Transgender Actors have Finally Arrived in the Media in Significant Roles

by Stephanie Kaiser

From dramas like Orange is the New Black to reality shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians, it is clear that the transgender community (transgender refers to those who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) is finally beginning to receive the respect and representation in the media that they deserve. Just a few years ago, they were mostly portrayed as punchlines, like in Mike and Molly, or murderers and prostitutes as seen in CSI, but today they are occupying some of the most coveted roles in Hollywood. Just in 2012-2013, a study by the LGBT+ group GLAAD showed that 54% of the transgender characters on television were showed in a derogatory fashion. This is especially significant since TV and movie portrayals are strong guidelines for how the American public understands various groups of people. But, with the influx of trans-central television and representation in the media, that image is beginning to change to one that shows transgender people as exactly that – people. Now, those that were once universally misunderstood and misrepresented seemed to drawing some of the highest ratings in American entertainment. Accurate representation in the media is also important for those who are trans themselves. To see someone that they can relate to is important, and may encourage them to come out or educate people on what it means to be transgender. Still, the majority of shows featuring trans characters and actors tend to focus the plot around that characters identity. This tendency to typecast is noted by Nick Adams, director of transgender media for GLAAD, who states that he can only name two examples where transgender actors took on cisgender roles (when one identifies with the gender he/she was assigned at birth). Both the cisgender and transgender communities prefer that they be represented in the media by people who identify similarly to them. Trans actress Bianca von Krieg, who has played roles on Glee and Looking, has even said that her playing a cisgender role was “equivalent to casting white actors in blackface.” Others, like Sense8 actress Jamie Clayton, who plays transgender Nomi on the show, are unhappy with the connotations “trans” brings. “The media likes to use it as a disclaimer,” she said in a press conference in June. “Until the world at large and the media are more comfortable with trans people, and the word trans is used as an accolade, I’m not comfortable with Nomi being referred to as a trans hacker.” Though the transgender community is gaining traction and attention in the nation’s media, it will still take a lot of time and work from television networks, actors, and the American public until the prejudices surrounding the identity are broken down. These recent improvements are a step towards better recognition for this community, but now we must try to move away from viewing transgender people as simply a trend in the media to accepting them for more than their gender.

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