lines (Judy’s mum Peggy, played by Janine Duvitski, plays it straight when she candidly tells Judy, “It took me years of sleeping around before I met your dad!” on the subject of finding Mr Right.) The relationships between characters mean that this series is a grower, so following the next few episodes is well worth the effort.

My honest feelings, however, are that success depends upon whether the non-trans viewing public takes to this sometimes oversensitive rom com. Props to the BBC for tackling the subject matter, but one that spoke more openly to trans people may well have attracted a larger audience. What the transgender community really needs from television right now is a gritty representation of the diversity of trans existence; something that’s not billed as a comedy and feels no need to present itself as such. I liked Boy Meets Girl – but a transgender version of Queer as Folk? That I’d love.

 

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