Trans + Allies Group Examines Misrepresentation in Media

UMKC’s Trans + Allies group held their second meeting of the semester in the Student Union last Wednesday evening. Luke Allen serves as Treasurer for the student group and facilitated the meeting, which focused on transgender representation in the media. Allen began the meeting by asking the group to reflect on the first transgender character they encountered in film or television.


“The first transgender story line I encountered was Hillary Swank’s character in the movie Boys Don’t Cry,” answered Anna Phillips, a recent UMKC graduate. “My impression was that it was such an incredibly sad and depressing story.”

As each person in attendance recalled the first trans character they remember, a clear theme of violence, tragedy, and misrepresentation emerged.

Jace Bales-Wood, an active member of the Trans + Allies community, explained why this misrepresentation is damaging.

“I’m tired of seeing miserable trans people all the time in media,” said Bales-Woods. “I think that’s a really bad message to send to young trans kids. They might think that if they are trans, they’ll be miserable for their entire lives.”

Laverne Cox recently became the first transgender person to win an Emmy award for her work on Orange is the New Black.

Laverne Cox recently became the first transgender person to win an Emmy award for her work on Orange is the New Black.

The group spent the first part of the meeting brainstorming as many transgender story lines as they could think of, then analyzed the examples for evidence of both harmful and positive representation.

In addition to the characterization of trans people as “damaged,” the group identified other common tropes and stereotypes that paint an inaccurate picture of trans people and the lives they lead. These include the tradition of casting cisgender actors to play trans roles and the hypersexualization of trans women.

In addition to criticizing misrepresentation in mainstream media, the group also acknowledged the progress that has been made in recent years. Laverne Cox, for example, recently became the first transgender person to win an Emmy award for her work on Orange is the New Black. The group also cited prominent trans figures such as Janet Mock and Chaz Bono as important leaders in improving the community’s representation.

“A lot of the early representation painted transgender people as evil predators,” said Bales-Woods. “Think Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. That cliché was the basis of trans representation in the media for a long time. I think it kind of transitioned to being slightly more positive when LGBT representation in the media started becoming less taboo.”

The group agreed that mainstream media still has a tendency towards negative representation, despite recent advancements. They expressed optimism for the future, citing the growing dialogue surrounding the transgender community as confirmation that we are slowly moving in the right direction.

“The biggest step we’ve made so far is the fact that we’ve starting asking questions and calling things out,” said Phillips. “Now there’s an ongoing conversation about these issues, which is always the first step. You have to be willing to ask questions and educate yourself and others.”

Hilary Swank portrayed a transgender character in Boys Don’t Cry.

Hilary Swank portrayed a transgender character in Boys Don’t Cry.

sdanley@unews.com

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