Hoping for greater transgender representation in pop culture

    When people think about the LGBT rights movement, they probably think of the push for marriage equality. I don’t blame them for that – it’s hard not to, with all the great strides the U.S. has made toward same–sex marriage in 2013. But let’s not forget that last dangling letter in the acronym: the T.

    Representing transgender people and those who do not identify with the gender binary, that last T is often forgotten about when talking about gender and sexual minorities. However, with growing representations of transgender people in music and television, it seems that 2014 may be the year that the T starts to get the attention it deserves.

    Before looking at what needs to be done for greater transgender representation, let’s take a look back at all the great things that happened in 2013 for marriage equality. Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois and New Mexico all signed same-sex marriage into law, for a grand total of 17 states where same-sex couples can now legally marry. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June to overturn the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that discriminated against same–sex marriage and ruled Proposition 8 in California unconstitutional. Macklemore released the Grammy–nominated “Same Love” to promote marriage equality and then married 33 couples, including some same–sex couples, during his Grammy performance – a testament to the music industry’s increased support for the LGBT rights movement.

    As the momentum for marriage equality continues to grow, there is also a growing presence and awareness of transgender people in pop culture. Last summer saw the huge success of Netflix’s original Orange is the New Black, being the first show in history to cast a transgender woman in a transgender role. Against Me!’s sixth album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, was released in January 2014 and, as the title suggests, deals with lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s coming out as a trans woman.

    What is most significant about this is that these are actual trans* people representing the trans* community. These aren’t cisgender (people who fit into the gender binary of male or female) actors playings trans* characters, like Hillary Swank did in Boys Don’t Cry or Jordan Todosey did in Degrassi. Hopefully, as more transgender people enter the entertainment industry, trans* awareness will grow and become a movement as universally supported as marriage equality is.

    But even with groundbreaking films like Kimberly Pierce’s Boys Don’t Cry, television is a whole different ball game. Trans* characters have had a rough history of being negatively represented: According to GLAAD, transgender characters were featured as victims in 40 percent of television appearances and as villains or killers in 21 percent of their appearances. Even worse, 20 percent of all transgender characters were depicted as sex workers, making that the most common profession for them to be depicted as having. When trans* characters are depicted in television, they usually appear infrequently. Perhaps with the popularity of Laverne Cox’s character in OITNB, more trans* characters will get regular, starring roles on TV.

    There is a lot to accomplish for trans* people to get the representation they deserve in the entertainment industry, especially with the marriage equality movement taking center stage. But with Against Me!'s new album and OITNB’s upcoming second season, there is a chance that 2014 will see great strides for the trans* community as well. The future looks bright for everyone in the LGBT+ community, whether they stand at the front of the acronym or at the end.

    (Note: trans* with an asterisk is an umbrella term for all individuals who identify outside of the gender binary, including transgender people, transvestites, transsexuals, and genderqueer. LGBT+ is an all-inclusive term for LGBTQIA, meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual/ally.)


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