Trans people are subject to harmful media narratives and perceptions in society to begin with. In the world of sport, their bodies are scrutinized and a subject of debate. The UNESCO charter states that the practice of physical activity and sport is a fundamental right for all. In Australia, there is an Equal Opportunity Act that protects people from discrimination in sport, but this is not an act which protects trans players.
We set out to tackle Transgender issues within sports, via educating and engaging audiences in a way never attempted in industry history. TransAthletica explores the barriers faced by trans athletes across a whole range of sports, from AFL to Tennis, Powerlifting, Roller Derby, Climbing and Badminton.
This documentary was different, as it showcased the perspective of trans people, who despite being the subject of this public ‘debate’ remain sorely sidelined from the conversation. Secondly, it was the first TikTok documentary of its kind. Distributing the content on TikTok meant we were able to get the issues in front of new audiences with no prior knowledge by creating the documentary specifically with For You page penetration in mind.
Educate through quantitative and qualitative research, athlete perspectives and storytelling in a way which was engaging for short-form media.
Elevate trans-voices to the center of the conversation around their rights and bodies.
Retain the nuance and complexity of the issues in short-form video content.
Increase visibility and awareness around the ongoing trans-rights issues both in sport and in greater society.
TikTok Australia in partnership with Screen Australia and New Zealand On Air created a program titled Every Voice, which would fund an original series designed to be released exclusively on TikTok, and share the mic with underrepresented voices. We needed to pitch a series which consisted of episodic content designed to be told in 6 to 15 episodes of no more than one minute each, aimed at audiences aged between 16 and 35. We pitched TransAthletica, following winning the pitch and receiving funding, we got to work.
TransAthletica is a story based on Snack Drawer employee Rudy Jean Rigg’s experience having to leave competitive badminton in order to affirm their gender. Despite the many steps forward the LGBTQ+ community has taken in recent years, each of these letters hasn’t experienced these freedoms equally. Transgender people are still highly marginalised, discriminated against and subject to violence. Recently, trans people have found themselves at the centre of culture wars, their bodies, identities and freedoms debated publicly. This has disastrous consequences for the wellbeing of trans people and their families. But nowhere is this issue more hotly debated than in the realm of sport. Through the lens of Rudy’s experience, the documentary asks: “can Rudy find their way back to the sport they love”.
To start, we needed a crash course in science. We needed to learn a lot about endocrinology, synthetic hormones and the effects of these things on the body. We read scientific journals and spoke to every expert that would speak to us, which luckily included leading endocrinologists, a researcher who consulted at the International Olympic Committee and social scientists who wrote the top papers in the space. However, where we hit a hurdle was in speaking to the athletes, who against the ‘public debate’ feared taking part, with good reason. To overcome this, we widened our breadth of athletes included - with the inclusion of international athletes and fringe sports. The inclusion of this led to strengthened diversity in voices being represented.
This was the first documentary produced specifically for TikTok distribution, with innovation to video production and editing working hand in hand with storytelling. Distributing the content on TikTok, we made each episode self-contained, without requiring the audience to have seen preceding episodes. We even made some of the episodes loop flawlessly, aiding watch time and helping them go viral. We made a custom built set in 9:16 frame for vertical video, showing TikTok that this documentary was made for the platform.
Importantly, despite needing to break down these issues into ultra-short snackable episodes, we are proud that we retained the nuance and complexity of the issues and experiences we covered, in a way that was factual, empathetic, entertaining and rousing.
This year, the issue of transgender participation in sport landing in the middle of the Australian election, with political leaders building campaigns off the fear that transgender athletes were taking over sport, despite significant evidence to the contrary. One of the biggest impacts the series had was contributing to a discernible increase in inclusion of transgender voices by mainstream media in their coverage of the issue.
There’s no blueprint for a TikTok documentary, so all the narrative devices we used in TransAthletica, we had to create ourselves. They worked, because TransAthletica has accumulated well over 2.6M views and 229K likes organically from scratch and its impact also moved off-platform and into mainstream media.
The Series launched across television stations across the country including ABC news Breakfast on IDAHOBIT, was featured on The Project (News - Channel 10) and radio networks ABC Radio National Drive, RTR FM, Triple R and Joy.FM. We received extensive press coverage online, from The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, National Tribune, ABC, ScreenHub, Film.Ink and World Screen to name a few. Following the series launch, host Rudy was also invited to podcast programs such as the official Mardi Gras Queer Thinking Podcast and Come Out Wherever You Are.
Estimated total organic reach:
2.6M+ Organic Views TikTok
2.8M+ Media Reach