‘Could I convince them I’m a boy?’

The Stage
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Hollyoaks star Victoria Atkin writes about her experience of playing a transgendered person on TV

There’s been a lot of talk recently about depictions of transgender people on TV, culminating with the memorandum of understanding signed this week by Channel 4.

But I wanted to reveal a slice of the experience I’ve encountered from undertaking such a creative responsibility – through my work on Hollyoaks.

“Hello Victoria, are you sitting down? We have a fantastic audition coming up for you next week. So we hope you don’t mind but the character requires someone who could easily play a girl or a boy [Silence]. You’re not offended are you? We thought you’d be perfect for the role.”

It was in that silence, broken eventually by my acceptance, that my journey began to unfold.

My mind raced – this job could guarantee me regular acting work, but what sort of character was this and did I really want to act that much – playing a character that seemed to be somewhat experimental on national television.

Yes. This job was mine and I was going to grasp it with everything I had. Having spent 23 years as a girl, I knew that element of the audition would take care of itself, but how was I going to persuade them that I could play a boy, truthfully?

I decided I must assure myself before winning over the audition panel. I searched my wardrobe for my male alter-ego. I picked out a pair of boyfriend-fit jeans, a checked shirt and a pair of Converse trainers. The character was beginning to take shape, but I still looked like a girl and my hair was proving a problem.

The long blonde hair and petite, feminine facial features I had grown into, perfect for my last job as Cinderella, weren’t helping in this particular situation. I nervously wiped off my make-up and scraped back my hair. Still feminine.

A strange wave of relief washed over me, followed by a deeper sense of determination. Then, lying on the floor I picked up my saving grace – a grey beanie hat I had purchased for £1 a week before. Excitedly tucking all my hair underneath, the transformation was complete. I was Jason Costello – the first ever transgender teen to be released into the world of British soap.

Dressed for the occasion, I received a number of odd looks, firstly from my dad who must have thought I had lost the plot. Little did I know this role and the looks I received that day would take me on a journey that would show me the uneducated judgement transgendered teenagers are continuously on the receiving end of.

It has been an out of the ordinary experience to say the least. Binding down my chest and changing into male clothes, while my fellow co-stars glam up in heels, has been a test of my inner strength as an actress. But I would not change it.

The people I have met and the research I have gathered has made me aware of a world that is rarely touched upon in such detail. My eyes have been opened fully to the negativity within a society that unconsciously places judgement by atomically assessing their fellow man (and woman) solely on appearance.

I cannot begin to express how it feels to take on a character that is born into the wrong body. By concentrating on this topic, Hollyoaks has presented the general public with an insight into the life of a transgendered teen and, nearly a year on, what a journey it has been. Jason’s acceptance is growing, but the problem of harmonising his ideal body with the male exterior he now presents will, of course, be a lengthy process.

Catch Victoria as Jason Costello, weekdays at 6.30pm on Channel 4. She is also nominated for best actress at this year’s British Soap Awards – members of the public can vote at www.britishsoapawards.tv

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