Trans inclusion at a Ross Noble gig

12 December 2016

I’ve always found Ross Noble very funny. His humour can border on the bizarre, but when my fiancée’s brother told me he had tickets to see him and asked if we’d like to come along, we jumped at the chance.

We arrived at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton with only 10 minutes to spare. Given the popularity of Ross Noble, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see the 2,300-capacity theatre had almost sold out.


Trans inclusion and social anxiety

I love going to these types of shows. But I’ll admit that it’s the kind of thing that I avoided early on in my transition. Just because, as a trans person, there’s the social anxiety of being called out. Or of people realising you’re transgender.

On the one hand, yes, I’m a spokesperson and advocate for transgender rights. I also provide training and support to other transgender people and organisations. Sometimes, though, you just want to go places without having to make reference to this. You just want to have a ‘normal’ evening.

As the gig started, Ross Noble was interacting with members of the front row as he often does. One man in particular had his partner talking to him, and when Ross enquired why, it turned out it was because he was blind. While this could have been embarrassing, Ross continued to make reference to him throughout the gig. He even went as far as to include his own style of audio description for the man’s benefit.


Trans Inclusion at a Ross Noble Gig


As the evening went on, Ross referred to one person in the front row as a man, when as it turned out she was a transgender woman currently undergoing transition. Queue huge laughter in the audience. Ross then asked if she was having surgery – already a bit of a faux pas – but he also started using outdated phrases like ‘transsexual’, and referred to the operation as a ‘sex change’ or ‘sexual reassignment’. Even, at one point, a ‘cut and shut’.


Using more trans-inclusive language

For me, and many of the trans people I know, the preferred phrase is ‘gender confirmation surgery’ (GCS), and I decided to call this out to Ross. (He replied by saying that his idea of confirmation had changed a lot, referring to the Catholic confirmation of faith.) As this was going on, I felt like the whole audience’s eyes were on me. (They weren’t.) In the same breath, I felt uncomfortable for the trans woman at the front who was at the centre of all of this. Her friend was crying with laughter, and when Ross asked why she said, “You’re giving me loads of ammunition to use”. Again this made me feel uncomfortable.

Shortly after the interval started, I tweeted Ross saying “It’s Gender Confirmation Surgery and the correct term is transgender :)”. I added in the smiley face as I wanted to be friendly and positive about what I’d just seen. I really didn’t think anything else would happen, other than the fact Ross would be better informed on the subject.

Then, after the interval, Ross came back on stage and told everyone he’d had a tweet from ‘Davey’ Cannon, an LGBT expert, about the appropriate language to use. I was stunned.

Immediately someone at the side of the stage corrected Ross. It wasn’t Davey but Debbie. He apologised and said, “Sorry, Debbie, Debbie Cannon…” Queue more laughter. He apologised again and explained he’s dyslexic. You couldn’t write this stuff.

But Ross then took the time to inform the audience how he’d been told that the correct phrases were ‘transgender’ and ‘gender confirmation surgery’. I spoke out and reaffirmed this. Then the whole audience really was looking at me. I was amazed that Ross had done this. No-one had taken issue, or kicked off. And in the blink of an eye, the show continued as if it had never happened. The rest of the gig was great, including a riotous encore discussion of (among other things) the impending presidency of a certain Mr Trump.


Shifting perceptions and raising awareness of trans inclusion

The thing that really blew me away is how respectful Ross was to go back and inform his audience – over 2,000 people – as to the correct language to use when talking about a topic that is often buried and too often the butt of a joke.


Debbie Cannon Trans Inclusion - Views from EW


I hadn’t gone to the gig intending to draw attention to myself or transgender issues. But as a LGBT speaker and rights campaigner, I can’t help but see this kind of experience as an opportunity to educate others.

I’m proud I did it.