With the recent news of Caitlin Jenner coming out as transgender, many people are scratching their heads wondering what that means. Since many have seen the 1975 cult classic, Rocky Horror Picture Show, their image of a transgender woman is probably Tim Curry in lingerie singing about Sweet Transvestites. To start off, the word transvestite is a very outdated term now. And, most transgender men and women would not call themselves transvestites. A more appropriate term would be trans. Trans is an umbrella term usually used to describe when a person’s sex and gender are not aligned. It’s commonly accepted that a person’s sex is what their born as, while a person’s gender identity is how the see themselves. Due to this issue, most transgender people deal with something called gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is described as discomfort or distress caused from the constant contrast of a persons sex and gender identity. Trans can also be used to describe people who do not feel that they align with either gender.
Transgender visibility in the media has been key to the public’s understanding of the trans identity, whether that understanding is positive or negative. One of the first transgender women to be shown in the media was Christine Jorgensen. After fighting in World War II, Christine went to Denmark to find Danish doctor Christian Hamburger. Christine heard that he was experimenting, with what would be called, hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, on animals and hoped that he would be able to help her. HRT is when a person takes the sex hormones (testosterone or estrogen) of the opposite sex to “synchronize” the secondary sex characteristics of the gender that they identify with. After being diagnosed as a transsexual, Christine was able to start HRT and develop the physical characteristics of a woman, and then underwent gender reassignment surgery. Gender reassignment surgery is when a person’s external genital organs are changed to match to those of the gender they identify with. In 1952, Christine returned to America and brought transgender people into the public’s eye as an actress.
Now, the visibility of the transgender population can be seen everywhere. Local news stations show stories about children considering HRT in the future. YouTube has thousands of videos of transgender teens and adults going through their transitions. There’s trans activists working to get transgender people rights that they may not have because of their gender identity. Not to mention all the TV shows showing what it is like for a transgender person to go through their transition, like Transparent or I am Jazz.
Although there is a lot more visibility in the media, some parts of the trans community feel that they are not being portrayed correctly. This is mostly due to the actors depicting the character. Most of the actors who play the part of a transgender character are of the opposite sex. Many people in the trans community argue that by doing this they aren’t correctly portraying what a transgender person looks like. Many believe that the media is reinforcing the idea that a trans woman looks like a man in a dress or that a trans man looks like a butch female. Which is completely wrong! An example of this would be a movie coming out called About Ray. This film portrays the struggles a trans man goes through to start HRT. While the films intent seems really good for transgender visibility, many people in the trans community are unhappy with it. They do not agree with Elle Fanning, portraying the character Ray. They feel that the role would be better suited for a trans man who may have not started HRT. Another part of the controversy about this film is that in an interview about the film, the director Gaby Dellal, used female pronouns when talking about Ray. And, continuously called him a female when he is a trans man . Many people in the trans community are angry about this because they feel that the director does not know enough about struggles a trans person goes through to make a movie about it.
While there are still struggles to get accurate portrayal of a transgender person in movies and TV shows, the community has come a long way. With the help of Caitlin Jenner and social media apps like Tumblr, transgender issues are now out in the open and are being discussed. Hopefully in the future, things will be much easier for the transgender community.