As a cinephile, I’m always noticing trends in Film and TV. Sometimes they’re silly (Dinosaurs, everywhere!), annoying (sparkly vampires), or even downright sexist (chick flicks) or stupid (the term ‘chick flicks’). Trends are determined by many factors, but the most important one: money. Money determines film trends in a way that’s different from other types of art. Whoever has the money, makes the movies. However, since technology has made making movies much more accessible, practically anyone, anywhere, with a 1-chip or a smartphone, can make a video and put it on the internet. They have a voice. One voice that’s getting louder, and one that we should be listening to is the voice of the Transgender Community.
According to a study of Trans representation in media done by GLAAD:
“Since 2002, GLAAD catalogued 102 episodes and non-recurring storylines of scripted television that contained transgender characters and found that 54% of those were categorized as containing negative representations at the time of their airing. An additional 35% were categorized at ranging from “problematic” to “good,” while only 12% were considered groundbreaking, fair and accurate enough to earn a GLAAD Media Award nomination.”
At its most basic, this means that every other Trans person you see on TV is a sex worker, a victim, a deviant, or some other stereotype of a Trans person written by a cis-gendered person. Sound familiar? That’s because this problem already exists in many other forms, and all over media. It’s the misrepresentation of Women, people of color, young black males, etc. It’s the plots, storylines, and characters who are nothing but shallow facades for perpetuating stereotypes, or flimsy catalysts for offensive jokes or pseudo poignant plotlines. Remember that episode of The Cleveland Show back in 2009? I don’t either because Seth Macfarlane stopped being entertaining to me after the second season of Family Guy. That entire episode was a spoof on Tyler Perry’s Madea films. That is, until, Cleveland outs Auntie Mama (the Madea-type character) as trans after she has sex with his father, and if that joke didn’t land, it is followed by a way too long vomit sequence.
Did Macfarlane also forget how much violence is experienced in the transgender community? How utterly terrifying it is to be a transgender woman of color because statistically, they are targeted the most? Even my beloved Law & Order: SVU 2003’s episode Fallacy had a rape victim, who after turning out to be a transwoman, was ridiculed and attacked with transgender slurs by the one of the detectives on her case. The trans woman’s boyfriend also vomits a whole lot after finding out she was transgender. I’m starting to sense another trend here…
If accurate representation is part of the new civil war, then media is the most powerful weapon. Thankfully, the Trans community has been making strides in the last few years when it comes to representation. One of the problems with many Trans characters is that they are not being played by Trans actors, even though there are probably more than enough. From 2007-2008, Candis Cayne played a Transgender mistress in ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money, which aired on primetime, and was the first transgender actor to play a reoccurring transgender character. Laverne Cox, on Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black is not only an actor, but she is an activist for the Transgender community. Tom Phlelan, only 17, has a reoccurring role on ABC Family’s The Fosters. The web series Brothers, currently on YouTube, has a main cast of all Trans men. Although it plays out like a not as well-written, gender identity swapped version of HBO’s Girls, it still very astutely mixes genuine “day in the life of” drama with the challenges that come with being Trans.
Now, more than ever, transgender characters are starting to be less of a victim and more of a, well, person. There is still a long way to go. Many cis-women characters are still sexist misrepresentations, and many characters of color are, well, caricatures. Transgender characters, like all characters, deserve full and realized arcs where they aren’t victims or deviants. We may be a long way from having a Netflix genre called “Movies With A Strong Transgender Lead”, but we’re heading in the right direction.