Bridg­ing the gen­der di­vide

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Tv And Radio - by Barry Did­cock

Stripped of its pad­ding and re­duced to its prin­ci­pal theme, But­ter­fly is about the feel­ing some peo­ple have that they were born in the wrong body, a con­di­tion known as gen­der dyspho­ria. Specif­i­cally, it’s about the way it man­i­fests it­self in pre-pubescent chil­dren and the stresses it puts on them as a re­sult.

Dressed up as a three-part drama it be­came, in the hands of writer Tony Marchant, a sen­si­tive dis­cus­sion about that and about all the other things that in­ter­sect with it: par­ent­hood, child­hood, prej­u­dice, bi­ol­ogy, psy­chol­ogy, fam­ily, so­ci­ety and the qual­i­ties re­quired to of­fer un­con­di­tional love.

At the cen­tre of the dis­cus­sion is 11-year-old Max Duffy (new­comer Cal­lum Booth-Ford), who iden­ti­fies as a girl but is phys­i­cally male. As episode one opened we saw him ne­go­ti­at­ing the very dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ships he had with his mother, Vicky (Anna Friel);his father, Stephen (Em­mett J Scan­lan), now sep­a­rated from Vicky and liv­ing else­where as episode one opened; his teenage sis­ter, Lily (Mil­lie Gib­son); and, of course, with the wider world.

For Max it’s a place of con­fu­sion – does he use the girls’ toi­lets or the boys? – and of peril, where bul­lies and name-call­ers wait in school cor­ri­dors and play­grounds.

Stephen’s in­abil­ity to cope with Max’s de­sire to be a girl is what caused him to walk out on the fam­ily in the first place. He still thinks his son can be “fixed”. To ap­pease him, Max goes through the mo­tions by du­ti­fully kick­ing a foot­ball in the park.

Vicky is just try­ing to cope by es­tab­lish­ing rules: Max can dress as a girl and wear lip­stick but only in his room. Lily’s the one who fi­nally gets it and fronts up to both the bul­lies and the par­ents on Max’s be­half.

The script is based on metic­u­lous re­search and first-hand tes­ti­mony and Marchant has pulled out some sto­ries which clearly have wide res­o­nance, such as when Max at­tempts sui­cide.

But no two sto­ries, no two peo­ple and no two fam­i­lies are ex­actly the same. It’s a point made by a trans vlog­ger in a video Max watches on a lap­top, but it ap­plies equally well to the char­ac­ters Marchant cre­ates and the sit­u­a­tions he puts them in. So if some of them seem to strike a wrong note from time to time, you have to just ac­cept that ev­ery fam­ily is dif­fer­ent.

The other par­tic­i­pant in the dis­cus­sion, of course, is the viewer. Some will have per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of gen­der dyspho­ria or its con­se­quences, most will have an opin­ion about it and doubt­less some of those opin­ions will veer to­wards what you might call the Daily Mail end of the spec­trum. Noth­ing seems to di­vide opin­ion these days like the pre­fix “trans”.

But in But­ter­fly, Marchant has made a de­cent stab at show­ing how one di­vided fam­ily tries to re-unite around it.

Cal­lum Booth-Ford as Max who is in a place of con­fu­sion in But­ter­fly

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