Butterfly

written by Tony Marchant and directed by Anthony Byrne

A prime time television drama about a transgender eleven year old – oh my goodness! Butterfly did not disappoint. It made me work, but girl did it ever connect!

We meet Max, who feels she is Maxine. Her Mum and Dad are at loggerheads, at least in part provoked by their response, especially his, to Maxine. Her sister seems to get Maxine more than anyone, telling Max most wonderfully that she sees her as her sister. The family have known about Maxine for several years but have tried to contain this to the home. Moving to a senior school and the onset of puberty are triggers that magnify Maxine’s dysphoria painfully.


I didn’t expect to find the series as powerful as I did, at many points in episode one I found myself suddenly crying, with no warning. The portrayal of this eleven year old who in some ways can say and be who they are and in others is stuck in others’ lack of understanding to a point almost untenable was powerfully recognisable to me. Her passive sufferance of reactions she’d already correctly predicted. The acting to show this throughout was excellent. 


In episode two her parents and Maxine attend a gender clinic. The series was advised on by Mermaids (who work in the UK for Transgender children) and may have been influenced by the experiences of its founder and her daughter (perhaps there was a reference to her). The dynamic of the family was complex and the nature of the contact with the gender service seemed to miss elements I’d have expected. For example that we did not see much explanation of dysphoria or understanding of their situation, nor did we see her sister give any input to the assessment and Maxine seems to struggle to tell her story and there is concern about the influence of her parents’ relationship. Confusion seems to breed confusion and so stress for them all with a huge consequence.

I didn’t connect as emotionally to this episode. Such experiences were not possible in my childhood. Perhaps the complexity of the story also meant much had to be told in shorthand, as headline. I missed further exploration and wondered at being manipulated for dramatic affect. I also wanted to hear more from Maxine. However by the end of the series I wondered if in fact that fast-paced whirl functioned very effectively to show the stresses they were all under. It showed pressures on parental identities and priorities. It suggested to me how imponderable gender confusion can seem to those unaffected by it and how that in turn may confuse things. Perhaps it conveyed disorientation with disorientation sharing a touch of that somehow.

In episode three we get some resolutions, but not before a lot of challenge. Again some shorthand, but there were several most moving scenes of greater depth. We do get to hear from Maxine –  with a maturity that conveyed her situation that it occurs to me may still be developing for some of us that have not had the opportunity to address these issues in childhood.

After episode one I realised this was a television programme, in some ways, about myself – but which has never been possible previously. Only seeing this achievement connected me to this lack. It was just impossible before, a fundamental fact of life, and me curiously unaware of such  lack despite my keen interest in both transgender issues and writing. I hope it may show others they are understood. Surely its a step forward that may help spread understanding. Some may suggest this story is now told, enough of that sort of thing. I hope it is only a beginning. There are so many different trans stories, and as with all people, each is unique. And worthwhile. I learned last summer that there are more trans people in the UK than Jewish people. I hope not to be at all antisemitic, whilst sceptical of some actions of Israel. I learned this fact from a self identifying Jewish journalist offering it on television. Its another thing I was unaware of, despite my interest, but of course thanks to the lack of figures on the subject and huge caution with which any percentage was pondered on. But how has that been for an act of repression of a minority that of course in much of my life only had, at best, a laughable status in our culture, disconnected from each other and themselves. Go Maxine, go, every one of you.


K. H-H / A. H (November 2018(?) & 9 March 2019)

I wrote this after the series, but it wasn’t published where I sent it. I’ve amended it slightly. A lot more could be said but I’ve kept it brief and I hope spoiler free(ish). It could be a lot more detailed, the original draft was, but got edited to a prospective word limit, which may have taken the heart out of it. Oh ‘writing’ compared to simply writing, I do think there is something that the structures of business does to actual expression, thinking and creation, but then I am sure that was apparent even before Adorno — and just yesterday I hear da sound bite about how netflix algorithms are fed back to creators to change their films to fit the demands of such — I believe William Blake might be turning in his grave, The Machine.

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