The Transgender Pride flag waving on top of a building.www.flickr.com
Transgender representation in media has increased over the past decade. This means incredible headway with trans actresses/actors in front-facing roles and as political leaders! Yet, is all the spotlight good for transgender individuals overall? Often representation in the media is not all sunshine and rainbows. And surely that means that not all press is good press. And with this increase, as it was a decade or so ago for gay media, there is a lot of focus on tragedy or tragic elements of transgender experiences.
Specifically, the huge uptake in reporting of transgender women of color being murdered or having hate crimes committed against them throughout the United States capitalizes on the terrible events these women have experienced. And the audacity of some media companies not even gendering victims correctly or even acknowledging it as a tragedy! It’s a paradoxical thing to be represented within the media and this breakdown aims to expose the good, the bad, and the ugly.
X made up of check marksPhoto by 愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash
Not all representatives in media are true to what it means to be transgender. Nor do they always convey what it feels like to be trans. It’s incredibly hard to generalize the thoughts, ideas, and feelings of a group of people, but it’s even harder to misrepresent them as a whole. Usually, the misrepresentation is coming from cisgender people spreading misinformation or weighing in on transgender issues as if their opinion was as important as a trans person’s. But there are some bad apples among us as well that do the same. Like Caitlyn Jenner, who had a failed political run and is planning another on an anti-transgender campaign.
If you don’t know the timeline of Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out and transition, it’s imperative to go over the facts to better understand the full story and how detrimental her ideas are to the transgender population. But it’s not just her taking a toll on how people perceive being transgender. Other famous people like Lil Nas X, while creating more awareness, also did a great job of misrepresenting and creating negative perceptions around pregnant transgender men. It’s cases like these where, with no transgender representation backing the ideas, when a lot of backlash and misunderstanding come from both sides.
Check mark made up of x'sPhoto by 愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash
It’s not all bad though. There are many advocates, political leaders, and famous people who do a great job of taking on the difficult task of representing the transgender community with accuracy and poise. Actor Elliot Page has put in the work to share his experience on a personal level that helps not only out trans people, but closeted ones as well. And State Senator Sarah McBride does so in a much more intense way, as she puts herself in front of some of the most influential cisgender white men in the United States to advocate for us all.
Next are the ones who have dedicated their profession and life to helping the transgender community; this comes in many forms but notably are the mental health professionals who have been combating some of the worst things transgender people can experience. Then, on a much smaller scale, no-name advocates share their stories, experiences, and lives with others with the optimism of spreading hope to those who are currently struggling. It’s not a long list, nor is it extensive and comprehensive of all the amazing advocates, actresses/actors, and transgender individuals who faithfully represent what it means to be transgender.
There are bad representatives, there are good ones, and then there are the media that convey them. It’s in this conduit that things can get muddled and a paradox appears (and even if it is crystal clear, things can still be misconstrued). The paradox appears in many situations – on TV, in the news, or in general media. Mainly it happens due to lack of thought but not always. The paradox itself? It’s the representation that can possibly have positive outcomes and maybe even have the best intentions, but also produce its own set of negative ones alongside. A perfect example of this can be seen on the big screen in many TV shows and movies.
Cisgender (and sometimes transgender) people will play characters such as ‘transvestites’, ‘trannies’, or ‘trans sex workers'. While these characters could be perfectly and historically accurate, sometimes the needed discussion to make things clear and accurate does not happen. Often these representations stay in the category of misrepresentations. Not all transgender individuals are sex workers and have a life of heavy drug abuse, criminal activity, and promiscuous encounters. And starting conversations about transgender individuals is great! Except when there are no trans people to speak for themselves. This happens a lot, more than is helpful. News outlets will report on hate crimes without doing the due diligence of researching their ‘story’ about a trans person. So yes, it’s good that there is this exposure to start the dialogue, but without the much need for trans voices to set records straight or clarify, the good often results in the bad as well.
How Do You Get Proper Transgender Representation?
Well, a start is to put transgender voices, works, and ideas at the forefront of the conversations. Not only that but there must be more opportunities given to do so because we can talk, write, and spread our thoughts all we want but without a platform, most of the time, it is unfruitful. Moreover, the conversations and platforms need more than just to advocate- they need to help insight the change we want to see. You can put us on TV all you want but if you’re not backing us up by supporting our cause in other forms, your advocacy is really just for show. It’s kind of like homophobic brands making merchandise for pride – you can say you support us all you want and still put a ton of money into anti-LGBTQ campaigns. Education needs to go hand in hand with conversations and support.