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Directing Transsexual Teen, Beauty Queen

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"I wasn't born a lad. If you said that to someone else who's trans then you'd get a slap."
"I apologise."
"Yeah, you should do. Dickhead."

And so began my relationship with Jackie Green. In a way I suppose it set the tone. I would ask naïve, ill-informed questions, she would slap me down with a mixture of wit and derision. You see, when I set out on this journey I knew nothing of trans issues, and found myself blundering into bear pits of political correctness.

"Can I call you transsexual? Or transgender? Is there a difference?"
"You can call me Jackie."

Ouch.

The development team at Renegade Pictures found Jackie's story in the Metro - world's youngest transsexual to take on Miss England beauty pageant. They got hold of a number, it arrived on my desk, and from the moment Jackie answered I knew she would be great on camera. Feisty, combative, forthright, a natural micky taker and utterly utterly female. There is an unfair media caricature of transsexuals, but Jackie doesn't come near it. If she didn't want to tell her story you wouldn't stand a chance of working it out.

But, luckily for me, Jackie was keen to share.

"When I was growing up, there weren't many role models, you know? It was difficult to see a happy ending. I want to change that by putting myself out there."

Brave lass.

Jackie always knew she was a girl - the only epiphany was for her mum, Susie, when, aged just four, Jackie turned to her and explained that God had made a mistake, she was in the wrong body. I was amazed that kids of that age even 'got' gender. But once again, I was being ignorant.

"Kids know, of course they do. If you put my little brother in a dress when he was four he would have been mortified."

Well I suppose so. What set Jackie out was her single-mindedness, her determination to rectify "God's" mistake. It was that obstinacy that helped her transition from Jack to Jackie aged just 9, that took her to America for vital therapy to hold back male puberty, and led her to become the youngest transsexual in the world when she underwent surgery in Thailand on her 16th birthday. But, as I would learn, this tenacity would also be the bane of my working life for the next six months.

The BBC run a yearly competition, called Fresh, for first time directors. I spent a day with Jackie. Made a taster. Sent it in. I was invited to a day of pitching and talks - introduce yourself, pitch your story, show your taster, Q&A from the floor, wriggle in your chair as you compare yourself to all the other tasters. A lovely time had by all.

I'll be honest- I felt I'd won one of the three commissions on offer by the end of the session, but it took a week for the BBC to come to the same conclusion.

Jackie was delighted - this was a chance for her to get her message out, and secretly I think she quite fancied the attention. But I'm not sure she realised what she was in for. I mean, I was making an observational documentary about her, following her around with a camera for weeks at a time. And, well, she didn't seem to want me to.

"Don't film this...you can't film right now...I don't want the camera here...can you just leave me alone?...piss off..."

Probably the worst thing you can do to someone whose job it is to make a film (in fact is under pressure to make a film) is ask them to stop filming. And we're not talking about moments where she needed a little space (oh I gave her plenty of space - I had no choice) but key moments, especially during the beauty pageants, where she would throw a tantrum about the camera. And here that wonderful strength of personality, that single-minded determination that I so admired, well it was used in full force against me.

It was a hugely intense relationship. We'd turn up a pageant together, where she would often give me a tough time (it is a little awkward being followed about by a bloke with a camera in public), including no end of verbal abuse. But on other days we'd spend a couple of hours together, in a park, or at her family home, just chatting about her experiences, with the camera quietly whirring away, and she was wonderfully engaging, honest, funny. In some ways it was like a having a highly-strung girlfriend for six months - complete with late night texting, laughter, heated arguments, apologies, tears and emotional blackmail that went with it. I'd be delighted with her when she opened up, but be pulling my hair out a day later when she was refusing to play ball.

Aaaaaaaargh.

In the end, I'm happy with the result - Transsexual Teen, Beauty Queen. A good story, well told. Spending a prolonged period with a family is a giddy honour that creates a sense of duty far stronger than with contacts you may just meet for an interview. So showing the result to Jackie and her mum was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my career.

I'm pleased to say they laughed and cried throughout, and, in a strange way, their approval meant more to me than the sweet congratulatory message from BBC3 controller Zai Bennett. But perhaps I'm getting soft.

Jackie and I are still in touch - I hope we always will be - and I still hugely admire her. But I think she'd agree, that for a large part of summer 2012, the gloves were off.