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Interview: Saffron Kershaw-Mee

May 21st, 2018 | by Zoë Godden
Interview: Saffron Kershaw-Mee
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Zoë Godden spoke to the non-binary activist, former NUSU Marginalised Genders Officer and star of Channel 4’s Genderquake

Hi Saff, great to have you! The documentary seems to have gone down really well. What were your feelings in the build up to it airing?

Hello! Rad to chat to you my love. To be honest this whole thing still doesn’t seem real, and I’m just pretending to act cool, calm and collected. Just so you know. Thank you so much for saying that. Obviously I was there during the time of filming and it’s always a worry thinking about how events will be edited and construed to the general public, and that was one of the feelings that stayed from filming in September last year. When you’re being constantly filmed you start to almost think like a producer, and you can start to notice potential narratives and storylines emerge from real life that they could choose. Furthermore, as someone who would call themselves a serial worrier, I was ruminating about people’s reactions, how the press would deal with it, how my friends would see it. Also the amount of times I belched in that house, you’ve got to worry about what footage they pick…but yeah the build up to airing was painful, as I just wanted to shout about it online whenever I had an interview or a press event. All of my friends had been talked at for 8 months about this ‘so-called documentary’ I’d done, I bet they began to wonder if it was even real at all!

I’d say I became closest to Tom, surprisingly, the straight guy from Barnsley. We had that Yorkshire connection instantly and to say he’d never heard of non-binary gender, he just took it on straight away and by the end of the week we were bezzie mates!

How was the overall filming experience? Was it anything like you expected? And who did you become most close to?

I can honestly say, without a shadow of a doubt, that the filming experience was the best, but most intense week of my entire life. I’ve never partaken in a reality TV documentary before, and you hear things online about the process and the amount of control producers have over your actions and decisions etc. I little to no point of comparison for my experience there, and so it was absolutely nothing like I expected. When you go into the house they put a mic on you straight away, so you can be heard the moment you wake up, until the moment they decide to wrap for the day; that could be any time from 10pm – 3am the next morning. You have to be so careful with what you say sometimes as anything you do say could be misconstrued or picked up as more than it actually is. Also there were certain things I went into the house that I knew I wouldn’t talk about, but when you’re having a conversation, things always come up organically, so I’d run to a producer and tell them not to include it. It’s a strange, but novel way to see life and social interaction. I’d say I became closest to Tom, surprisingly, the straight guy from Barnsley. We had that Yorkshire connection instantly and to say he’d never heard of non-binary gender, he just took it on straight away and by the end of the week we were bezzie mates! Me and Cambell are also still very close, and talk online all the time.

So how exactly did you get offered a place on the show?

It was the most surreal thing, I got a message on Facebook from the casting company, Optomen, saying they’d seen my Tab article I wrote about being non-binary, and that they were filming a documentary about gender identity and sexuality, and would love for me to get involved! From then on I had skype interviews, a few trips down to London for more formal interviews, contract signing, and it was only a few weeks before they were due to film that I knew I was definitely doing Genderquake, and filming was perfectly timed with Freshers week!

I am just glad that non-binary gender is being put out onto a mainstream platform, and it’s all worth it for the messages I’ve received from non-binary kids who feel like they’re being represented, and that their family have watched the documentary and have started to understand it.

The most dramatic moment from Monday’s episode was the outing of a trans housemate. How did this affect the group dynamic and how should it have been handled differently?

Oh god, that was an awful night. We’d just arrived back from the night out in Brighton and the altercation happened very much out of the blue with no warning. Obviously the outing affected the whole dynamic and divisions started to happen. I was completely with Romario, who I remember very poignantly told Markus, the person who outed him, that doing so is a very dangerous action, and places someone in a very vulnerable position.

What Markus did was unforgiveable, and a very dangerous action for someone to commit. It was handled very badly by Markus, who seemed completely oblivious to the meaning behind that action, and just because he’d been cheated on and lied to in the past, doesn’t give him any excuse for placing Romario as a subject of gossip and hearsay. I remember shaking with anger and frustration when it all came out, and shouting at Markus telling him that he has no idea of the power behind what he has done, and that he has no idea how that can make someone feel. In the end it was resolved and everyone talked it out and, to be honest, regardless of what was shown on screen, we all handled it pretty maturely.

You’ve campaigned for non-binary and gender non-conforming people at Newcastle for a while now, including winning Campaign of the Year last year for your Beyond The Binary Week when you served as Marginalised Genders Officer, and appearing on BBC3’s web shows. Would you consider yourself an enby BNOC?

Hahahahahahaha…shut up man! I really don’t see myself as that. I’m a little overwhelmed by all this stuff if I’m honest, but I feel so proud that I’ve achieved this much, which I was never expecting when I started university in 2013 as a shy straight girl! I am just glad that non-binary gender is being put out onto a mainstream platform, and it’s all worth it for the messages I’ve received from non-binary kids who feel like they’re being represented, and that their family have watched the documentary and have started to understand it.

Also, shows like this could even readdress archaic language and the lack of inclusivity in law, such as the 2004 gender recognition act, which still uses terms like ‘transexual’ and medicalises trans identity

Why is a show like this so important to air on a network like Channel 4?

I cannot comprehend how valuable this show is to young people and anyone else who thinks they have to pretend to be someone they’re not. People underestimate the power of popular culture and tv shows in changing the societal opinion and allowing those who would never normally come into contact with gender non-conforming and trans people to hear authentic, real stories, hardships and struggles. I really do think that anyone who watched the docco saw a fresh take on gender identity in the 21st century and will hopefully, if their child, or partner, or relative comes out as trans or non-binary, that they’ll be that little bit more understanding and respectful. Also, shows like this could even readdress archaic language and the lack of inclusivity in law, such as the 2004 gender recognition act, which still uses terms like ‘transexual’ and medicalises trans identity. Hopefully, Genderquake will contribute towards bigger changes.

Have any new career opportunities come about because of your appearance on the show?

A few awesome things are in the pipeline. I’ve been asked to model for a ‘genderless’ makeup company, I’m appearing on an online talk show in June, I’m being featured in an online magazine, and a few more things! If anything though, all I want is to continue making content online for my YouTube audience, and continue to reduce to ignorance and dismissal of anyone who rejects the two-box rule of male and female in society.

And finally, do you think you could go through the experience all over again?

Ooh god that is a hard question. It was a very difficult week, but I’ve made friends for life, made non-binary feel validated in their identity, and even made a few people laugh! I’d say I would do it again, but only for the right reasons, only to continue campaigning for trans and non-binary rights. I’m not quite fame hungry yet, but come back to me in a few years when I’m begging for a spot on Loose Women or a DJ night in Slough and I’ll let you know if my mind has changed…

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