Trans* in the Media

Tarek Skarbek

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”.

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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!

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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.’”

Hannan: “Ouch.”

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”.

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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.

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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 ( 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” (

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,

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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.


Works cited:



I’m Not Les




10 thoughts on “Trans* in the Media

  1. Wow, Tarek this was a great paper. I learned so much! I myself, have never felt any negative or prejudiced behavior towards trans people because I know a few in my real life. I knew that I always felt like they were portrayed wrongly but it’s interesting to see it from a transgendered persons point of view. A lot of the statistics that you wrote about blew me away, specifically being the victim 40% and being seen as the villain 21% of the time. That means the vast majority of the time we are seeing trans people being portrayed in a negative light. We know the media as a whole influences us, both consciously and subconsciously and it frightens me that people might see these depictions of trans people and take it into their belief system without even knowing it. Our job is to resist these stereotypical portrayals and to make a genuine effort to think for ourselves.

    • The stereotypes are what seem to sink in the quickest… I always have to remind myself that because a individual may walk and talk one way, it does not mean that is who they are…

  2. Hi Tarek,
    Wonderful essay! I was hoping someone would write about this topic because it can be so personal, yet media can portray trans* so inaccurately. I loved how you added not only shows of TV that depict trans in a negative light, but also some that depict them positively as well. You descriptions of your primary and secondary sources were wonderful. Well done!


  3. Tarek
    I didn’t realize how transgenders were always typecast as the villain and victim. It never really crossed my mind until you mention it. One type of media that does depict a hero transgender is the Dallas Buyers Club and the character Rayon. I don’t know if you have seen the movie but it depicts a transgender as a pretty great hero. It is terrible how so many television shows out there use anti trans slurs because you would think in this age things would change. It is great how there are some shows out there that show the positives of transgenders. It is sad to think how people cannot accept transgender people but kudos for you for being brave and writing a paper that is really close to your heart.

    • lalyssa,
      I’ve been wanting to see this movie considering how many awards it’s gotten, and now that you mention they portray a transgender as a hero, I REALLY want to see it now especially after reading Tarek’s essay. I’m going to see it this weekend.
      Thanks guys!

  4. Brilliant, beautiful, heartwarming essay. A lot of people are indifferent to the things around us in society that are suffering. I am grateful you chose to write a piece that touches on a topic many would be hesitant to write about. The media tends to portray most people inaccurately and it is a shame, but if more people speak out about what is the actuality of it, then i can only hope things will change. Well done xx.

  5. Tarek,
    I have to agree with all of the above comments, that this is a great paper, and one that really should be focused on. I think that you’re right that the media and society tell us how to view and live our lives and since trans isn’t the norm it’s looked at as a scary thing. I honestly wasn’t shocked to see the villain percentage rate in TV because you are the outcast, unfortunately. It truly makes me sick that it has to be like that. I think that soon it will get better, it’s like how being gay was a disease like 30 years ago and you couldn’t even get a job if you were gay, and now gay people are getting more and more rights every single day. It’s frustrating because all people should have equal rights, no matter what your sex, religion, race, or gender is.
    I’m truly sorry that you have to live your life in fear, because it isn’t fair. No one should have to live like that.
    I know that PSU is really trying to focus on their LGBTQ outreach across campus. I hope you’ve looked into that.
    Stay strong, thank you for writing this.


    • Laura I think you wrote a wonderful comment. I agree with what you have said and it also makes me sick how people who aren’t the norm are treated. Even just being a girl I was teased so I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for you Tarek. Nobody should be in fear for being who they are. The only I can relate to you in that way, Tarek, would be just being a woman, I cannot walk the streets alone at night in fear that I will be attacked. Tarek, stay strong and stay true to who you are. It’s only up hill from here! Once again Laura, lovely comment 🙂

  6. Great work Tarek, having read your other draft this was a very interesting conclusion and I was really impressed. When I first read your paperI seriously had no idea how horrible the media was to transgender people and it is seriously appalling. Very impressed with your work and thank you for helping me with my paper along the way! Great term and good luck! 🙂

  7. Tarek,
    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s hard to talk publicly about something so personal, but you have done a great service. You use your experience and relate it to what has happened in the media. I think it’s really important for everyone to see this because we can then put it into perspective. For me, I can read an article, like the one on Dr. Vanderbilt, and feel empathy, but there is something different that comes from hearing someone’s personal experience.
    I was shocked and disgusted when you talked about CeCe being put into a men’s prison, and at the same time was given hope by you talking about this and bringing awareness.
    It’s definitely going to make me look closer at how the media portrays Trans people.

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