Interview : Lewis Hancox

Interview : Lewis Hancox

Since starring in the Channel 4 series My Transsexual Summer in 2011 Lewis has pursued his ambitions in filmmaking. He directs, films, edits, writes and acts. He’s worked with Hollyoaks, Lucky Tooth Films, Channel 4 and All About Trans. He co-created the My Genderation film project with Fox Fisher – documentary films about the transgender community. He’s also an Ambassador for All About Trans, and the cover star of the Jan-Feb 2015 edition of our Network Buzz magazine.

What impact has appearing on My Transexual Summer had on your life?

It’s impacted my life in such a massive way, on many levels. One of the outcomes was I got to have my chest surgery because the NHS in my local town wouldn’t fund it. I set up some fundraising events and so many people all across the country donated and I managed to get it done.

Being a part of the show has really made my career what it is. I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker and I’ve always been creative but I didn’t have that platform and I think being on the show gave me that platform for people to look me up and watch the films that I make. It threw me in to the media. It’s had a massive impact on my life.

Before the first episode aired, me and my mum were a bit nervous at first. After saying yes to being a part of the show, just before the filming started I had second thoughts and almost backed out. All of my friends knew I was transgender and my family, but it’s not something I went around telling people as I just didn’t see it was that important, and I didn’t know how people would react I suppose. I was really nervous as I was thinking, ‘Is this going to change my life?’. I didn’t know how other people would see me. Would people see me in a different way? Was it going to ruin my life? Then, at the last minute I thought, ‘Let’s go for it’. How many chances like that do you get in life to try and change peoples opinions about transgender people and to help tackle the prejustices that are out there?

After the first episode aired I had such a positive reaction and I didn’t have a single negative comment, even from the people I may have expected this from in my little hometown of St Helens in the North West of England. People were saying, ‘Oh, it’s that lad off the telly, well done’. There was no transphobic comments so it was a big reassurance that things would be ok, and for me to give the public a bit more credit too.

I think a lot of people think being transgender is a bit of a taboo. A lot of people associate it with sexuality and sex and gender are something completely different, it’s not at all sexual.

Some people still have an attitude that children should not be exposed to transgender people. So to have the show on a mainstream channel on primetime was a massive step in showing people that it’s not a taboo subject. To get a mainstream audience watching it was great too. I’d like to think it had a big impact on the public and I know a lot of people stumbled across the programme, people that wouldn’t normally watch a programme like it. People got captured by it. Comments I’ve received from lots of people make me believe the show has supported change lots of peoples minds and help them understand that transgender people are real people and there’s not that much different about us.

I also met my girlfriend Sophie as a result of the show. She watched the show and before that, she didn’t even know transgender guys existed. There’s more trans women in the media, so lots of people don’t know it can happen the other way around. It was a real eye opener for my girlfriend, and now we’re together.

Do you keep in contact with anyone from the programme?

Fox and I have been making the ‘My Genderation’ documentaries together and we both live in Brighton so I see a lot of Fox. Drew, she was one of my best friends after the show and she’d come to St Helens every other weekend and we’d have loads of fun nights out. Our friendship has drifted a little bit as I’ve moved to Brighton and we’re at opposite ends of the country but we’ve still been keeping in touch on the phone. I see Sarah and Donna every now and again too. We’re all friends.

We tend to see transgender females being more visible in the promo material for trans events than transgender men

I think there definitely needs to be more trans men out there in the media. I don’t know why there is a lot more visibility in the media and at transgender events for trans women. I really want to be a part of that presence and to have a role in having more visibility for trans men.

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Talking about My Genderation

My Genderation is a series of short films that each focus on a different transgender and gender variant, people that don’t fit in to the boxes of male or female, from all over the country and of all ages. The films show the many different identities and that transitioning isn’t the same for everyone and to show that transgender people and gender variant people are just people and we all have different interests and aspirations. To be honest, instead of focussing on peoples struggles, we’ve tried to make the films positive so people that watch can see that those people that do transition can have a perfectly happy and successful life and relationships. We hope the films give people a positive image of transgender people and for people who are maybe thinking about transitioning, but are afraid to, maybe they could watch them and feel inspired to come out and be who they are. We felt that the people taking part in the films opened up to me and Fox more as we could relate to them and their experiences and we weren’t going to over sensationalise their story and focus just on surgery.

We’ve included a selection of the My Genderation videos, and some of Lewis’ solo work within this article.

Getting started in film making

I’ve done filmmaking ever since I was young and when I was little I was in to drawing cartoons and telling stories that way. Then, as I got a bit older, my dad bought me a camera and I realised I could tell all these stories through film. I took film and media studies at College too and I taught myself how to do most things. I went to University in London to study film and media but I haven’t yet completed my degree – it’s a long story. I’ve decided to put my degree on hold for now and just focus on the work I’m getting through and on my other projects. I think it’s good to have the qualification but at the same time I think the experience is kind of the most important thing, you can always teach yourself lots of things and just go out and do it.

Fox came to me with the idea about making films about different transgender people and we teamed up and worked on a project. We’ve both had lots of recognition from this which is great.

I still want to make films focussed on transgender people and experiences but I am trying to step away from that a little bit now and show people that there are other things I’m passionate about, like comedy and fiction. I’ll never drop the gender stuff completely but I do want people to see a different side to me and my films now.

Before I did ‘My Transexual Summer’ I wasn’t really a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) world and it was such a small part of my life. I still see it as small part of my life. I’m just a guy who was born differently. I came through something and now I’ve come out the other side. I don’t need to keep focussing on that.

The benefits of making the films is they help other people and that’s something that is so rewarding, but at the same time I need to start making some films for myself and be creative and express myself in different ways.

I’m an actor too and I’d love to be known for all of my skills, and then for the fact I’m transgender to be a bit of a side thing, it’s not really relevant but people know it. Then when people watch me, they’ll see they like my comedy or the work I do and me being transgender is a secondary thing. I’d like to normalise being transgender.

“I think there definitely needs to be more trans men out there in the media. I don’t know why there is a lot more visibility in the media and at transgender events for trans women.”

Let’s talk Hollyoaks

I worked on some of the backstage videos that were available to view on their website. I presented one of the videos too. The organisation ‘All About Trans’ set up these interactions that set up transgender people with people in the media. Through this I did the work with Hollyoaks. I also directed a second video. This was around myth busting and tackling different misconceptions about transgender people so that was great. I’d love to do some more work with them. I’m really proud of this work.

I’m also really proud of a broadcast me and Fox have coming out on Channel 4. We’ve produced 25 short films, each about three minutes long. Channel 4 have selected 11 of them that will be broadcast at some point in the near future in a 45 minute show with me and Fox presenting this. It also includes some content about our own experiences with our own families too. It’s all in the process of being finalised and we can’t wait for the official broadcast. I hope this all goes well and will be another platform to get lots more diverse work. I’m really excited.

“I’m just a guy who was born differently. I came through something and now I’ve come out the other side.”

Does the T sit comfortably within LGBT?

It’s a debate that’s been going on for quite a while. A lot of people don’t think they sit with each other, but lots of people do. Personally, I think the reason they sit so closely with each other is because many people go through the same struggles and there’s the whole coming out process, the risk of losing friends and family, fighting for equal rights. The similarities with the struggles is something a lot of people relate to and may have brought these together like we see now.

I think the LGB and the T are completely different and gender and sexuality are different. There are some crossovers with shared experiences but I think they’re separate. I think it’s good to have them grouped together in some instances though as it’s great to support each other. I think my views may come from the fact that most LGBT organisations and groups focus less on the ‘T’ and I never really saw much relevance, or interest, for me. I wouldn’t really involve myself as they were mainly focussed on sexuality. There are some positive changes happening now and I think people are giving more attention to transgender people and this is a great thing.

We’re seeing lots more transgender people in the media and on TV

There is more awareness now and trans people are in the mainstream more. Maybe what is happening now with transgender people is what happened with gay people 30 or so years ago with becoming more visible in the mainstream. So much has been done to get equal rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual people and an incredible amount of great things have been achieved. Maybe people are now seeing it’s time to tackle transgender now and do more to support full inclusion for transgender people. I’d like to think the ‘My Transexual Summer’ show had a role to play in the recent positive shift but I think there’s still a way to go. Hopefully this will happen with more incidental trans people, trans actors, trans characters in TV shows, people just being out there and are well known. People like Paris Lees having a cameo in Hollyoaks is great.

How important are awareness raising days like Transgender Day of Remembrance?

I think they’re amazing initiatives and if anything, they’re a reminder to the world and those people who aren’t gay or transgender and haven’t been through the same struggles. The historical and current challenges can hit home more with people. They’re also a reminder of how far we’ve come. The fact there needs to be these days, it shows that there was a time when we were not accepted at all. The world is a lot more accepting now, but we shouldn’t forget historic struggles.

I’ve had a bit of a smooth sailing with people accepting me and I have a great group of friends, and have never had any issues with people accepting me for being transgender. I had my own internal struggles, with becoming happy with my body and also that my chest surgery was rejected, these were my own personal biggest struggles. I’ve been very fortunate. But this isn’t true of everyone.

LGBT network groups can’t forget the T

Organisations need to be aware that this is such an important time for transgender people and getting more people to understand and accept us. It’s incredibly important to include the T and to show genuine acceptance for your transgender members.

There are lots of transgender events all over the UK for networks to get involved with and support, like Sparkle and Trans Pride. Making these visible to your members alongside Pride events and other diversity events should be just as important.

Transgender people are more of a minority than LGB people and being visible with supporting transgender events and initiatives is just as important. Even though we’re in the minority, there are still a lot of transgender people in the UK and I am sure a lot of people will have met a transgender person without even knowing it.

I dream that in the future we don’t need things like network groups, but we have a long way to go.

“I think my views may come from the fact that most LGBT organisations and groups focus less on the ‘T’ and I never really saw much relevance, or interest, for me.”

Did you have a role model growing up?

I don’t think I had many role models growing up, especially not transgender role models. When I was growing up and at school all I knew was how I felt and I didn’t have a clue about anything transgender related and I had no idea that you could change your sex and transition. My family didn’t know either. I remember telling my mum when I was 4 or 5 years old that I felt like a boy. My mum and dad had no idea what to do and what the outcome would be. That’s why I think it is so important now that people of a younger age are learning about the many differences in people and I think educating people about transgender related topics in schools is very important. A transgender persons life is so much more positive if they are confident to come out when they are younger, and are able to start puberty blockers and start hormones earlier and live a bigger percentage of their life as the real them. That’s why it’s incredibly important. I didn’t have any of that.

When I got to the age of 19, this is when I first came out as transgender. I started to watch videos on YouTube, loads of transgender, mostly American guys, who made blogs and posted them. That is what taught me the most. I would then show the videos to my mum and friends to educate them. I make the videos now and it’s nice to think that maybe other people are doing the same with my own videos. Most of my transgender education came from YouTube.

My filmmaking role models

Although he’s not a filmmaker, I really look up to Simon Pegg. I love his style of comedy and he writes his own stuff and features in his projects too. That’s what my dream would be, to write, direct and feature in my own stuff. He’s such an inspiration of mine. He goes to show that you can write, produce and star in your productions.

I love Wes Anderson’s filmmaking style. He does quirky comedy drama movies like Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums. I used to watch his movies loads. He likes everything in his shots to be really symmetrical and the composition of the shots are just perfect. He’s a massive inspiration about how I’d like to shoot my films.

Lots of my inspiration comes from my own life experiences as well. I love to take things that have happened to me and put a comedic touch on them. Like things lots of us can relate to, like getting shot down by a girl. Situations that in the moment are awful, but you can see a lighter side when you look back on them.

I’d love to write a comedy about transitioning. Just because I think bringing humour to the very real life situation will help people see the lighter side of life.

What does 2015 have in store for you?

It’s scary but exciting not really knowing what’s in the pipeline. I’ll be working with Fox with All About Trans again, we don’t know too much about what this work will be yet but I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve written a few short comedies too and I’m going to make some films and submit them in to some film festivals. If nothing else, it’ll be good to keep developing these and sending them off to all of my contacts in the industry.

I’m pushing with producing music video and videos for companies too, to get my bread and butter money. I’m having lots of fun doing it all.

Hopefully it will all lead to somewhere. I think it’s going to be a good year.

Keep connected:

www.lewishancox.com

About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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