The Problem with Media Representation of Trans People
The amount of trans representation in mainstream media has increased a lot in recent years. I mean, quite a few popular series have had trans characters, played by trans actors, for example. So you don’t think that’s good enough?
TE: As I said in the last episode, while there seems to be some media representation of trans people in recent years, almost none of them focus enough on dysphoria, which is the central part of the trans life experience. This really needs to change. Maybe discussing dysphoria isn’t pleasant, but it is the only way other people will come to understand and have empathy with trans people. The problem with not focusing on the dysphoria is that other ideological driven narratives would take its place, muddying the whole picture.
Overall, I think that the current media representation of trans people is very superficial, and somewhat self-serving. It’s almost like a few select trans people are put there as ‘fashion of the day’ accessories, or to give a feel of performative wokeness to shows. The trouble is this doesn’t go far enough to allow the public to understand and empathize with trans people, while still being enough to generate a backlash.
So why do you think the trans representation we have now is ‘superficial’? I mean, there are trans story lines that are largely consistent with the lives of many trans people. How is that superficial?
TE: Firstly, while these story lines do illustrate some typical trans experiences and struggles, like financial problems, hormone therapy, family issues, and the like, they often don’t do enough justice to the dysphoria. Maybe it’s hard to insert that stuff into a TV series. Maybe it’s more suitable for more in-depth formats, like talk shows. Like what we’re doing here. But you don’t often seen trans people on talk shows, at least not often enough to let us explain the dysphoria experience properly. You know what would be great? A trans talk show host, who can integrate the trans narrative with their other talk, and maybe discuss this a bit with their guests too. A trans version of Oprah or Ellen, if you like. It would go a long way to achieve public understanding.
The problem with having only superficial representation is that there is still going to be a lot of misunderstandings. As I said, it doesn’t go far eonugh to generate empathy, but it does go far enough to generate plenty of backlash. It’s almost like the worst of both worlds. Furthermore, the lack of focus on dysphoria allows the ideologically driven ideas of the ‘two unholy alliances’ to insert themselves into the debate, which would only generate more confusion and backlash among the general public. If the media wants to be as trans friendly as its claims to be, then it really needs to improve its game. We need to tell them, we aren’t happy with your token gestures of performative wokeness, that could indeed do more harm than good for trans people in real life.
Are there any other problems with the media representation that we need to raise with the world?
TE: Of course there are many, many more. Indeed, the way mainstream media is run nowadays has many problems. But let’s focus on what I just said, plus a few more that are not that difficult to fix. For starters, the trans voices represented in the media don’t cover many walks of trans life. There is basically no asian trans representation, for example. It’s why I decided to call my show An Asian Trans View. Because the asian trans view is being left out completely. There’s also not much about the diverse economic backgrounds, life aspirations, and social and political views found in the trans community. It’s sometimes as if we were two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, people who are defined by being trans but don’t otherwise have much of a special life of our own.
I really don’t want to sound too ungrateful for what little representation we now have. But it is in fact not good enough, and it needs to improve. I really hope more people, especially those in a position to change things, hear this.