Trans Representation on TV

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Television is one of the few places which gives the impression of freedom of speech, but in reality it recruits profitable ideas for resale and branding.  When it comes to trans and genderqueer representation on television, any publicity is good publicity because it raises awareness.  That being said, trailblazing roles for minorities and the oppressed classes are often found to be rather stereotyped because it has to satisfy the demands of the audience and not empower those groups.  For example, mainstream audiences would feel very uncomfortable if they had to put up with the radical politics that comes being an oppressed minority.

It has been seen over and over in Hollywood and popular television, characters that represent oppressed groups are fun loving and good natured.  Examples of sterotypes in the past include, the loveable tramp (who’s really an alcoholic), the kind people of colour (who are employed by rich white people and don’t want to loose their livelihoods), the extremist muslims (who are really the nicest people).  It takes time before content is produced that people of those groups might actually respect.  It isn’t nice thinking about television history, because it is so fucking distasteful.  While this is going on, heroic efforts are made by traditionally mainstream types (whos look and character vary from nation to nation) who reinforce the status quo.  No tragedy here, just good business.

What we are seeing on television with gender diverse people is a revolution, but it is just getting started.  The controversy of trans people in television relates not to the issues that trans people have, but rather the issues the rest of the world has with them for being different.  People are making an effort, that’s why we are seeing real trans people on TV, but at the same time I think that these people are very much censored and contributing to marketable television.  When I see trans people on television, all I see are other people’s problems prescribed to us via stereotypes without challenging those pre-existing perceptions to actually change people’s minds.

Instead we see people re-inforcing them because they are our strongest root in mainstream society.  We need to use stereotypes as points of reference in order to gain a foothold and an opinion in popular thought.  The concessions that cisgender people make towards transgender people is through their own prejudice, reducing negative feelings and emerging as someone who has overcome their personal fears or failed miserably.  This still doesn’t have anything to do with actual trans people.

If trans people were tell the real story, there would be talk of gatekeepers, discrimination, and oppression from an empire of privileged cisgender people who behave like stormtroopers of an evil empire.  If the truth was told, then we’d talk about the other medications we have to take (probably because we are trans) anti-depressants and other medications that treat the mental conditions that arise from years of mistreatment and misunderstanding.  We’d talk about sexuality, we’d be gay, we’d be bi, we’d be straight, we’d be asexual, polysexual and pansexual.  We’d be activists, gender terrorists, politicians, bloggers, screaming and kicking out against oppression. We’d not obsess on our status as men and women but rather as something else, autonomous from and brilliantly aroused by gender.  We are not cisgender wannabees.

And yet any publicity is good publicity, and stereotypes abound us for the time being, not because we are stereotypes, but that’s all that television companies and producers are buying at the moment.   There are lots of interesting videos and people out there on youtube who make such elegant cases for trans representation and carry through to those who subscribe to them, an unaltered voice of solidarity and strength to the trans community and yet our public identity is based on the following sentiments -

- cliches such as putting on makeup, reverse camera shots into mirrors, before and after photos, surgery, shots in the operating theatre, transwomen in skimpy clothes, transmen in baggy pants, our chests and our genitals.

- personal things such when and why you don’t identify as cisgender, the person’s birth name, where they lived, history of violence and sexual assault, sexual history, marriage history.

- Gender affirmation – praising existing gender identities namely men and women as awesome and not challenging the validity of those ideas which feminism has been doing for years.

- One track conversation – Everything on television about trans people is about trans people doing little else than being trans.  That’s just uninteresting and very offensive to the interesting people who might be in your studio who have friends of all shapes and sizes most probably, for whom being trans is not a burden but a rather small and unobstrusive part of their life.

In the history of television and its presentation of transgender people and characters, I do not feel that any of them have been sufficiently developed for me to identify with them and leads to ‘misnouning’ a person as ‘a transgender’ and not ‘a person’ and so there is a tendency for trans people to ‘other’ the people they see on television because it is soft hitting, soft core controversy that only really tweaks a cisgender mainstream audience.


@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!

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 at 11:02 pm and is filed under Articles. 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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