In my previous post on transgender representation, I spoke to a range of people – writers, journalists, filmmakers, activists – most of them trans, to find out their thoughts on how transgender people are represented* in Comedy and Drama, on television and in film, at the moment.
*Pics inspired by this post from the BFI: 10 Great Transgender Films, check it out.
To find out where we’re going, I asked people what they want to see next. This is what they said:
1) Jo Clifford, playwright/performer. Trans* characters who are just getting on with our lives. Where our ‘transness’ is not particularly an issue.
2) CN Lester, musician/writer/activist. Some diversity! Some trans people aren’t men or women, and all of us have a lot more going on in our lives than ‘being trans’. I don’t want to see another character who spends all their time playing out cis cliches of trans lives – it’s as done as the ‘tragic gay coming out’ trope. Don’t focus on our genitals and don’t make us into a walking punchline. If your trans characters aren’t as rich and exciting as your cis characters, ask yourself why.
3) Morgan M Page, performance + video artist/writer/activist. One of the major problems of cis people writing trans characters is that we’re treated as islands. There’s only ever one of us, unconnected to any others. And this is just not the reality of our lives. What I want to see are explorations of trans social settings, in which there are many characters who are trans, who each have their own ambitions and compulsions. And that isn’t possible to do if the writing room only has cis people in it, because most cis people can only ever imagine a singular trans narrative. They can dress it up however the like, but it boils down to the same old, tired story in the end. It’s just these days that story is portrayed as touching and empowering, whereas twenty years ago, that story was lurid and sensational.
4) Elaine Gallagher, writer: I’d like to see trans* people portrayed as people, and not as vehicles for issues or the angst and misunderstanding of cis people, and not only in pieces about gender. Just as you see people of colour as characters in TV shows or films without comment on their race, I’d like to see, say, a trans woman working as a crime scene investigator or a political analyst. While there is drama in trans* situations and struggles and sacrifices, and that has to be part of their character to be valid, it can’t be the whole of the character, which it has been in everything I’ve mentioned above.
5) Rose Marshall, community worker/activist: I think we need more non binary voices, more Queer people, more trans people of colour, more agender people, more trans masculine/men, to show both trans and non trans people there is no one way to be a human being. We need to be shown as people with capacity, with talents, skills, hopes and fears outside our gender, without shying away from the impact societal disapproval has on mental and emotional wellbeing. In other words, we need to be portrayed in the same rich and diverse way non trans people are seen.
6) Debbie Moon, writer. I feel like we’re seeing a lots of trans women in television and film, and not many trans men, so perhaps there’s a balance to redress there. There are also elements of the trans experience that aren’t yet appearing in fiction. For example, increasing availability of drug treatments is allowing trans teenagers to delay puberty until they’ve completed surgery and/or transition. This means that most of those transitioning in the next ten years will live their whole adult life as their corrected gender. The traditional ‘trans narrative’ that we know from movies – feeling unhappy, cross-dressing, agonising about whether to seek help, and finally transitioning in their 20’s or later – is basically defunct. Those decisions are being made not by adults now, but by teens and tweens. This is excellent for them – but writers have yet to catch up with that. That’s a whole range of new and exciting stories to tell!
7) Caroline Clarke, Queer YA blogger. I feel there is a lot of ‘I was born in the wrong body’ type of stories where the vision of gender is very binary and where the characters wants to/will transition to the gender they feel on the inside. This is only one aspect of an identity within the transgender umbrella and I would very much like to see more shades of grey (aka non-binary characters and story lines) when it comes to gender as opposed to go from girl to boy or vice versa without nothing in-between. Gender identity is so much more than simply changing a person’s gender expression, the way they dress, the way they act.
I also want to see a lot more of light-hearted stories, maybe some comedy. We absolutely need to watch and hear about stories that shed light on how transgender people are perceived and how much misunderstanding and violence there is, but we also need to have stories featuring trans characters who just happen to be trans characters.
8) Fox Fisher, filmmaker. It’s about putting yourself out there and creating the content you want to see. [Lucky Tooth Films] are making a shift from empowering and fresh documentary to realistic fictional stories, both comedy and drama. I’ve been attending more acting auditions and many industry bigwigs are aware that it’s more about incidental trans* representation on TV and film (for example my friend Leng Monty, a transguy who was on Masterchef). I would like to see more trans* input into trans* characters during the development stage, as well as trans* people being cast in that role as well. I would also like to see more trans* people playing cis roles, which would be true progression.
Our documentary, featuring 7 stories of trans people living in the UK, is coming out on C4 this year, and we get to present it as well. Lewis Hancox (the other co-founder of My Genderation) is writing a lot of comedy at the moment and when he is commissioned, it will be a ‘coming of age’ story which everyone will be able to relate to.
The Trans* Comedy Award, which Clare Parker (trans-female comedian) helped organise, through the BBC, revealed a lot of interesting scripts and ideas. Lock Up Your Daughters’ short film, High Heels Aren’t Compulsory came out of that. The winning script for the competition, Boy Meets Girl, is nearing completion. It stars Rebecca Root, a trans-woman who is playing a trans* character.
Change really is on the up, although again, there is very little trans-male and non-binary representation in film and TV.
9) Lisa Williamson, writer. More transgender character (and actors) on our screens! I’ve very excited about the new BBC sitcom, also called Boy Meets Girl, which features a trans actor, Rebecca Root, in the main role. Although there has been a slow increase of trans characters on our TV and film screens, their storylines (with a few exceptions) tend to be one-note, or focus solely on ‘issues’ rather than everyday life. Putting a trans character at the centre of a rom-com is just one of the ways we can go about presenting a truer and less sensationalist representation of the trans experience. So more of that please!
10) Claire Parker, writer/stand-up/radio presenter. As the media becomes more aware of the trans narrative we are in danger of seeing a split in perceived acceptance. Traditional media loves pretty pretty sparkly people. This has always been an issue but when we look at a pretty man or women in the traditional sense you don’t tend to question the potency of their gender, just their eye candy potential.
With trans people coming into the media we will see the same thing happen. Unfortunately they will choose trans people who most closely resemble the gender they identify with, and the most beautiful. This disenfranchises the demonstrably trans and will send a signal that the media considers you less of a man/woman/GQ and by inference that you are more acceptable the more you look like Cisgendered people. A heterosexual love story with a demonstrable trans person playing the role would be a great start in moving away from stereotyping beauty/gender for starters.
11) Michael Richardson, writer. A lot of people mentioned “transface” – the practice of a non-trans actor playing a trans person, read more about this on B2W, HERE – as something they’d like to see the back of, and I agree. For me, representation is about changing hearts and mind and Children’s programming is where we really need to get things right. CBBC made a great start last year with the documentary, I Am Leo, about a 13 year old trans boy. I’d love to see gender explored and expanded in children’s Comedy and Drama, and incidental trans characters become par for the course.
DID YOU SEE PART 1? The same experts here share their notable trans characters of recent years. Read it HERE.
BIO: Michael Lee Richardson is a writer and youth worker based in Glasgow. In 2013, his Young Adult comedy script, Real Life Experience – about a young trans man starting his last year of school and socialising as a boy for the first time – was ‘highly commended’ for the Trans Comedy Award. As a youth worker, he set up and runs Trans* Youth Glasgow.
Some very good points made above. Particularly the lack of trans-men and the ‘pretty pretty’ image that the media seems afraid to diverge from. Also excellent work being done by Fox Fisher. Go guys!
I’ll just be happy when they stop thinking transsexual and transvestite are the same thing!