This is partly a happy personal note, partly commentary on how Transgender people are portrayed in the media and pop culture.
Last weekend, my little sister by choice Katisen (we’re both Trans, she’s Taiwanese) invited me over. She wanted me to sit and watch “POSE” with her. I was dreading it.
In early 2011 (I forget the exact date, but almost ten years ago), I slipped and fell while walking in the rain. I suffered a “mild” concussion with permanent effects like memory loss, noise sensitivity, outburts of anger, inability to sleep, among others.
One of them is the inability for the brain to be quiet. By that, I mean that I can’t just sit there and do nothing, I cannot be a casual observer. “Passive participation” became impossible. Watching TV and movies or sitting for prolonged periods without stimulus would make me fidgety and take a “fight or flight” response. For three years until 2014 the only TV I could or did watch was sports, because that involves the viewer: tracking stats, strategy and play, thinking about possibilities that could happen.
Kat sat me down on her couch and we watched. I didn’t know how long it would be before I started freaking out. But the strange thing was, I didn’t freak out. My mind stayed calm throughout the two hours we sat and watched. Somewhere along the line (how long ago, I can’t guess), my brain stopped overreacting. I don’t know when it happened, since for years I have actively avoided any such situations. I’m just glad that it did go away. Testing on Sunday, I found that I can sit through longer videos (movies and downloads) without disruption. This doesn’t mean I’m going to go buy a TV, but maybe I can enjoy slow and relaxing activities again.
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Regarding “POSE” itself, I liked it a lot, and not just because the cast are Transgender or the storylines. Every character brought something to the show that held my attention. Even Elektra, who is defensive and overbearing, is sympathetic and clearly damaged. I cried when Angel cried (after she realized all that the expensive things mean nothing without a relationship).
Commercial entertainment has always portrayed Transgender characters in appalling ways. Until the last few years, EVERY Trans character you saw fit into one of four stereotypes:
- serial killers and sociopaths
- “tr*ps” and sexual predators
- comic relief
- corpses, dying as a plot point
“Orange Is The New Black” portrayed Trans people as regular criminals, but that’s just another stereotype, not an improvement. Where are the TV shows and movies that portray Transgender people as doctors, teachers, parents, people with regular jobs and normal lives? Until “POSE”, you never saw that. For the first time, we’re shown as human beings who just want to live and be happy. THAT is an improvement and groundbreaking.
This reminds me of another show that was as groundbreaking: “The White Shadow”, which ran from 1979 to 1982. “The White Shadow” was about a coach and players on a high school basketball team. It starred Ken Howard and a cast of young actors, several of whom have gone on to be major directing talents in hollyweird (e.g. Thomas Carter, Kevin Hooks, Tim van Patten, etc.). It suffered from “white saviourism”, but the show accomplished some very important things.
First time ever on US TV, Black actors and the characters they portrayed were NOT comic relief, criminals, drug dealers or servants. They were students, teachers, parents, PEOPLE in a normal urban neighborhood living everyday lives, not stereotype characters. It was also one of (if not the) first shows to discuss subjects like STDs, pregnancy and abortion, casual and systematic racism, gang violence’s effect on schools, among other topics.
POSE does many of the same things. For the first time ever on TV, Transgender characters are portrayed as everyday people just trying to live their lives and be happy. The question I ask is, WHY did it take this long to treat Trans the same as everyone else, not as “threats” or jokes?