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Push(back) at the Intersections: I Think You Dropped Your 'T'

I've been thinking a lot lately about depictions of trans folks in pop culture. I began asking around among people I know, soliciting recommendations. I had a vision in my mind of a happy post, I really did.

And I discovered something interesting: There's not a lot out there. I can't say that I am completely surprised by this, but I was jarred when I realized that the only depictions of trans people, period, that I could think off offhand were an intersex trans character who appeared on a single episode of the short-lived Mercy, Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And then, with some prodding, Alexis from Ugly Betty, a show I haven't watched. (Don't hate me! I don't have anything against the show, I just didn't start watching it, and then it ended, and then...well, I will probably watch it at some point, ok?) Needless to say, I've never seen a genderqueer person in widely-consumed popular culture, let alone heard the word 'genderqueer' or seen an exploration of nonbinary gender identities.

No one really knows how many people in the population are transgender. There are a lot of reasons for this, starting with varying definitions of 'transgender' used both by population researchers and by transgender folks ourselves. I've heard that one percent of the population is transgender, usually in settings that suggest this statistic applies to binary trans folks. The lack of interest in collecting real statistics on our numbers definitely speaks to a lot of interesting things about the society we live in.

Respect and Equality for All Trans People: Transgender marchers at a rally, holding a sign with transgender pride symbols.

And our lack of representation in pop culture is very telling.

It's not that we aren't present in pop culture. We are, it's just in very small numbers, and the kinds of opportunities available for trans characters are very limited. Needless to say, very few of these characters are actually played by trans actors. We live in a world where many people have some very harmful beliefs about trans people, and these beliefs are usually reinforced by depictions of trans people in popular culture, where we are played as objects of mockery or fear.

A lot of people like to lump depictions of trans identities in with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer characters, thanks to that handy LGBQT acronym, which makes it seem like there are more trans characters around than there really are. Personally speaking, I've honestly always been a little bit uncomfortable with this acronym, intended as a unifying measure, because to me it conflates sexual orientation and gender identity. The 'T' sometimes feels out of place to me although I get the intent behind it.

Apparently the 'T' seems out of place to a lot of other people as well, because organizations that examine the depictions of LGBQT folks on television often ignore problematic depictions of trans characters. And some actively celebrate shows for having 'good representations' while evidently ignoring the fact that those shows actually don't have such great representations of the trans community.

In a relatively recent example pointed out by Lisa Harney at Questioning Transphobia, Glee won a GLAAD award despite the fact that it uses trans slurs. A show that took care to lecture viewers about how it's not ok to use 'r#tard' or call a gay man a 'faggot' has absolutely no problem referring to 'she-males.' That award feels like a big slap in the face to the trans community, especially since the citation specifically mentions us: 'fair, accurate and inclusive representation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the issues that affect their lives in the media. (emphasis mine)'

And the GLAAD award gets hauled out as evidence when people critique the depiction of Kurt, when people ask why the show thinks it's ok to use slurs against trans people without comment. When organizations that are supposedly keeping an eye on depictions of trans folks on television can't even be bothered to address the use of slurs on network television, it's no small wonder that members of the general public push back, hard, on critiques from members of the trans community.

After all, GLAAD said it was ok.

We need better representation for trans folks on television. Starting with more roles, a greater diversity of trans characters, avoidance of stereotypes, and, critically, getting transgender actors in these roles. There's absolutely no reason we shouldn't have empowering, awesome, interesting, complex trans characters on television. It's a pity that the organizations that claim to be pushing for just that are falling asleep at the wheel.

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Comments

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Dirty Sexy Money featured a

Dirty Sexy Money featured a Trans Woman cast as a Trans Woman (*faints*). Though the producers saw fit to lower her voice an octave, which scanned as pretty fucked up to me. Her character was thoughtful, smart and positioned as desirable, but this was hardly a celebration. I'm cisgendered, so there's a probably a billion more things wrong with the characterization that privilege enables me not to notice.

Most of the time when I have encountered Transgendered female characters (sorry to be so binary) their stories are solely focused on the most intrusive aspects of transition and the characters are often played by cisgendered males.

Ugh, and if I need anymore reasons to loathe Glee. Though the creator's transphobia and cissexism was cultivated on Nip/Tuck a show so graphically transphobic I am ashamed that I ever watched a single episode.
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I'm going to have to watch

I'm going to have to watch Dirty Sexy Money now! Thank you for the tip.

I also think it's notable that most depictions of trans people in pop culture involve trans women specifically. I think that says something about society's prurient fascination with trans women, especially since such characters are often positioned as objects of titillation (with a healthy dose of 'what's inside her pants?!').

Degrassi: The Next Generation

I haven't watched the new series of Degrassi, but I'm told the show now has a trans* teen character, Adam. I know nothing about the latest Degrassi series, but I'm told it's good. Adam is played by a cis-gendered woman, Jordan Todosey.

Degrassi is a Canadian show aimed at teens. When I was a kid and watching "Degrassi Junior High", the show was doing a lot of boundary pushing (it's why I started learning about abortion, for example). Wiki tells me it's also aired in the US.

Hollyoaks is also doing a

Hollyoaks is also doing a storyline with a transgender teen. There's a good feature in The Guardian talking about the character research that was done. Again, not played by a trans actor, but I think it's really important to see trans teens on television, especially on shows aimed at teens, to break down some stereotypes about trans youth. Trans youth are at increased risk of bullying, violence, and homelessness and it's terrific to see that explored on television.

Degrassi

Degrassi did indeed feature a recent storyline about a trans character, Adam (formerly Grace). The storyline was handled remarkably well and I recommend checking out the central two-episode arc online if you get the chance.

Degrasssi does tend to be

Degrasssi does tend to be good. I haven't watched recent episodes, but I saw the commercials for the Adam-centered episode and was really happy they were addressing it, because I've respected their LGBQ storylines in the past and I'm optimistic they can handle T as well.

Leyomi!

This is why me and my pals were so excited by Vogue Evolution on last season's America's Best Dance Crew. There was definitely some transphobia thanks to Lil Mama - which, this time around, GLAAD actually called out - but overall it was pretty amazing to see queer and trans people of colour repping themselves, esp since Vogue Evolution went out of their way to say that they wanted to correct the record on how trans culture is depicted in American media.

Some friends and I wrote about it here:
http://www.racialicious.com/2009/09/16/vogue-evolution-forever-part-1-th...

Good call! I am so excited

Good call! I am so excited to see people listing examples in comments. I know there was also a trans woman competing on America's Next Top Model recently, although since I don't watch, I didn't follow her story very closely. To see not just trans people, but specifically trans people of colour, is really exciting.

Totally!

I loved Leyomi and Vogue Evolution!

Also, there was a trans man character on The L Word, Moira/Max, who transitioned during the series (I haven't seen all the episodes so I can't speak to how well he was portrayed). I believe the actor who played him, Daniela Lea, identifies as genderqueer. Here's an interview with Daniela: http://www.divamag.co.uk/diva/features.asp?PID=43685

Again, I haven't seen tons of L Word episodes, so it would be great to hear from those of you who have more thoughts on the Moira/Max character.

Great post s.e.!

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Max

I am cisgendered, so I certainly can't speak from a trans* perspective, but I personally found the portrayal of Max embarrassing. He seemed tokenized in that he consistently went through stereotypical and/or sensationalized scenarios for transmen or transpeople, eg. immediately liking men instead of women, changing his mind about surgery at the last minute and, yes, getting pregnant. (Please, exploit the moment's popular news stories a little more!) Worst of all, every one of his storylines was about his being transsexual. The L Word had some great moments, but I thought their treatment of Max was failtastic.

Oh! However...

I just remembered: L Word did have another, perhaps more interesting, gender-nonconforming character in the form of Ivan/Irene in the first two seasons (mostly the end of S1 and start of S2.) It was unclear whether ze was FTM, genderqueer, or had another identity, and hir part in the show ended woefully quickly.

Ally McBeal

This is an older reference, but wasn't there a transgender character in Ally McBeal? I can't remember it well enough to say what kind of depiction it was, but I think there was definitely a character, played by Lisa Edelstein (Dr. Cuddy from House). Not that one role is enough to challenge the main point of this article, of course.

I remember that!

I was thinking of that same character while I read this article!

I don't remember much about the character, except there was a man on the show who had fallen in love with her before finding out she was once a man and he had a really hard time accepting it. Then, at the end of one of the episodes, there was the sweetest scene where he said that all he could see when he looked at her was a woman and he still wanted to be with her.

Wilson Cruz also played a

Wilson Cruz also played a transgendered character on Ally McBeal, though it's been ages since I've seen the episode, but I believe it followed some of the more unpleasant tropelicious aspects of Transgendered narratives (as usually seen when the topic is explored by cisgendered folks) so I can't exactly endorse it.

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Not sure if this is in the

Not sure if this is in the category of films that you are looking for, but I found the French film "Ma Vie en Rose", about a young boy who does not fit into a traditional gender role at least (my reading of the film was that he was transgendered, though I saw it quite a few years ago and am also writing from a cis- perspective, so may be misremembering or misinterpreting the extent to which the film portrayed him as being genderqueer), sweet and uplifting.

Fantastic film (Ma Vie En

Fantastic film (Ma Vie En Rose)! I especially liked its dealings with the parents and its apparent role reversal (initially the mother thinks the son's "dressing up" is cute while the father is embarrassed. Later, their interpretations vary dramatically). I thought the creators of the film did an excellent job in exposing/exploring the way in which families are affected by transgendered individuals while never attempting to denigrate or dismiss the child's feelings and desires. Powerful film!

I loved this movie. I

I loved this movie. I watched it with a close friend of mine in high school, and it's actually what prompted us to come out to each other. I'll always be grateful to it simply for that, but also because of its tender, sympathetic portrayal of the child.

Transgendered parent on tv

One of Chandler's parents on friends was transgendered. Although there were some problematic jokes centered around this I think it was resolved (fairly) well and realistically near the end with Chandler growing to love and respect her for who she is, despite his memories of "dad."
Along the same lines there was a good episode in the first season of Veronica Mars with a transgendered parent, I can't remember which episode.

VMars!

The episode is "Meet John Smith," the third in Season 1. Julia, who is MTF, is played by cisgendered actor Melissa Leo (Frozen River.) I think it's great; Veronica, with whom the audience is meant to relate, immediately supports her, and when Julia's son initially does not, he is shown as in the wrong. As a bonus, Julia is in a loving relationship with someone who clearly knows she was born male.

Very thoughtful and

Very thoughtful and illuminating article. Being a straight cis woman who knows no openly trans people, I try as much as possible to educate myself on the issues surrounding trans folks in their everyday lives and how cis folks can become more aware of those issues- unfortunately, the majority of trans portrayals in the media doesn't seem to help much. There is one portrayal that wasn't mentioned in this article that I personally feel is notable- on the Canadian teen drama "Degrassi," which has an extensive history of portraying queer characters, an FTM trans character was recently introduced. Again, being cis, I can't say how accurate the portrayal of the character, Adam, is, but it certainly is thought-provoking. Thus far, he has encountered support (from cis friends, to whom he explains that he is "a boy between the ears"), transphobia (mostly from a girl Adam flirts with, who upon discovering that he is trans says, "I've heard about you freaks on Oprah"), and implicit pressure (from his mother) to "go back to being a girl." It would be great to see a response to this particular portrayal, mostly because "Degrassi" has a reputation for portraying queer characters extremely accurately. Hopefully it has done the same with its first trans character.

Monthly column on genderqueer issues

Greetings, all.

I write a column for The Empty Closet, which is one of the oldest continuously-published LGBT periodicals in America. If you are interested in reading any of the "Beyond the Binary" columns, please feel free to visit: http://www.gayalliance.org/emptycloset/?s=binary

I agree wholeheartedly that trans-invisibility and transphobia are alive, well, and thriving in both the queer community as well as in society as a whole. I feel that having these dialogues and refusing to be silenced is of utmost importance now.

Transpeople regularly suffer the effects of job discrimination, housing discrimination, and the denial of medical treatment (resulting in joblessness, poverty, homelessness, and death). Given the harshness of day-to-day trans reality, why is such a disproportionate amount of the queer communities' focus directed solely to marriage equality and DADT?

Other trans roles

Actress: "Charlie's Angels: Angel on a Roll (#5.14)". Miss Withers was played by Micki McHay, a trans woman, and actress and authoress or The Ugly Snowflake, a children's book about accepting diversity. She also makes a mean drink at Ceaser's Palace.

Also All In The Family had a series of episodes where Edith befriended a trans woman who was attacked I can't remember which episodes they were but it brought main stream television the issue of violence against Transfolk LONG before it was even considered by the general population to be an issue.

There has also been a

There has also been a transgender woman, Hayley Cropper, on Coronation Street for over 10 years now. Unfortunately, Hayley is not portrayed by a trans actor, but after a few early blips I think they've handled her storyline very well. The actress has become a vocal trans activist and the writers consulted an advisor to help them understand the issues.

I think in the early days a motion was raised in the UK parliament praising both Corrie and Julie Hesmondhalgh's performance.

This is a very interesting

This is a very interesting article, but it leaves me with a question (which requires a preamble). I apologize in advance for my lack of correct vocabulary or if my clumsy attempts to phrase what I mean causes offense -- rereading this, I can already see places that might, but I can't think of other ways to state my experience and question.

Of those trans people who have identified themselves as such to me, the majority seemed overwhelmingly concerned with "passing" -- as being identified not as trans-anything, but as the gender/role with which they identified. One friend, who identified to me as m-to-f trans very early on (so that I helped with the early stages), complained for a long while about her perceived lack of "trans people helping other trans people". She later explained it as, in her opinion, because eventually they wanted to stop being identified as trans-anything, but just male or female.

I understand there is a wealth of variation among people who are born in one kind of body/societal role but identify with another. I understand that some portion of people who consider themselves transsexual do not undergo all the surgeries or have different points at which they feel they have "finished". Even the term "trans" is confusing, since it seems to refer to a state of change, with a person starting at one point and ending at another, while the identification of being "trans" seems like a permanent state of identity. My experiences and understanding are, of course, second hand and not deep, which is why I am asking this question.

Is this something to which you could speak, and could this in any way have an effect on the lack of representation of trans people in popular media/popular culture? I do not know how many trans people I know who I accept without question as the gender/sex/identity they present to me, which would make it seem that representations of trans people would be of the "transition" portion of their lives. Especially if you are separating identity from orientation/attraction, a trans person who has completed at least the social presentation part would be male or female -- or is such a person always considered transsexual?

I do not ask this to contradict the statement of the article that popular culture lacks positive (or, indeed, many at all) representations of trans people. I agree that many minority groups are poorly or negatively represented in popular culture (if they show up at all). Mostly, I'm really curious about what such a representation would look like that would differentiate it from other representations of queer or non-queer people.

It would be nice...

If there were more positive trans characters in movies and TV.

I remember in high school I had begun to become interested in women's clothing - a lot of it just seemed softer, more tailored, just all around better - and I had expressed this desire to integrate some of that clothing into my own wardrobe.

Having little - well, no, really - exposure to crossdressers, transgendereds, or even androgynous people, she immediately freaked out. Her first reaction was something along the lines of "Oh, my god! My son's a drag queen!" followed by an instant worry that I was going to turn into a total freak like the guy in Silence of the Lambs. I promptly dropped the subject, moved to something safer, and we never spoke of it again.

Some time later she insisted that I visit a therapist for an unspecified reason - "I just want to make sure everything's okay" - who informed my mother after an hour that I was extremely well adjusted and there was no need for me to return.

Over the years I've come to see myself, and many of my friends, as being in various stages of transgender. As I embraced cooking and cleaning, sewing and baking, along with gardening and woodworking and all the handyman skills needed to maintain a house, I've come to realize that very few people follow classic gender roles anymore.

And, I finally managed to integrate some feminine clothing into my wardrobe without raising my mother's eyebrow, though her horrible pop-culture references have still tainted her into believing all transgendered/crossdresser/gay (she sees them all as the same thing and interchangeable) people are in some way deviant.

Television or pop culture in general?

You close your post mentioning television, but elsewhere in the post mention pop culture overall. I do think there may be reasons why there are fewer trans characters on, for instance, TV series as opposed to in movies — economic reasons as well as others.

There was an MTF contestant on America's Next Top Model recently, yes? And Alexis Arquette has been a guest judge on a few reality series as well (e.g. Top Design, which is really otherwise forgettable.) Queer Eye For the Straight Guy had an episode featuring a young trans man. And, as Snarky mentioned, there was Candis Cayne on Dirty Sexy Money, which really did leave us too soon. That's all I can think of in terms of actual trans people on non-trans shows.

It seems like trans issues are popping up more and more on medical dramas like House and Grey's Anatomy, where a character is "discovered" to be intersex or biologically a different sex that they presented as, and while I don't know if this can be considered progress in terms of visibility (seeing as how it's presented as a kind of freak occurence), I've felt like these shows have depicted characters grappling with the concept of gender fluidity in an even-keeled way. Faint praise, though?

Also, had to include a shout-out to my favorite trans woman in pop culture: John Lithgow as Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp. 

 

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Both! I've been in

Both! I've been in television, television, TELEVISION mode lately and I did make the mistake of closing with a reference to television, but I most definitely mean pop culture in general; comic books, films, books, music, etc. are all suffering from a lack of trans representation and it's something I would like to see change.

As you point out, intersex/trans characters are starting to show up on medical dramas as objects of curiosity, and I don't know how I feel about that either. On the one hand, yay for television viewers being exposed to these topics, and sometimes the information presented is sound/useful; anyone remember the episode of Private Practice featuring an intersex baby, and ending with a refusal to perform surgery until the baby had a chance to grow up and make ou own decision? Very cool. On the other hand, those depictions also tend to present trans and intersex people as freak shows, which makes me...less happy with them.

Also on SVU

I remember there was a similar episode on Law and Order: SVU where they were investigating a murder and needed to distinguish between a pair of twins.

Technically both were born boys, but one had some medical problem, so the parents decide to surgically change him into a her. Thus this twin was raised to be a girl, not knowing ou's original physical gender complete with hormonal injections and weekly therapist sessions to further emphasize ou's surgically assigned gender. One part of the therapy included the twins performing faux sex acts on each other, again, to push gender roles.
This twin eventually learns the truth and decides to transition back into ou's original physical sex.

Mostly, this portrayal is highly problematic in that this family is treated as a freak show to heighten the drama typical for an SVU episode, especially with the therapist. His comes to represent a more "Dr. Frankenstein" character playing with/creating sexuality rather than allowing ou to make their own decision.

Oh, I remember that episode!

Oh, I remember that episode! It's actually one of the few SVU episodes I've only seen once, and don't remember much of it, but I believe it was based off of David Reimer, no? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer)

There was also the SVU episode featuring Kat Moenning as a trans teen, but like s.e. smith writes, it seemed more like a tokenization than anything else.

Candis Cayne recently had a guest role in Drop Dead Diva as a trans woman fighting for legal rights after her partner passed away. It was a big clusterfuck of a storyline because it dealt with trans issues but also same-sex couples and gender in general. It was interesting, but a shared storyline with something else so it was rather small.

I really love the Degrassi storyline with Adam, and suggest you check out at least a few episodes.

I'm about to start season 5

I'm about to start season 5 of The L Word and so far the Max/Moira storyline has been trans-positive. It's more persistently topical than some of the other characters' storylines - they've covered a lot of material very quickly, from violence against Moira (then identifying as a butch lesbian), to her arrival in LA, meeting a group of trans men, the decision to transition and questioning from friends, issues of access to medical care (Max initially takes black market hormones and cannot afford surgery), discrimination at work, romantic rejection from a ciswoman (vs. two relationships with supportive ciswomen and a hot fling with Alan Cumming's character), rejection and then acceptance by family. There's a surgery fundraiser "prom" and a trans support group, together featuring dozens of FTM actors/extras. By the end of the season Max has been presenting successfully as a man for some months, has left a lucrative job due to harassment, ended a relationship with the lesbian ciswoman who supported his transition, and begun working for a lesbian-owned startup and pursuing a relationship with a co-worker.

Whenever I see a trans*

Whenever I see a trans* character on TV I'm on the edge of my seat just waiting for some fuckery to occur. The only representations I've seen are on shows like Law and Order: SVU, but I don't watch a lot of TV so my knowledge is limited.

I try to avoid SVU for that

I try to avoid SVU for that reason!

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I just want to say...

That I am loving all these comments! I knew Bitch readers would be able to come up with some examples of trans characters in pop culture and have a lively discussion about their depiction, and y'all are not letting me down. It's really great to see all these people chiming in.

I don't remember all of the details, but...

I remember thinking that the movie Transamerica, with Felicity Huffman playing a transwoman on a road trip across America with her son, was well done. My favourite part was her very sweet romance with Graham Greene.

True, there really isn't

This is a great article, I wasn't even aware of the Glee issue until it got mentioned here (strange because I tend to keep my ears to the ground on Trans issues, but maybe not so much since I never watch Glee- I don't do soaps-). It's funny because one of the things that came to mind while reading this is an old idea I had. I saw the commercials for those Pepsi grant projects and I was feeling rather depressed over the lack of Trans role models - I was still edging my way out of the closet & in dire need of a mentor- or at least some positive media images to emulate, when it hit me, I or someone else should do a media campaign to put positive images of Trans people into mainstream media. I thought I could go for a Pepsi grant & do the whole deal. Sadly enough that got lost in the shuffle of applying to grad school- I'm working on becoming a minister & creating change that way-. But it would be great if that actually got off the ground somehow, we need those images & hoping for movies & TV shows to provide won't work.

Honestly, I can't think of a

Honestly, I can't think of a single trans character I've seen (and I've seen a lot) that hasn't been close to trainwreck. Ugly Betty was unwatchable to me by the end of Alexis's run, three episodes in a row with the T word and I was done.

Why are trans characters so uniformly awful? Few (no?) trans writers I guess, so cis writers end up working from their prejudices and assumptions about what sex and gender mean to us.

The base line over transphobic representation to me is when there isn't even trans people onscreen - the constant stream of cheap transphobic "jokes" that every comedy writer has in their repertoire. That's the shit that tires me out, not the lack of characters.

It's also tremendously

It's also tremendously tiring to encounter the 'any representation is a good representation' attitude--no, actually, any representation is not a good representation, and trainwrecky characters, as it were, don't do much for actual trans people living and breathing in society.

I'd like to know why trans characters are so uniformly awful too, and I suspect some of it is the lack of trans writers, but also the attitude that trans consultants aren't needed to make depictions of trans characters better. Shows will hire consultants when they're depicting professions, like doctors and lawyers, but not when they are depicting identities, like disabled people and trans people.

And UGH the transphobic jokes. If the show can't find a way to work in a troped, cliched character, maybe it can throw in some trans hate!

I don't know if it qualifies...

They did an interesting episode towards the end of Freaks and Geeks where Amy, the band girl that is dating Ken, reveals to him that she is/was an intersexed individual. She does retain that she identifies as female, but she confesses it to him because it is still a large part of her identity. The episode continues with Ken exploring his sexuality and what that means for him, and he does this exploring on his own, and it was just interesting to me how he approached it, because he didn't immediately deny that he was gay, but explored the possibility and discussed it with his guidance counselor and his friends.

LGB and sometimes T

You know the reason why we sometimes drop the "T" is because the "T" is something else all together. Being transgendered has nothing to do with sexual identity just like being gay/straight/bisexual/pansexual/otherwise queer has nothing to do with gender identity. You can be a straight trans, believe it or not. Sure, I think we should all be allies, they're entirely different issues. Yeah, it's great that alot of the queer community have more healthy ideas about gender roles and identities due to their different dynamic, but it doesnt make it any more relevant. I watched a documentary on trans people in Iran. Within religion and government they aren't anti-trans there, they're anti-gay, while it would be great if they weren't anti-anything at least they can actually separate these identities.

I think s.e. would agree!

Hi NiceLady,

I'm pretty sure s.e. would agree with you on this! Ou said:

A lot of people like to lump depictions of trans identities in with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer characters, thanks to that handy LGBQT acronym, which makes it seem like there are more trans characters around than there really are. Personally speaking, I've honestly always been a little bit uncomfortable with this acronym, intended as a unifying measure, because to me it conflates sexual orientation and gender identity. The 'T' sometimes feels out of place to me although I get the intent behind it.

You are most certainly right that someone can be both straight and trans. No one is disputing that here, we're merely discussing trans representations (or the lack thereof, really).

Hope that helps!
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Interesting British depiction of a trans charachter

The British comedy show "The IT Crowd" (a show that embraces and then subverts a few gender tropes) has an episode where the horrible womanizing head of their organization, Douglas, falls in love with and has an affair with a transexual woman. The joke is that he is a very bad listener and when she says, on their first date, "I used to be a man" he thinks she is saying she is from Iran and he says it's fine with him, he doesn't care!

They have an ideal relationship. This can be seen as problematic because the ideal nature of their relationship is that they both like things that "blokes" like: drinking games, watching sports etc.. In other words, you could read the joke as "she's obviously not really a girl, and he's too stupid to know." But that's not how I read it and I don't think that's how it's intended. What I see when I watch this sequence is a *great* relationship living outside of the gender norms. As a genderqueer person who doesn't believe in a gender binary I love seeing this relationship. The girlfriend, April, is a lovely and feminine girl who loves the same things he loves and is kind of an insensitive, unrefined jerk. So is he!

What about the "reveal" moment (ie: when he actually understands her telling him about her history)? He hugs her REALLY hard and says "oh god." He is then shown to struggle with this alone in a very child-like way and he finally, sorrowfully, tells her they must break up. They both weep (both acting feminine) she asserts that she is a woman and he does not dispute this. It's obviously his problem, not her's. She then grows more angry and punches him across the room. It becomes an all-out brawl, destroying the building, breaking down walls etc. She does end up losing the fight but it seems fine in the context as this was not abuse but a brawl between equals. (And it's a great fight.) Very odd and still problematic but I enjoy the episode. It's funny and respectful and Douglas is show as very lucky to have had a girlfriend as awesome as her.

I should also add...

The final scene of the episode shows Douglas in bed eating pizza and watching sports alone, with a magazine showing that she has written an article about him entitled "Arsehole" and he weeps because he loves April & misses her. So sad!

Oy, see, I could not

Oy, see, I could not disagree more. I loved the IT Crowd but I was pissed off basically through that entire episode. I absolutely saw all the "ideal relationship" scenes as saying "see it's the perfect relationship because SHE'S A DUDE WITH BOOBS AND A VAGINA!" She was the butt of the joke basically the whole episode.

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

April in the IT Crowd

Also, I read that as Douglas having killed her for being trans, which is most definitely NOT a joke, and happens in real life to transwomen disproportionately. Don't know if I can continue to watch...

Popular

Strangely, Glee's Ryan Murphy dealt overtly with transphobia in his first teen show, Popular. The woodshop teacher, Miss Debby, is MTF, and the first season's episode "Ch-Ch-Changes" deals with the students' (unsuccessful) campaign to preserve her job after parents demand she be removed. Some of the characters, younger and older, oppose her and make transphobic jokes in the first half of the episode, but by the end, all the named characters support Miss Debby and this is shown unequivocally as the right thing to do. There's also an unexpected this-is-my-life-not-just-your-cause lesson after the teenagers call for media attention to the discrimination. I don't think the episode is without problems -- the t-word appears without clarification that it's a slur, and the kids protest Miss Debby's removal by crossdressing, which doesn't make any sense.

In terms of trans* and gender-subversion portrayal, the show is mixed but ultimately supportive, I think. There's another character, the apparently straight butch Miss Glass, whom others believe is a closeted transman. They call her "sir" and make jokes that basically have the punchline "This person is ambiguously gendered! Isn't that funny!" In the second (and last) season, the kids realize that the way they've treated her is actually unfair and prejudiced, and they stop, which is good...but also bizarre, since the show went more than a year without anyone seeming to have a problem with it. This all makes me wonder if the characters in Glee are headed for a lesson (or six) about their treatment of various groups.

*?

Sorry to head off topic, but WTF is with the asterix after trans that a few people seem to be using. trans*?

*!

http://www.camp-trans.org/ explains it pretty well on their homepage. Essentially, it can mean transsexual OR transgender, amongst others, and the "*" denotes the myriad of different categories.