Thursday, August 13, 2015

Transgender Issues more visible in the Media - surely a good thing?

Have you noticed what a 'glut' of programming there has been over the last year or two that focus on or include transgender characters and/or issues? There are those groundbreaking series like 'Orange is the New Black' starring Laverne Cox that have become incredibly popular series in their own right. Then there have been 'smaller' projects like 'Transparent' by Amazon Studios tucked away on their growing streaming service. Starring the great actor Jeffrey Tambor the programme deals with a family and their discovery that the person they have always known as their father is transgender. Tambor has won a Golden Globe in the role and the series won Golden Globe for best Television Series. It is now in it's third series and is required viewing for many who consider themselves mainstream.

Add to these critically acclaimed series other programmes like ABC's 'Dirty Sexy Money' that have recurring transgender characters and the plethora of reality programmes currently on view and there has never been a better time it would seem for the general populace to be educated about transgender folk. Most will have heard of 'I am Cait' tracing the follow on of Bruce Jenner from  Kardashian clan member to setting out on her own as Cait. But make sure to check out two more reality programmes 'Becoming Us' and 'I am Jazz' that we think will appeal especially to the younger generations and are being well received.

Is there too much too soon? Are studios and producers trying to jump on the next 'hot thing' in terms of issue-driven dramas, reality programmes and films or is any good publicity around these issues good publicity? I guess it depends on how the producers, writers and directors treat the subject matter. They need to do their research and not go for easy characatures when creating scripts and if shooting reality programmes not make the subjects look like freaks as often happened in the 70's and 80's with gay characters in the media.

Jill Soloway the creator of 'Transparent' was inspired by her own experience since her father is transgender. So not only is she writing from a truthful place but she is also an incredibly talented artist with past credits as a writer including 'Six Feet Under'. Furthermore, Soloway, after the initial series actively sought out trans-writers to ensure ongoing authenticity. This recipe where you seek out the truth and use the best talent will always work to produce intelligent, entertaining and issue-based viewing. 

I have been pleasantly surprised hearing conversations about these programmes in the general public. Of course most talk is about 'I am Cait' since many of the older generations remember Jenner winning his Olympic gold medal. Coupled with his re-emergence in recent years as part of the Kardashian family exploits and now transforming into Cait. This is a good thing and hopefully the people around Cait are mindful of their responsibility to Cait, the transgender community as a whole and the general viewing populace

Those in the media can make a great difference on how these issues are understood by us all and how society moves foward to be more understanding and less frightened of people and things who they perceive as 'different'. I have no fears for the younger generations since they appear to be so much more in tune with modern day life via social media and so much more 'chilled out' about differences, whether race, religion, gender or sexuality. A couple of months ago I attended a presentation ceremony for young 16 and 17 year old girls who had just completed a week long leadership programme at a university in NJ. One recipient that received the most applause was a boy - the only one on the course. It was explained to the audience that this person attended the course a year ago just prior to transitioning and that now this 'young man' was about to join the Marines. On the way home I asked my attendee daughter how everyone related to this situation to which she replied "Dad, we don't have the hang-ups and preconceptions your generation do. There were no issues at all since most of us just take people at face value and we actually like people and things that are 'different'; it's interesting".

It's estimated there are approximately 700,000 transgender individuals in the United States. In a recent GLAAD/Harris Interactive Poll 90% said they new or had known someone gay/lesbian or bisexual but that only 8% could say they new or had known a transgender person. This would seem to imply that for 92% of the American population, their only point of contact with the transgender community is via the media. If that doesn't concentrate the minds of the media to act in a responsible way then I'm not sure what will. So let's all watch to see how this plays out and hopefully the early signs of the past year or two will continue to present positive messaging. I for one feel confident that with the influx of transgender issues illuminated in the media and the younger generation coming on behind, the world will eventually be a better place.

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