Transgender Representation in Media

Colleen Griffin

            As I searched the web for a possible topic for my last blog post, I turned to what I know best: media. Being a telecommunications major, I thought to representations of transgender people in the media. When searching for articles, I came across two different articles representing two different media forms and their representations of transgender folk. The difference between the two is very interesting to me, one leaning more towards negative representations and the other positive.

            The first source I found was an online essay written about transgender representation in movies. You can find the article here:

Written by Calpernia Addams in 2009 under the diary section of the website, she talks about the problematic representations transgender people have on the screen and the bad “requirements” that are associated with the various categories of on screen media. She starts her article off by addressing the fact that what she writes are “unpolished thoughts” and that the essay is a work in progress. But then she quickly assures that this critical view does not take away the talent that went into these projects by the actors, but that this critical viewing must also be taken into account to more accurately represent transfolk in media. The first category she tackles is “documentaries/reality television.” Under this category she first mentions the “Ultimate cliché Hall-of-Fame” and how certain shots are shown and fetishized in this type of film. “Subject putting on lipstick (usually in the mirror), sliding foot into high heel shoe or stockings, painting fingernails, shopping for clothes. Usually done in close-up on the body parts. Typical dissection of us into fetishized, sexualized body parts and easy broad-stroke telegraphing of a director’s ideas about femininity.” The next thing she mentions is how the before and after photo of the person’s transition is a common requirement. This also goes for a name change as well. Lastly, the mentions the “surgery and process focus” explaining how the actual medical transition is a way to keep the viewer entertained. This of course is terrible because the process is seen as entertainingly gruesome rather than a needed medical health procedure.

The next category she tackles is “Narrative Film/Television.” The first topic she addresses are the four P’s: prostitute, punchline, psycho, and poor thing! and how these titles are the roles transgender representations fit in this type of media. She then goes on to saying how most transgender roles (mention earlier) have a negative focus. Lastly, she states that all transgender roles have an assumed monolithic community.

In the end her conclusion is to ignore these common regulations and resist the stereotypes. She makes it a point to say that past all the physical appearances and the ways one represents oneself, there lies the core being of a person who is still a woman (in reference to trans-women, which the entire article is geared mainly towards.)

My next source is about the newest famous person to admit to being transgender, Tom Gabel. As the lead singer of the well-known band Against Me! it wasn’t until recently that he publically addressed his transition, and of course the Rolling Stone did an article on it. Here is the article:

In this interview, Gable talks about his struggle with gender dysphoria. When talking about early signs of trans-ness he addressed his home life and the hardship his parents’ divorce caused. As he grew older and his band took off, he used music as an outlet for secret confessionals. In his lyrics, he would write down thoughts related to gender dysphoria and put them in songs. He used his lyrics as a way to “out himself.” Yet those around him were still oblivious until one day he outright told them. All were shocked; both his band and his wife give their reactions. At the end of the interview some days later, she invites the interviewer back to her house and interviews again, but as Laura her trans-self. The last bit is informative about the process she is going through and overall positive. The comments under the article by readers were either critical of proper terms for trans-people (ex. pronouns) or encouraging and praising the article for its moving story.

I think it is interesting that film is the negative media outlet, but music is more understanding. This leads me to think that hearing someone’s story is easier than seeing it. But it is good to know that the article about Gable was more recent (this month’s issue of Rolling Stone) as opposed to the four year old article written by Addams. Hoping that positive representations reflect the year they were made rather than the type of media used is what I like to think is more accurate reasoning to these two articles.

–          Colleen Griffin