Representation

I’ll admit, as a former white guy, I never quite grasped the importance of representation, and not just representation, but positive representation. For the record, in this entry, I’m talking specifically about representation in the media.

We’ve all seen the token people of color in movies and TV shows, never important characters, usually fairly deficient when compared to the main cast in one way or another, or alternatively, placed there as some idiot savant character. The producers of the shows obviously filling out some racially sensitive quota or another, and I just didn’t get it. When people of color started to have important roles in your average white-led TV show, I didn’t see it as an important step, I didn’t see it as progress, I was absolutely fine to have non-whites in those roles, especially in high quality TV and movies, but I didn’t realize how meaningful it was for minorities to be represented meaningfully.

Then I became the ultimate minority… granted, a white, ridiculously privileged minority, but a minority none-the-less.

When I started to see trans people in TV shows, way before my own transition mind you, they were always represented as victims. At first I was happy to see them because holy shit, a trans person on TV, but at the same time, their trans-ness was always the focus of their being there, they weren’t regular people, they were avatars for whatever freakshow the producers wanted to titillate us with. The first season of Nip/Tuck comes to mind, where the main characters son develops a fetish for trans women, which slowly turns into something more meaningful (after beating the shit out of a trans woman mind you, I cheered when she and her friends put him in the hospital, although blanched at the scene where they all pissed on him while standing up cause hey, they got dicks, may as well use them in the most degrading manner possible…. ugh… fuck you producers… anyways). The end of that season finds Matt and his trans woman friend tied up by some neo nazi asshole who is threatening to mutilate someone’s genitals, and she says something to the effect of “cut mine off, they aren’t any good to me anyways”. A horrific scene, and I love gore and horror and violence in movies, but this time it hit me differently. Again, focus on a trans woman’s genitals was the key part, her being a victim, her being used in a way that a cis woman would never be or could never be in that scene. Glorification, sensationalism, ugh.

I remember Becca looking over at me while we were cuddling on the couch watching this episode and asking if I was OK, that I was pale and shaking. I wasn’t OK, I was scared, I was hurt and terrified, in a way that I’ve never been while watching people be mutilated in the horror flicks or monster movies that I’ve always loved. This one hit close to the heart and it made me feel a discomfort that Pinhead has never gotten from me.

But then came along the wonderful and powerful Laverne Cox. I remember being so excited to see an actual trans woman playing a trans character on a TV show which didn’t seem like it was going to glorify her trans-ness, or use it to make her into a freak. I loved the episodes in which she played a prominent role, especially her backstory episode, that one scene where she is dressing up as a woman for the first time with her wife, and her wife gives her crap about what she’s wearing, saying she looks cheap, and fixes her up properly. Laverne looks at herself in the mirror once her wife is done with her, and with a look of perfect disbelief and shock, says “I’m hot!”. Her wife looking at her, happy for her, yet at the same time, so terribly sad at losing the man that she loves. That scene made me break down into tears, it was something that I had lived, almost line for line with Becca, it broke my heart while at the same time cheering that our stories were finally being properly told.

But ultimately, other than that one episode, I couldn’t find that connection in Orange is the New Black. Partially because I don’t think it’s a very good show, definitely not my style of TV, and other than the “being trans” aspect, there were no other similarities between Laverne’s character and myself, and she is still quite a minor role. What I do seriously appreciate about the show is that her role could be played by any other cis woman, she doesn’t *need* to be trans for the character to make sense, she’s just a woman, who happens to be trans, and I fucking love that. Just wish the show was a little less ridiculous and mean, who wants to watch a bunch of people be shitheads to each other with no point… seriously….

Then along comes the wonderful movie Boy Meets Girl, finally out on DVD this year (and on Netflix for those interested). A generic love story with a twist, the main character is trans! (cue the oooohhhhhhhhhhhs). A sweet story, and the first time I’ve ever seen full frontal nudity of a woman whose body approximates mine (but I’m hotter, all us woman compare ourselves to other women don’t we?, bad habit I need to break), and I could connect to her a lot more than Laverne’s character. It was a story more along my tastes, a character done well and while her being trans was a central part of the story, she wasn’t presented as a victim. Granted, the role was specifically about a trans person, but it worked in this one, she was a strong character, she never apologized for who and what she was, just a girl trying to figure life out in a fucked up and unfriendly world. Huge props to the (cis male) producer for taking this seriously, and doing their research, and listening to the lovely Michelle Hendly (who plays the leading role) about her own experiences in the making of this film.

Over the past week I’ve been watching the new TV series on Netflix called Sense8, and for me, this one finally hit the mark in all ways. One of the main characters is a nerdy, geeky, brilliant, strong yet vulnerable woman, who happens to be trans. Her trans status is used briefly to setup her character and inform people of who she is in the first episode, then nothing is mentioned until episode 8 which I just finished watching, and in this one, she uses her own journey and experiences to help a gay man who is struggling with his own self repression. No one else cares what she is, it isn’t a big deal, she has a couple characters stand up for her identity against her absolute bitch of a mother who continues to deadname her, but other than that, it’s a total non issue and she is never questioned about it. She is simply, a woman. And to top it all off, her genital status is kept completely off the books, it is never mentioned, never questioned about, she has her nude scenes like pretty much all the other main characters have had (only one set of genitals have been shown so far and they are those of a cis guy), and she is treated exactly like any other woman would be.

This is what I want to see, this is what I’ve been waiting to see for so long that I haven’t even realized how long I’d been waiting for it until I saw it. Not a trans woman, but a woman who happens to be trans, played by a woman who happens to be trans, as a leading role, with no victimhood, no focusing on what she is, and the trans aspect only comes up when totally appropriate. It isn’t glorified, it isn’t sensationalized, it’s just an aspect of who she is while they focus on everything else that makes this person amazing.

*That* is representation, and once I saw it, once I felt it, I get why it’s so powerful, and so important for minorities to see themselves on the silver screen. It brings me into the story even more, it lets me connect, it lets me see myself in there instead of watching show after show in which I don’t exist, and when I do, I’m usually the butt of someones joke, or the freak, or in my case, the TRANNY.

We are a part of society, just like everyone else, we are human, we do our shit, let us exist, show us without glorifying us, without victimizing us, show us in positions of strength, let the muggles see us as just another person, represent us.

Thanks to the Watchowskis and JMS for this, let’s make it a trend shall we?

 

»

No Comments (yet)

Leave a Reply

Comments RSS Subscribe to the Comments RSS.