in CBS’ “Doubt
With the Blowhard in Chief’s recent push to ban trans individuals from serving in the military, there is even more of a need for nuanced trans characters in pop culture. This was the topic of conversation when “Orange Is the New Black
” actress Laverne Cox
” creator Jill Soloway
” actress Alexandra Billings
, and “Danger and Eggs” creator Shadi Petosky
came together for a recent Television Critics Association panel. Sponsored by GLAAD, the event’s main focus was transgender representation on TV.
“There’s still a lot of misconceptions of who trans people are,” Cox commented, per Variety. “There’s so many representations of us being victimized or predators, and those kinds of ideas of who trans people are perpetuate the way people think of us and influence the way policies are made. So it’s so crucial that we have representation that is diverse, that represents the full humanity of trans people.”
Cox added that seeing Candis Cayne
on the ABC drama “Dirty Sexy Money
” marked the first time she saw a positive portrayal of a trans woman on screen. “[That] changed my life, that changed my career, that made me think it was possible to have be an out trans woman as an actor.”
As Cox’s story suggests, it’s essential that trans stories be told and trans actors be hired to tell them — a sentiment shared in ScreenCrush’s recent “Why Hollywood Needs Trans Actors” video.
The appearance of three trans women on “The Phil Donahue Show
” marked a turning point for Billings. “There were these three beautiful, sparkly, shiny human beings, witty and intelligent and talking about all aspects of their life,” Billings recalled. “And as the interview went on I found out they were all trans women, and I said out loud, ‘Oh, there I am.’ I recognized immediately that they were part of my tribe.”
Soloway and Petosky shared instances of negative trans representation in pop culture, where trans or nonbinary characters were painted as sick or abnormal. Petosky pointed to Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the Lambs
.” “It’s bloody and horrible but the worst thing is this guy that wants to be a woman. I remember sinking into my seat at my desk,” she said.
For her part, Soloway talked about the long-running “Saturday Night Live” character Pat. The “Pat” sketches revolve around the titular androgynous character and the other characters’ attempts to figure out whether Pat was a man or a woman. “The idea of pointing at a person and laughing because they were nonbinary? We didn’t realize it at the time, but in looking back — what an awful piece of anti-trans propaganda that was handed out for years,” Soloway stated.
Things have definitely improved since the heyday of Buffalo Bill and Pat, but Cox — who made history as the first trans woman cast a broadcast series regular on the CBS procedural “Doubt
” — emphasized that the fight is far from over.
“We have to do better because we have to so many stories that are still not being told,” the Emmy nominee said. “Transition stories are not in and of themselves problematic but often that’s all people focus on. The before and after narrative reinforces that we are not who we say we are.”Laverne Cox
, Jill Soloway
, & Alexandra Billings
Talk Trans Representation on TV was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.