The media and the film industry have not always been kind to trans people and still continue to be malicious, harmful and misleading. One of the first films that I recall is Ace Ventura, where the Jim Carey's character spends about 5 minutes hysterically cleaning himself and his body after finding out his romance interest was in fact... duh duh duh, a trans woman. In some ways, things haven't really changed much since The Crying Game (1992). Other deeply problematic films made this millennium include Soldier's Girl (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), The Hangover 2 (2011), The Inbetweeners (2011), Dallas Buyer's Club (2013), The Danish Girl (2015) and disappointingly, Absolutely Fabulous (2016). Thought of any more? They probably have the same joke or tired stereotype.
(From Ace Ventura)
What these films usually have in common is a lack of understanding towards trans issues, where harmful and misleading stereotypes about trans people are enforced. Not surprisingly, trans people are tired of being the subject of ridicule, disgust or are shown for the shock effect value and usually don't involve an actual trans person playing the role. Of course, as trans people, we find ways to bring humour to our situation, but this Hollywood / Pinewood stereotypical crap perpetuates a cycle of prejudice that leads to stigma, discrimination and even violence. And it doesn't do much for our own sense of worth as well.
But it's not all grim and awful, because fortunately more positive representation of trans people is starting to worm its way into popular media. This includes shows such as Orange is the New Black, Transparent, Sense 8 and Boy Meets Girl.
(Jamie Clayton as Nomi in Sense 8)
Despite requiring more funding and making content on a fraction of Hollywood's budget, there is an influx of rise diverse series about trans people, with powerful gems such as Her Story and As We Are. The latter features a main character who is a trans person and touches upon issues of identity, affection and sexuality within the LGBTQ+ community. Written by Deborah Espect, trans issues are included in a respectful manner, a habit that more writers and producers should take to heart. Myself and my partner Owl consulted on the script and I acted on the show (along with a few other trans people). So if you have a spare 40 minutes, watch the entire 1st series. It's winning awards galore as it does the festival circuit, so fingers crossed for a 2nd series. Again, this web series was self funded by the writer / director and she's yet to see any financial gain from this. She's hoping to raise money to make the 2nd series possible and majority of the crew and cast gave their time for free.
What gives these shows and web series an edge is that they are made with trans people involved in all stages of production, either as staff members, producers, writers or consultants. In a society that is so full if misinformation and myths about trans people and trans issues, it is very easy for even well meaning people to fall into traps of tired tropes that enforce harmful misconceptions about trans people.
Involving a number of trans people in the production related to their issues from different walks of life can highly enhance the production value and impact a show can have. The media and film industry, in all it's gatekeeping glory, has the power to make or break harmful attitudes. It is therefore vitally important to realise the responsibility we carry when we create content on marginalised groups and must do so with integrity, respect and a pure heart.
Trans people are often not given the opportunity to take part in films about trans people and the majority of trans roles go to cis actors that aren't even the same gender as the character. This is one of the reasons why it was my idea to set up a trans acting course at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, giving trans people a chance to let their dreams in the realm of acting come true.
There is immense power and solidarity within the trans community and when push comes to shove, it is not afraid to speak up against or celebrate material made on their realities. The importance of this is not to be underestimated. I encourage all of you to share these more positive representations of trans people, support those who make it and let people know that this is the kind of material you want to see and should be made. If we don't stand up against shows and material that misrepresents trans people, we will continue to see tired tropes, an insisting focus on medical treatment and trans people as bodies or genitals and other harmful myths that marginalise us.
Nothing about us without us!