Is Trans Entertainment Without Representation Alienation?

Is Trans Entertainment Without Representation Alienation? June 9, 2017
By Pat Green

My 16 year old and his friends often makes fun of badly written trans based young adult fiction and entertainment. His sarcastic wit’s born of frustration. He’s got a warped sense of humor so it can be very fun to listen to.

I came across a wonderful article written by another 16 year old transgender teenager.  She explained why trans representation in pop culture misses the mark. As a parent, I have to wonder if this lack of representation is also alienation.

I think it is important to mention that the author of the article is a student at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. This is a designated exemplary school by the Arts Schools Network. I’ve no doubt this young lady will go far. I hope she goes farther than a ren fair actor and local improv troupe member who commented about her blog. He dismissed her valid points on social media. He “cis-plained” why she is wrong. This happens too often when trans people tell their stories.

There are some wonderful books, comics, and screen presentations of transgender people that transgender youth and their supportive friends and parents enjoy. There are also some terrible ones that misrepresent and alienate the trans community by enforcing inaccurate stereotypes. Often, when the trans community expresses concern about some of the representations of them, “allies” and cis-gender people “cis-plain” why they are wrong. Even worse, they tell the trans community they should be grateful.

It amazes me how many white, straight, cis gender people want to tell the story and portray transgender people while excluding transgender people. This is not new.  This has happened to black people, hispanics, Asian people, and various figures of different tribes like Tonto and Geronimo. Some will say it all boils down to who is the best actor or writer for the job and nothing more. This completely ignores that publishers and producers need to be more inclusive to tell the right story the right way.

I know my limits. As a parent of a transgender youth, I don’t represent the transgender community. What I do well is stand with them and I listen. When they correct me, I defer to them, listen, and ask questions. Should a supportive parent give me a different opinion, I listen. But when someone who is not plugged into these communities pines away, I often find my eye beginning to twitch.

I’ve a few black friends in the entertainment industry. They tell me their frustrations of portrayals of them that have barely advanced beyond the mammy, the comic servant, and the criminal. We don’t need a blacked-up Laurence Olivier to play Othello when actors of Laurence Fishburne’s calibre are out there. There are wonderful transgender actors and writers to tell and interpret trans stories appropriately.

I know that race and gender identity are different matters. I also know that orientation and gender identity are different matters. But there’s more than enough room for the publishing and entertainment industries to have transgender writers and artists. It gives my son and many other youth role models, dreams, goals and hope. Additionally, they get stories they can relate to and be moved by. The rest of us get a better understanding. A better understanding may lead to a more understanding society.

A more understanding society will lead to less fear of who uses what bathroom. This improved society will have less violent actions against transgender people and less discrimination. Most importantly for me and my son, we may see less transgender suicides. We have seen too much of all these things and it hurts.

I am not a transgender writer, actor, or artist. But the young lady who wrote the blog I referenced is. I think we should listen to her more closely.


***Author’s Correction****

In my original post, I had referred to people of Asian descent as oriental. A reader educated me that I used an incorrect and sometimes offensive term when I did that. I edited the article to use the correct language. But I wanted to acknowledge and apologize for any offense I may have caused anyone. I am sorry and it is not a term I will not use again. 

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