Louis Theroux regrets deadnaming and misgendering trans woman in documentary

BBC documentary maker Louis Theroux

Louis Theroux has said he regrets and interaction he had with a trans woman in a 2008 prison documentary, saying he would be more careful with his language today.

The documentary maker spent much of lockdown re-watching his old documentaries for a new retrospective series called Life on the Edge, which will debut on BBC Two on Sunday (September 6).

His 2008 BBC series Life Behind Bars was just one of the documentaries he rewatched during lockdown. In one episode, Theroux went to visit a trans inmate called Deborah – however, prison staff did not tell him that she was trans.

In a voiceover on the clip, Theroux misgendered and deadnamed Deborah, something he regrets.

“I arrive at the cell and I’m told that this person is called Deborah. And Deborah comes out with long hair and with a kind of traditional feminine effect,” he told UniLad

“And I say, ‘Do you consider yourself a woman?’ and she says, ‘Yes, I’m a trans woman now.’

“It is completely in the context of the time, kind of unexceptionable exchange, but now I would have phrased it properly.

“‘Do you identify as a woman?’ Oh, you use a different language.”

Theroux said that since the documentary series was filmed, “it feels like the world’s moved on and all cultural norms have changed”.

“And it feels like maybe there’s moments that don’t feel quite right, or feel like they would be phrased differently now,” he added.

“There’s moments where because of the nature of sensitivities now, and how much more educated we are, the conversation would take place in a different way.”

In 2015, Theroux’s documentary Transgender Kids shone a light on the lives of children in America who had come out as trans.

While the show won some praise from trans people, it was also criticised for focusing unnecessarily on surgery and other “standard trans tropes”.