Landmark transgender documentary series A Change Of Sex comes to BBC iPlayer
The ground-breaking five-part series followed Julia Grant’s transition, and was broadcast between 1979 and 1999
"I’m delighted that the BBC, who boldly allowed me to follow her story over so many years, is now making all the films available" — David Pearson
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A five-part BBC series which followed the late transgender activist Julia Grant, who died in 2019, before, during and after her transition returns to the BBC on iPlayer today.
A Change of Sex, directed by David Pearson, was the first mainstream television documentary in the UK to tell the story of a person transitioning. It provides a startling insight into what life was like for trans people in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s: from seeking support from gender identity clinics, the violence faced by trans people, legal and medical difficulties in changing your gender, and the wider attitudes of society at the time.
Each of the five parts, broadcast on the BBC between 1979 and 1999, focuses on a key part of Julia’s journey with a unique and intimate look into her life. The series begins following Julia before her transition as a 24-year-old working in catering. Originally watched by 9 million viewers, in this part Julia begins her first year living as a woman, required by NHS rules at the time before her doctor would consider supporting surgery.
The early episodes also feature a notorious series of confrontational consultations with a psychiatrist at the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic. The doctor’s hostile attitude and approach shocked audiences at the time, and won Julia a great deal of sympathy from viewers who wrote thousands of letters in support after the episodes were broadcast.
The viewers also sees Julia meeting her family as a woman for the first time, discussing legal challenges with her MP, finding out about the experiences of other trans people, and consulting for and undergoing surgery.
Following the initial three episodes, two further parts of the series were filmed many years later. The fourth episode, The Untold Story, finds Julia running a ceramics business in Chesterfield, reflecting on the years since her surgery. The series concludes with the fifth and final part, Julia Gets Her Man, which was broadcast 20 years after her journey was first shown on screen, and finds Julia having moved to Manchester with her partner and embarking on a new business.
David Pearson, the director of the series, says: “Julia was a remarkable person and made a big impression on those who met her or saw the films about her struggles to be the person she wanted to be. Funny, dramatic, surprising, and moving are all phrases that have been used by others to describe Julia’s unfolding story. She is seen by many as a pathfinder, and the films have acquired something of a mysterious cult following.
“Still, so many years later, I’m often asked how the films can be seen; by younger people who have heard others speak about them or by the original viewers who wanted to re-experience or refer to them. Parents with trans children, doctors, psychologists, and those interested in social history have all wanted to view them. Above all, the many viewers who found Julia’s courage and preparedness to take on bureaucracy and prejudice to live as she had identified herself, uplifting and inspirational. I’m delighted that the BBC, who boldly allowed me to follow her story over so many years, is now making all the films available.”
David and Julia stayed in touch and remained close friends long after the making of the documentary. He even helped her choose her name - Julia asked him for suggestions and, from the list David provided, she chose Julia Grant, as it had a good Scottish ring to it. They remained good friends until her death in 2019.
Sandra Gorel, editorial executive, BBC iPlayer, says: “A Change of Sex was a ground-breaking series about a transgender pioneer and icon, first shown at a time when nothing like it had ever appeared on mainstream TV before. Julia’s story captivated audiences when it was first broadcast, and it’s still incredibly powerful more than four decades later. I hope new audiences to the series will be as enthralled and moved by Julia as I was, and I’m delighted it’s now available on BBC iPlayer for people to discover.”
All five episodes will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer from 3 June.
The five parts in the A Change of Sex series are:
George: The Big Decision, first broadcast as an episode of Inside Story titled George on 25 June 1979, subsequently as part of the A Change of Sex series on 15 October 1980
Source BBC iPlayer
June 3, 2021 5:16am ET by BBC iPlayer