Are television shows finally beginning to feature transgender characters as real people?
Jamie Clayton, an openly MtF transsexual actress, made her debut on this weekend’s episode of HBO’s series Hung. The show’s portrayal of transsexuals has generally received positive reviews. The Advocate notes that the show has a lesbian writer who has worked on the L Word, and one episode actually contained a reference to the objectifying male gaze in pornography (insert Ryan Gosling joke here). Jamie’s role is supposed to continue into next week’s episode.
Hopefully this signals a change in which transgendered folk will be portrayed on HBO and television in general. HBO’s Entourage featured a story line in which one of the characters attempted to curry favor with a doctor by setting him up with a beautiful woman, and the doctor is still interested after learning that the woman is a transsexual, but After Elton notes that this is portrayed as rather pathetic. The suspicions about the character’s birth gender are confirmed via a humiliating upskirt shot as she gets out of a car, which is greeted by groans from the show’s main characters. It was an unflattering portrayal of transgendered women to say the least.
On other networks, ABC featured a transgender love interest for a Congressman on Dirty Sexy Money and the role was played by actual transwoman Candis Cayne. Michael Jensen at After Elton notes that there did seem to be love between the characters, and there was no big “reveal” of the woman being transsexual, and it wasn’t used as a punch line.
Michael Jensen also notes that there are no appearances of FtM transsexuals on network television, and I think this is due to the shock factor of MtF women as love interests. Although they lacked any blatant offensiveness, it’s notable that the characters on Hung and Dirty Sexy Money were somewhat objectified love interests for men. Even when MtF transgender characters have been featured without the offensive stereotypes, they have still only been featured as parts of salacious affairs and objects of desire (this problem is common to all women characters surely). I look forward to the day when there is a transgender character of any persuasion (or even gender variant!) who is simply a co-worker or a friend of a character on a television show, and that role is played by an actual trans person. Ugly Betty included character of just this type, but she was played by Rebecca Romijn, which I think maybe softened the issue of her being transgender for the audience.
update: A friend reminds me of the transsexual character that has reappeared in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as a love interest for Mac. The character there is also the object of a man’s desire, although there was a “big reveal” of her transsexuality. The other characters on the show are grossed out by Mac being interested in the transsexual, although the whole thing is surrounded by the typical absurdity that is the show’s trademark.