Popular Trans Culture and Cultural Trans Pop : ‘Unique’ or not?

Every one who is anyone (gleeks) probably saw the introduction of Unique on the latest episode of Glee (season 3) and thought ‘well isn’t that swell’.  It was.  The issues I have are about the lack of characterization and the show which in its beginnings was daringly inclusive and pushed and affirmed equality, with queer, differently abled plot lines among others.  Now in its third season, it is the standard rule and not the exception to see socially disadvantaged people promoted to the spotlight.  Queer, larger than life, foreign, untalented, differently abled, jewish, first world problems, drugs, religion, ugliness, teen pregnancy and self esteem  are just some of the plots we have seen so far – and now it’s time to ‘do’ trans.

Glee’s social resonance can still give me shivers, like David Karofsky’s attempted suicide, but the trans storyline felt token to me – under prepared and over finished.   This week we saw Unique (spoilers) unleash herself in an amazing rendition in a Vocal Adrenalin performance, only to realize that the plot doesn’t really touch base with reality. First query - was Unique a transwoman? was she genderqueer? or still coming to terms with gender identity as a whole?  Screen time limited the exposition of the character so come the end of the show, we are unsure what the future holds for Unique.  She is a male presenting female identified (we assume) student at a rival school, who reaches out to Kurt and Mercedes for affirmation, so the female diva within can be all that she desires.  Second problem with this – if a student is reaching out to students of other schools for help, something is wrong with the school / support structures available to that person.  It is implied that Unique had nowhere else to turn.  Third problem – Reaching out for Kurt and Mercedes implies – she’s queer like Kurt and black like Mercedes – isn’t this superficial from the writers?  Is also supports the concept that trans* people are or should be queer identifying, which many aren’t.  Fourth problem – is Unique a drag name?

As time passes, we see more and more divergence from popular trans culture and cultural trans pop, in other words, the difference between what trans people think about themselves and what other people think and write about them.  One is going to affect the other, people will begin to believe the myth as they always have, or television shows like Glee will take a turn towards reality.  The harsh reality is often missing,  except in hard to find documentaries by trans people.   We are used to seeing gender crossed individuals twist plot lines, but rarely does pop culture go behind the gender identity curtain.   Episodes like this one from Glee dance around it – but there are so many questions trans people will consider unanswered about the character that a mainstream audience will consider nicely wrapped up.

So who is Unique?  A secret passion for going Diva, she is without doubt a star performer – but the complexity of the real life issue seems make the whole characterisation trivial.   I’m glad that gender identity was not confused with sexual preference, I assume at this point Unique is just asexual and fabulous?  The sole motivation for the character is to be fabulous, not to overcome visible or emparted oppression, or spit in the faces of the bigots who pick on her, etc,  just fabulousness.   Again it’s a little shallow.  The character is more akin to a drag queen – fabulousness for fabulousnesses sake.   But we won’t ever know much, the actor playing Unique is only contracted for two shows.

It seems that too little is still too much for some people.  On the other side of the coin, the episode has received criticism for promoting alternative lifestyles.  Glee will not only make your children gay, but also transgender, according to Bill O’Reilly on the culture warrior segment of his show.

The world is fucked because people are told to think it is wrong to not identify with the gender you are born with.  This makes it hard for any writer or show to depict the principled existence of any transgender person, ie their right to exist because they do.  It’s an uphill battle, without much downhill and maybe a nice plateau at the end of your climb from which to start a better life.  One miracle song might change the people in the audience, but it is only the first step of many on the road to becoming who you want to be.  The episode was about dreams and while we assume that Unique has more dreams than to sing in front of Jesse ‘the prick’ St. James, we might never know what they are.

Here is the performance which 31% of voters chose as the best song of the episode, beating ‘You Should be Dancing’ from Blaine, Brittany and Mike


@allyneeds AllyN is trans / gender activist from Perth Western Australia, hoping to support and build a local genderqueer community. This means breaking binaries, challenging oppression and doing everything for fun! Happily queer and vegan, an organiser, performer and activist against all types of oppression, quietly hacking the world.

"A free world has no slaves, a free world takes no prisoners!

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 21st, 2012 at 2:46 pm and is filed under Articles, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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