UNST Pop. Culture
February 20, 2014
The Representation of Trans* in the Media
I believe that the media is responsible for sizable chunk of our society’s education.
The media is in charge of setting the norm, many people repeat what they see in the
media. If people see violence or offensive language aimed towards a certain group,
they become desensitized to such negative content, it becomes the “norm”. I see it in
the news, at school, and from trans* individuals themselves. And unfortunately
some of the most popular shows, are the ones demonstrating transphobia
The media the portrayal of Trans* individuals is mainly that of the victim or
the aggressor. According to GLAAD’s article Victims or Villains: Examining Ten years
of Transgender Images on Television. Transgender individuals are casted as the
victim 40% of the time, while they are casted as villains 21% of the time. We are
rarely portrayed on the media in a strong positive role, being seen as either a victim
or a villain affects how society views people like me. We are seen as unstable, like
something is wrong with us, that we are sick. GLAAD points out “Since 2002, GLAAD
catalogued 102 episodes and non-recurring storylines of scripted television that
contained transgender characters, and found that 54% of those were categorized as
containing negative representations at the time of their airing”.
That is over half of the TV shows being aired, if that was bad enough 61% of TV
shows content contained anti-Trans* slurs, and dialog. GLAAD even calls out some
of the more popular shows which contain offensive content below:
“CSI (CBS), which not only featured a transgender serial killer who murdered his
own mother, but scenes in which transgender murder victims were openly mocked
by the show’s lead characters while examining their bodies and crime scenes.
The Cleveland Show (Fox), in which a man vomits onscreen for a lengthy period of
time after discovering he had slept with a transgender character. The episode also
contained anti-trans language and defamatory characterizations.
Nip/Tuck (FX), which featured a storyline about a transgender woman who
regretted her transition, a transgender sex worker being beaten, and an entire
season about a psychopathic trans woman depicted as a baby-stealing sexual
predator who sleeps with her own son” (GLAAD).
This is so disappointing, as a child I was often referred to as “It” or “He-she specie”
and it is frustrating seeing the media endorse this kind of behavior.
You may oppose my accusation, the effect that the media hold over our ideas of
normal is subtle and toxic, although it has the potential to become empowering.
The Media hold the potential to change the norm for the better, shows suck as
Orange is the New Black, The Fosters, and GLEE are changing how we see Trans*
represented in the media today! They are portraying in-depth, realistic Trans*
characters. And I give extra props to The Fosters and Orange is the New Black for
actually using Transgender actors and actresses to portray the Trans* character!
I would like to believe that the media cares what happens to us, how their content
affects us, but right now I am feeling nothing.
After the death of Dr. Vanderbilt, ESPN chose to post the article which lead to her
decision to end her life. Dr. V was forcibly “outed” by journalist Hannan, after he
promised that he would only write about the science behind her famous golf clubs.
When discussing the death of Dr. V, Mr. Hannan referred to her as his “subject”.
Below is a conversation courtesy of Buzzfeed LGBT:
Wasik: “Reread it with this thought: ‘All this was written after the central subject had been driven to suicide, arguably by the the writer.’”
Wasik: “But if I were your editor, I don’t know that I could have steered you any other way. The story must go on.”
Hannan: “Appreciate that, Bill. These questions are going to come up when the subject of your story takes their own life.”
In his mind he didn’t cause the death of a woman, but rather some horrible creature.
If Dr. Vanderbilt had been cisgender, and Hannan had bullied her to the point of
suicide, he would have been arrested. As victims we are not taken seriously, we are
seen as subhuman, or not even human at all. Another example is CeCe McDonald, a
23-year old (trans) woman who was sent to prison for stabbing her tormentor with
scissors, he was committing a hate crime, and CeCe was using self-defense. But CeCe
was never seen as the victim she really was, rather she was sentenced to 41 months
in a MEN’S prison facility. A MEN’S PRISON. What kind of sick fuck puts a women in
a men’s prison? When the incident was brought to the media’s attention they used
her birth name and the incorrect pronouns. Paul Walsh referred to her using
masculine pronouns or as “Admitted Killer”.
People think it is okay to humiliate Trans* people through the use of media, because
they see us as “fake”, as if we are deceiving them. You probably don’t know how
hurtful or embarrassing it is to be mis-gendered, to be purposefully called by the
improper pronouns. There are many documentaries which bring to light the
discrimination that many trans* individuals face daily, there is proof of the prejudice
In the documentary I’m Not Les the discrimination that Sherri (Les) faces
throughout her life. She was abused by her father for not being “normal”, was
constantly ostracized and bullied by her peers, and as a adult she was fired
for being biologically born a man. She went to the bank to apply for a loan for sex
reassignment surgery, she received “bottom” surgery and “top” surgery in Thailand.
But even after the surgeries she was still afraid. This fear kept her from doing what
she loved best, dancing. She dropped square dancing off and on, but soon found her
courage. Shortly after she met Sonny. He was raised traditionally and spent time in
the military, there he was taught to hate gays. Once Sonny heard the rumors that
Sherri was born a man, he walked out on her. He would no longer look her in the
eye, or talk to her. Many trans* individuals face the fear of losing someone they care
about just because they were born a different gender. I face this fear every day, it is
terrifying if I am put in the situation where I have to tell a friend I’m trans*, most of
the time I chicken out. I believe that this stigma on trans* individuals stems from the
media. Looking back in history the stigma towards Trans* individuals was almost
nonexistent (until Christianity started their conquest). Many held seats of power;
they were priests and priestesses, advisors, or sages.
In Albania if a virgin (woman) swears before 12 witnesses she is recognized as a
man and carries out duties traditionally belonging to men, she may also marry.
This practice still continues in modern Albania, although stays primarily in the
countryside. In Greece MTF priestesses served Artimis, with stories depicting
gender-bending heroes (www.bilerico.com). Unfortunately, the violence against
Trans* and non-conforming individuals is not a new phenomenon, and in “1513
conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa discovered what he claimed was a colony of
cross-dressing males in present day Panama and slaughtered them” (tghistory.org).
Where does this hatred and animosity come from? Does it sprout from
Christianity? The you may question why I would blame the media… While the US
claims separation of State and Church I feel that the boundary line is smudging. If
feel that we are allowing religion to influence broadcasting, bills, and even the image
of presidency. Is Obama really Christian? Or does he too fear religion? Everything is
connected, while not every one is constantly exposed to religion, one constant is the
media. If a gay man is constantly viewed as extremely flamboyant society quietly
takes note. If a trans* person is broadcasted as a freak, while unconscious the note is
still being taken. Society dictates how we act, perceive ourselves, and what roles we
assume. For example, in action movies and TV shows Russians are often portrayed
as communist villains, or mafia. And our source of societal education comes from the
media. By changing how our media represents different groups we can change the
out come. Prejudice and intolerance could potentially be a thing of the past. But until
the change is made we will continue to live in fear. The fear of being rejected,
ostracized, mistreated, and assaulted. Every time I attempt to use the men’s
restroom I am always on high alert. Any one of those men could lash out. I can see it
in their eyes. I am so tired of being on guard. My biggest fear is that I may end up
like CeCe, in prison for defending myself. We are not a free country, so many of us
are still discriminated against. We are no better than Russia… there are still states
who hold similar laws.
I’m Not Les