I am very excited to be chatting with Fox Fisher. You may remember Fox from Channel 4’s 2011 hit My Transsexual Summer (MTS).
Since then Fox has gone on to co-found with Lewis Hancox, My Genderation, an innovative film project aiming to document the experiences and perspectives of gender variances.
Fox is a very active member of the LGBT community and campaigns for transgender equality. Fox was the co-chair for Transpride 2014, organised a screening of some of his short My Genderation documentary films and also did the design work for the event. He is also Ambassador for All About Trans, working closely with the mainstream media to give a ‘human reference point’ of what it’s like to be trans.
Can you tell us how you found appearing on Channel 4’s 2011 hit show and how it has influenced your life and work to date?
The media has been extremely unfair to trans* individuals in the past. In very early 2011, I was contacted by 20/20 productions, who were developing a documentary, which later became something very different- My Transsexual Summer. They found most of us via our YouTube vlogs that we were making about our own transitions.
I was sold the opportunity to tell my story in a sympathetic light, on national television. I felt the production company were blinded with their set narratives. They missed an opportunity to see the day-to-day struggles, personal milestones and what it means to be a man, to be male. I was extremely upset with the final edit as it was clear they had pretty much cut me out of dialogue. This had a damaging effect on me as I was at a critical part of my early transition during the 8 months I was being filmed.
The most involvement I had with the production company was when they filmed my day-to-day life in Brighton, where I living as Artist-in-Residence at the Artist Residence Hotel. They decided my narrative was my art, which they eventually dropped. I found this incredibly frustrating, as I felt I’d compromised myself a lot for them and added unnecessary stress to what was undoubtedly the strangest time of my life.
I started hormones around the same time they were filming, after a false start with un-prescribed & black market testosterone. I felt that the production company really missed an opportunity, firstly to educate people about the dangers of taking hormones from the black market and secondly, documenting the progress and effects of testosterone.
Even though Lewis and I both wanted top surgery and I was so desperate for it, we really wanted to do a joint-fundraiser. However, the production company told us ‘no’. They felt that Lewis’ story was his top surgery, not mine. So instead they chose to film me dragging my portfolio around town, pimping my art and getting mis-gendered by gallery owners.
They also filmed my first ever solo-show and they even made my guests wait in the back garden in the rain while they filmed a faked ‘end of private view’ round-up. During that time I really opened up to the cameras, taking time off from doing my own work and getting very anxious about filming, which was ultimately all in vain.
What upset me the most was what little control I had over how I was portrayed but I still don’t regret taking part, although there have been consequences to putting myself into the public eye, without a proper context.
The truth is always much more interesting than fabricated ‘reality show’ themes and narratives. I poured my heart out to the cameras over many months of filming and visits to my art studio/living space.
When I was artist-in-residence I was told (on the day of the airing of the first episode!) that ‘my story’ had been cut, it had a very damaging effect on my already diminished confidence. I had been quite reserved while at the Retreat (on MTS) and the intimate one-on-one interviews of my life in Brighton would have shed more light on my journey and past.
However, I have to say that overall, MTS has had a very positive effect with raising awareness and starting a dialogue with the nation about trans issues in general. Taking part in My Transsexual Summer has meant that all my social networks have exploded with warm fuzzy messages from strangers and old friends. There have been nasty things said online, if you bothered to search for it!
The show has been sold to Australia (twice) and has also aired in other countries too. My life hasn’t been the same since. I did meet 6 other fascinating people and I’m still very proud to have taken part in such a large-budget, peak-time show.
It is my hope that My Transsexual Summer looks very outdated in the next few years, as the public becomes more savvy with all things trans. What is obvious is that a programme needs to be made about trans-people, which looks at the gender spectrum, with full respect.
Your My Genderation films are due to be aired on Channel 4 shortly. Can you tell us a little about My Genderation and how it came into being?
I was keen to help other trans people to tell their stories in most authentic and uplifting of ways. Lewis (from MTS) and I started My Generation- an independent documentary film series exploring gender variance, because we felt we could tell these stories more engagingly. We have intimate access to gender warriors who trust us to represent them fairly and with dignity. We both knew it was a big responsibility to film with accuracy & sensitivity. I also loved documenting this pivotal moment in time, and now we are part of the momentum, post ‘tipping point’.
This was because of my negative experience with some of the MTS production crew and other gatekeepers. Who managed to re-frame our stories and situations, editing as they were going along, yet only sharing the edits sometimes only hours before broadcast. I would never want anyone to experience the same betrayal of trust I felt, on such a national level.
MTS was a documentary about trans* people, made by cis people, for other cis people. My Genderation is a documentary series made by trans* people about trans* people for a much wider audience. Much better!
Lewis and I both funded everything ourselves, we each have very similar kit including Canon cameras (with a 30mm and a 50mm fixed lens), a H4N Zoom and Rode Mic (industry standard audio recording) and a tripod. After winning the Adobe T-shirt Design Competition in late 2012, I won £5000, which couldn’t have come at a better time.
I was able to pay off my overdraft, bought a camera, audio equipment, and a couple of lights. I am entirely self-taught and you can see how our filming and editing skills have improved over the past few years. I can’t seem to stop filming people, and we have a growing list of people who are happy to put themselves in the public eye, and be part of My Genderation.
What response has My Genderation received from the general public?
We have had such a positive response from those who have viewed or taken part in the My Generation ongoing project. Right from the beginning (3 years ago) our films have been shown in schools, universities, support groups, film festivals and in businesses as a teaching aid. We have inspired people to come out, connect with others, create their own films, and learn production skills.
We are so lucky, because we have the trust of the emerging trans community. People understand that they are not merely ‘subjects’ in the creation of their film, they are active contributors and have complete control. Together we have created something heart-felt, intimate, and authentic. It feels very exciting indeed.
What plans do you have for My Genderation in the next few years?
There are a few extremely exciting projects for 2015 and beyond. One involves a call-out for gender variant musicians and poets to contribute a track to a compilation album. Each track will also have an accompanying music video.
Any album or track downloads will go towards a few different trans support groups. This will be a huge project, with lots of skill-sharing and learning. Trans* youth will be trained to work on this project and it should be a win-win for everybody.
Also, we’ve started working with the Mighty Mermaids, which is a support group for trans* youth and their families. On the invite of Susie Green (Chair of Mermaids), we attended their last retreat and filmed a few of the young people there. Together, we plan on making a feature programme, focusing on an extended retreat and having trans* youth also involved with the production side.
Often, people approach us. For example, we were contacted by NHS Choices, a few days ago. They are keen to have some My Generation films embedded on their ‘trans’ section. The entire website receives 1.5 million hits a day, so that will be exciting for our films featuring fabulous inspirational people, to be part of that great resource.
You recently spoke at TEDx Brighton. That must have been an incredibly exciting and terrifying experience! How was it?
It’s important to do things that are scary, and speaking for 15 minutes to over 600 people, with a live YouTube feed, was pretty nerve wracking! It was an opportunity to speak to people who may have never knowingly met a trans person.
I really appreciated the platform to share my story. The edited version of this talk should be out very soon. I hope it’s not too cringey! There’s some fantastic Ted Talks out there by trans* people and it’s an honor to be part of that crew.
Finally, we love your design work. Where do you get inspiration for your work?
Thanks so much! My inspiration comes from all over the place. I love the Internet and its immediacy. I love crisp lines and classic styles as well as hand-drawn elements. Screen Printing is the best process for me; I find it grounding getting my hands dirty and being able to get away from the computer screen.
I’ve been designing for over 12 years now, so it’s become quite a natural process by now. It’s design intuition! I like working late at night, and giving myself the time and space to experiment. I love the phrase ‘practice safe design- use a concept.’ This is so true. Often, poor design stems from not seeing the bigger picture and often lacking some common sense.
Where can we find your prints and fabulous tees?
I have a huge amount of prints, which will probably only be discovered after I croak. I am good at making art, but terrible at selling it. An art agent would be fantastic.
Check out Brighton Transformed, which I contributed to and designed a few months ago. http://www.queensparkbooks.org.uk/book/119.html
I also created the Trans Pride Brighton merchandise: transpridebrighton.com
My Genderation Documentary Project: mygenderation.com
More than just non-fiction: luckytoothproductions.com
Personal site: foxfisher.com
All About Trans: allabouttrans.org.uk