Ruby Turner, 16, writes about the good and bad of trans representation in recent films and television.

Jamie and Ruby in the office

Hello, I’m Ruby and I’m from Portsmouth and I’ve travelled to London for a week of work experience with Gendered Intelligence. I’m about to start my first year of Sixth Form, studying Philosophy, Psychology, English Literature and Biology and then to study psychology at uni. I’d hoped that doing work experience here would help me to focus my interests and gain a depth in my knowledge of LGBTQ issues I heard of GI when Finn Greig came to my school’s, The Portsmouth Grammar School, Pride society. I thoroughly enjoyed his workshop and it inspired me to do my work experience here. Shows such as Orange is the New Black and my love for Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) sparked my interest in Trans representation in the media.

Recently, transgender and gender queer representation in Television and Film has blossomed, with LGBTQ characters becoming more frequent and positively reinforced. It could also be said that LGBTQ characters are becoming less of ‘tokens’ more just complying a more natural, realistic depiction of diversity in culture. This includes children’s television too, for example, Adventure Time, a wildly successful (not just for children) animated program which has the first example of gender fluidity I’ve ever seen on television. BMO alternates between female and male pronouns without any attention being drawn towards it. This positive representation of gender is subtly ground-breaking, especially on children’s television. Children begin to understand gender and its binaries from a very young age and to have this example of gender fluidity, a concept difficult for some adults even, addressed in such early stages pioneers progression in LGBTQ representation.

I wanted to find out about more shows involving elements of, or based around LGBTQ issues. In doing so, I found ‘Transparent’.’Transparent’ is a fictional program following the story of Maura, a 60 something divorced parent of three self-absorbed adults. written by Jill Soloway, who’s own father came out as transgender three years prior to filming. She says that in filming Transparent, she hired transgender consultants and crew members to ensure that she can make her work more authentic and accurate. Jill Soloway says she wants her set to be a “sanctuary where all are welcome”.  Transparent is fictional and only uses aspects of her father’s experiences. I really enjoyed Transparent and its dark humour and brutal honesty, it seemed that many agreed with me as the reviews were very positive; it has received two golden globes- for Best Television Series and, Best Actor to Jeffery Tambor (Maura).

Although OITNB, Transparent and Adventure Time are all shining examples of positive reinforcement of gender, some representation has generated a lot of scepticism. For example, the film ‘Stonewall’, unrelated to the UK’s LGBT organisation, follows the story of how an affluent young man flees from being bullied for his sexuality to New York, where he finds himself at the Stonewall Inn where he partakes in the Stonewall riots after a police raid. It was written by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Ronald Emmereich, an openly gay director- ranking 14th highest grossing director of all time and influential LGBT activist. He is a passionate LGBT rights activist and philanthropist to the ‘Legacy Project’ and Global Warming causes.

This film has faced a large amount of criticism already, especially because of it’s depiction of the people who were involved. It has been accused of being written to appease the white, cis man. Miss Major, a trans woman activist, Stormé DeLarverie, a gay civil rights icon and entertainer, and Marsha P. Johnson, drag queen and gay liberation activist; all these women of colour play important roles in the ignition of the stonewall riots yet Emmerich decided to cast Jonny Beauchamp, a Cisgender male to represent all those women’s important roles. The film has been said to have ‘white-washed’ history and have ignored the amount of butch lesbians and people of colour involved in the movement. This anger became so widespread that there is now a petition of at least 12, 000 signatures to boycott the film. Emmerich responded to these claims to “I think we represented it very well,” he said he wanted to “portray a broader image of what ‘gay’ means.” but this has been scrutinised due to his inaccuracy. However, Emmerich responds to stonewall critics.

Miss Major Griffen-Gracy also spoke on the issue of the media ‘white-washing’ and ‘cis-washing’ history, particularly in regards to stonewall, for the Trans Oral History Project. She was outraged by how the riots are told to be triggered by white and cis-gendered men when that isn’t accurate. ‘How dare they do this again’

Here was our history, a history made real by Black and Brown trans women and lesbians, but it was a false, whitewashed and ciswashed version, a version that the establishment could find respectable enough to be a mainstream story. This was an insult.

Although Stonewall shows that more progress is to be made for fair representation of trans people and issues, I’m hopeful for a future of accurate and celebratory portrayals of gender diversity in the media.