Interview 10th October 2019
Susie Green: CEO of Mermaids
"I don’t want sympathy, I want empathy."
Susie Green; CEO of Mermaids on showing Pride year round, LGBTQI+ equality and the ITV mini series Butterfly.
The ASOOO team met Susie at Caravan KGX on a sunny Tuesday morning, excited to chat to the Mermaids CEO about the charity's brilliant work. Susie is hilarious, magnetic and welcoming - you feel completely comfortable and at ease in her presence, almost as if you're old friends. We sat down for our Pass It On interview at the back of the busy cafe, surrounded by other people chatting over their coffees...
A Studio of Our Own (ASOOO): For those who aren’t aware, can you tell us a bit more about what Mermaids is?
Susie Green: Mermaids is fundamentally a support charity; we support families, children and young people who are gender non-conforming and / or transgender. We also run a helpline, have an email service, organise meet ups and run online forums for parents and young people. That’s our service delivery, but on top of that we also do training in schools to support transgender students and work in foster agencies with foster carers, social workers and the NHS.
We have around 1,600 parents on our page and around 600+ young people in our youth groups, and when we speak to our community, we ask them what they want and need and how they want to be represented. We then use their voices to convey the issues that they’re dealing with and the type of things that are happening to them.
ASOOO: How can people get involved in helping Mermaids?
Susie Green: We always need more volunteers. Our volunteers do a variety of different things; some work on the helpline, some moderate our online forums, some go to events and support families there – we have a massive range of things that people can do. If anyone wants to help us out, please get in touch!
ASOOO: How have you promoted Mermaids? What have you found has been the strongest method of communication?
Susie Green: Funnily enough The Daily Mail and The Sunday Times do a lot of advertising for us. They put us on the front page all of the time, so parents find us through that. We try and make ourselves as accessible as possible, and obviously we try to get involved in primarily positive news, but there is no denying that every time they do a piece on us, our numbers of new members jump up. That’s the positive that comes from it all. Even though these negative articles do effect the general morale of our workers and staff, I keep trying to remember that somebody who is struggling, or the family of someone who is struggling, may see it, and then they’ll see that we’re an organisation that can help them.
The mini-series Butterfly also came out last year and we were heavily involved in that. After it was released we saw a massive leap in the number of young people and families contacting us, too.
"I try to remember that somebody who is struggling, or the family of someone who is struggling, may see it and then they’ll see that we’re an organisation that can help them."
ASOOO: Talking about the 2018 mini-series – how did Mermaids get involved in Butterfly?
Susie Green: We just got a phone call! One of the production assistants phoned up and said that they’d got a script commissioned but wanted to tell the story authentically and asked if we could help them. For us that’s gold dust. We keep getting asked to do documentaries involving young people outing themselves or showing families put under pressure on camera – we obviously don’t want to do that. To be asked to get involved in a script revolving around a fictional character so that nobody had to be outed was such a golden opportunity.
We started the process by holding sessions where the script writer and production assistant could have honest, open conversations with families, young people and parents. I was so nervous that no one would want to speak, but in fact it was the opposite. I had to go up to people and say ‘you have to stop talking now, we need to swap you over’ – people loved it!
We then had another day in London where the actors from Butterfly met with families and trans children. Everyone really connected, learnt from each other and talked about things they felt were really important to the programme. After that they also had me on the show as a consultant to make sure that everything was legitimate. It was important to have someone there to say: ‘no that wouldn’t happen’ or ‘that’s not the way that the NHS works’.
ASOOO: We’ve seen that you’re friends with Munroe Bergdorf, whom ASOOO loves. Which other great LGBTQI+ influencers would you like to see people talk about more?
Susie Green: Well there’s our amazing patrons: Annie Wallace, Jake and Hannah Graf, Charlie Martin and Ayla Holdom. They’re all great. Annie was the first person to play an openly transgender character on Hollyoaks, Jake Graf is a director, writer and actor, Hannah Graf is from the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers and Charlie is a racing driver. Ayla is an RAF pilot who was outed as being trans in The Sun about 8 years ago – she’s amazing. She’s just one of those people who is so calming and has such gravitas. She also does a lot of work with All About Trans, a company which seeks to get trans people into media outlets.
ASOOO: Pride 2019 has passed, and we saw lots of individuals and businesses celebrate the LGBTQI+ community during the month. All of the love and support was great to see, but unfortunate that for some it’s only public during Pride. What advice would you give to individuals and businesses who want to show support year-round?
Susie Green: It’s all about managing relationships, talking to people and consistently getting involved. It’s about trying to encourage companies to do more – to look at their policies and to look at the way that they appear to the outside eye, too. Pride badges, pride lanyards and a continual visibility over the fact that you’re an ally is so important.
We also try and persuade companies not to do Pride as just a tick box exercise – we want people to talk about it all year round. It’s really important to us that LGBT+ organisations within corporates are actually LGBT, too, as the T often gets left out.
One thing that you can do is to make it clear that you’re equality for all. Rather than just zeroing in on one thing, talk about everything and then you’re supporting everyone to be themselves. Everybody is unique and everybody deserves to be respected.
"It’s all about managing relationships, talking to people and consistently getting involved...Pride badges, pride lanyards and a continual visibility over the fact that you’re an ally is so important."
Susie Green: It helps as it’s a really visible recognition of what we’re doing. We do get so much crap thrown at us, so actually having companies with that sort of gravitas visibly supporting us is great. All of these collaborations seem to come out of the blue as well.
During Pride the model for Hunter, Lucy Fizz, did a little video for us, too. It was really powerful, and we really respected them for speaking out to our families and kids. That’s what really makes a difference for us. When our community sees all of these people and companies standing behind them it makes them realise that they’re not on their own. It’s that recognition. It’s like the Hbomberguy gaming fundraiser – he didn’t even tell us it was happening, and it was actually one of my volunteers that let us know. When we found out we immediately started posting about it on our forums so that parents and young people could see. A load of people went online after that and followed it over the weekend, so we had a load of people watching the stream and seeing all of that love and support flood in. That’s what makes a difference – through seeing things like that people then understand that the voices of hate are only small and noisy, and the majority of people are loving and supporting and happy.
ASOOO: What’s one overriding message that you’d like people to take away from Mermaids?
Susie Green: That we don’t tell people what to do. We’re here to support people in the here and now and to give them the information that they need. We empower individuals to achieve the best results for themselves and for their children. We don’t tell people whether there’s going to be a trans outcome for themselves or for their child, and we certainly don’t tell them that that’s the only outcome because we know that it’s not. What we’re here to do is to help them with what they’re going through. So many parents and young people come to us when they’re in crisis and need support. What we’re here to do is to help people cope. We also have tonnes of information on studies and all of the latest research about national and international organisations. All of this means that people can make their own minds up about what they want to do. We’re also not part of any clinical pathways, and when they go into NHS services, we’re not any part of it. However, when they come out and want to have a chat about it, we’re here.
There’s research that shows that the gap between someone knowing who they are and deciding that they need to do something, to actually speaking about it and confiding in family members is at least two years. Then they have at least another three years to wait before they have any kind of access to any kind of medical information. A lot of the time when families go to GPs they just say that there’s nothing that they can do, and that they should come back when they’re 18. Even if you get to the GP at 12 or 13 years old, you’re then on the waiting list for around two years before you even get your first appointment. Then, between the first appointment and any possibility of any medical intervention, there’s four-six appointments minimum and they’re spread out by at least a month. That means that that 13-year-old will be 15 before they’re actually seen, and that they’ll be at least 16 before they get any medication – by which time puberty is usually over. Though we know that socially transitioning has many massive positive effects on self-esteem, if your body is going through other changes at the same time it’s still very hard.
"You need to talk about the human experience and you need to gain people’s empathy. I don’t want sympathy, I want empathy."
ASOOO: When we work with our clients, our three aims are to get them to communicate in a way that's nice, brave and honest: they’re the tenets of our agency. How do you think being nice, honest and brave has helped you get to where you are today?
Susie Green: I think that most people are inherently nice which is great, but I think that on some occasions you have to go slightly against that by being forthright. That’s something I’ve had to learn in terms of sticking up for both my kid when she was younger and for other kids and their families within Mermaids.
If you’re not honest then you’ll eventually trip yourself up anyway. I think it really helps people understand and engage with Mermaids when I’m being honest and when I’m talking about my own personal experiences. You can sit there and talk about stats as much as you like, but if you’re not honest and brave and you don’t talk about personal things it doesn’t make any difference. You need to talk about the human experience and you need to gain people’s empathy. I don’t want sympathy, I want empathy.
I absolutely adore what I do. I go to all of the residential weekends. I go to the Leeds group when I can, and I cover shifts by doing stints on the helpline when it’s needed. Sometimes I feel that CEOs are far too removed from everything and I don’t want to be like that. I want to be there and I want to be involved. Ultimately my experience is just my experience. I don’t talk for the trans experience of everybody, I just speak of my experience as a parent.
Visit Susie at Mermaids and say Hey! From the ASOOO team:
Mermaids Instagram: @mermaidsgender
Mermaids Facebook: /MermaidsGender