Film| Rediscovering Julia Grant: The series ‘A Change of Sex’ comes to BBC iPlayer documenting her journey as a Transgender woman

Discover the incredible journey of the late Transgender activist Julia Grant on BBC series is currently available on iPlayer. Composed of five parts it allows viewers to follow Julia before, during and after her transition.

Directed by David Pearson, the documentary series A Change of Sex, was the first mainstream television documentary in the UK to tell the story of a person transitioning. It gives modern day viewer some sort of understanding of what life was like for trans people in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Different parts of trans life are explored from seeking support from gender identity clinics, the violence faced by trans people, legal and medical difficulties in changing your gender, and the wider attitudes of society at the time.

Julia’s story is an important slice in to LGBTQ+ history. Each of the episodes were broadcast on the BBC between 1979 and 1999. They focus on different elements of Julia’s journey with a unique and intimate look into her life. We first join Julia before her transition as a 24-year-old working in catering. Julia begins her first year living as a woman, required by NHS rules at the time before her doctor would consider supporting surgery. At the time this first instalment was viewed by an audience of 9 million.  

The early parts of the series includes a run of uncomfortable and hideous confrontational consultations with a psychiatrist at the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic. Audiences were shocked at the time by the doctor’s hostile attitude. Julia won the hearts of many viewers who wrote thousands of letters in support after the episodes were broadcast.

The viewers also sees Julia meeting her family as a woman for the first time, discussing legal challenges with her MP, finding out about the experiences of other trans people, and consulting for and undergoing surgery.

Many years later, two further episodes were filmed as parts of the series. The fourth episode, The Untold Story, finds Julia running a ceramics business in Chesterfield, reflecting on the years since her surgery. The series concludes with the fifth and final part, Julia Gets Her Man, which was broadcast 20 years after her journey was first shown on screen, and finds Julia having moved to Manchester with her partner and embarking on a new business.

“Julia was a remarkable person and made a big impression on those who met her or saw the films about her struggles to be the person she wanted to be. Funny, dramatic, surprising, and moving are all phrases that have been used by others to describe Julia’s unfolding story. She is seen by many as a pathfinder, and the films have acquired something of a mysterious cult following.

Still, so many years later, I’m often asked how the films can be seen; by younger people who have heard others speak about them or by the original viewers who wanted to re-experience or refer to them. Parents with trans children, doctors, psychologists, and those interested in social history have all wanted to view them. Above all, the many viewers who found Julia’s courage and preparedness to take on bureaucracy and prejudice to live as she had identified herself, uplifting and inspirational. I’m delighted that the BBC, who boldly allowed me to follow her story over so many years, is now making all the films available.” David Pearson, director

David and Julia stayed in touch and remained close friends long after the making of the documentary. He even helped her choose her name – Julia asked him for suggestions and, from the list David provided, she chose Julia Grant, as it had a good Scottish ring to it. They remained good friends until her death in 2019.

All five episodes are be available to stream now on BBC iPlayer

Looking for more? Check out Istoria Lit’s list of LGBTQ+ film favourties

Still want more? Take a look at Istoria Lit’s reviews and interviews in our LGBTQ+ section

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