New Study Finds Poor Representation of Transgender People on TV

In recognition of Transgender Awareness Week and the Transgender Day of Remembrance, GLAAD has reviewed its archives of transgender images on television episodes over the past 10 years, and found that a great deal of progress still needs to be made for fair and accurate depictions of the transgender community.

Since 2002, GLAAD catalogued 102 episodes and non-recurring storylines of scripted television that contained transgender characters, and found that 54 percent of those were categorized as containing negative representations at the time of their airing.  An additional 35 percent were categorized at ranging from “problematic” to “good,” while only 12 percent were considered groundbreaking, fair and accurate enough to earn a GLAAD Media Award nomination.

The release of these findings coincides with the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is an annual observance on November 20 that honors the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.  You can find more information at http://glaad.org/tdor or http://transgenderdor.org.

Over the 10-year period examined, offensive representations and storylines were found on every major broadcast network and seven different cable networks, demonstrating that the problem remains widespread.

Additionally GLAAD found:

  • Transgender characters were cast in a “victim” role at least 40 percent of the time.
  • Transgender characters were cast as killers or villains in at least 21 percent of the catalogued episodes and storylines.
  • The most common profession transgender characters were depicted as having was that of sex workers, which a fifth of all characters were depicted as (20 percent).
  • Anti-transgender slurs, language and dialogue was present in at least 61 percent of the catalogued episodes and storylines.

Some of the exploitive and negative representatives included:

  • CSI (CBS), which not only featured a transgender serial killer who murdered his own mother, but scenes in which transgender murder victims were openly mocked by the show’s lead characters while examining their bodies and crime scenes.
  • The Cleveland Show (Fox), in which a man vomits onscreen for a lengthy period of time after discovering he had slept with a transgender character.  The episode also contained anti-trans language and defamatory characterizations.
  • Nip/Tuck (FX), which featured a storyline about a transgender woman who regretted her transition, a transgender sex worker being beaten, and an entire season about a psychopathic trans woman depicted as a baby-stealing sexual predator who sleeps with her own son.

Earlier this summer, GLAAD had to downgrade the Showtime network from an “excellent” score in this year’s Network Responsibility Index because of several examples of transgender content on the network that was stereotypical or negative in nature on shows like Californication and House of Lies.  In fact of the 10 scripted television episodes catalogued in 2012 so far which contained transgender content, six have been largely defamatory.

“We hope that representations of transgender people on television evolve to become as diverse, nuanced, and inspiring as the community those images reflect,” said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick.  “Media has a history of telling the world a story that transgender people are always victims or villains, instead of true depictions that show the transgender community as citizens worthy of equality and respect.  On Transgender Day of Remembrance — a day on which we remember those who lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence — we hope television networks will think about what they can do to combat ignorance by improving their depictions of trans people.”

There have been several high points as well, however.  Episodes of shows like Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), Cold Case (CBS) and Two and a Half Men (CBS) have demonstrated that transgender storylines can be depicted very well in both comedy and drama, and received GLAAD Media Award nominations for doing so.

For the purpose of this study, GLAAD excluded the few regular or recurring transgender characters that have appeared over the years.  Although not always perfect, the groundbreaking storylines on shows likeThe Education of Max Bickford (CBS), Degrassi (Teen Nick), The Riches (FX) and Ugly Betty (ABC) deserve credit for their more fully-formed and complex representations of transgender people.  GLAAD also has high hopes for the potential storylines developing on shows like Glee (Fox) and the scripted series the Sundance Channel is currently developing about a young transgender man.

Earlier today, it was announced that GLAAD has joined organizers of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) to memorialize those who lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence and to raise public awareness around increasing rates of violence facing transgender people. GLAAD is urging its constituents to participate in vigils around the country, and GLAAD staff members will attend vigils in New York and Los Angeles. Observed annually on November 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance honors the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. A full listing of TDoR vigils and events is available here.

GLAAD also released new resources for journalists covering stories of transgender people who are victims of violent crimes. The new resource kit, released to coincide with Transgender Day of Remembrance, is available here. GLAAD will share the resource kit year-round with local and national journalists.

A new timeline was shared on GLAAD’s Facebook page to illustrate milestones in transgender visibility and activism since 1952 as part of Transgender Awareness Week. That timeline is available here.

“With anti-transgender violence on the rise, we remember our colleagues, friends and family whose lives were taken simply because of who they are,” said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. “We must stand together to end the violence, working every day to spread awareness and acceptance of transgender people.”

Transgender Day of Remembrance marks the end of Transgender Awareness Week, a national campaign to raise visibility and awareness of transgender people and issues, which began November 12. GLAAD observed Transgender Awareness Week with the national launch of new “I AM: Trans People Speak” videos, featuring New York Times bestseller Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan, actress Laverne Cox, Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) attorney Noah Lewis, and performance poet Kit Yan. The campaign, first started by Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) in 2010, aims to spotlight the stories of transgender Americans and their allies in an effort to educate the public about transgender issues, as well as speak to transgender youth and adults. Videos and more information about Transgender Awareness Week is available here.

Follow the Transgender Day of Remembrance on Twitter with hashtag #TDoR and find more information at http://transgenderdor.org and http://glaad.org/tdor.

Source: GLAAD