This Netflix documentary, produced by Laverne Cox, discusses portrayals of trans people in media over the last ever, basically. It features a whole bunch of trans actresses, actors, and various culture critics. They talk about the films and TV shows they watched growing up and how those portrayals made them feel, both the positive, and much more often, the negative.
I love stuff like this in general – the ways media changes people and makes people feel will always be fascinating to me. Regarding portrayals of trans people specifically, I’d started thinking about how Sense8 came out and its complete humanizing of Nomi was so different from a lot of the throw-away portrayals of trans people I’d watched in the 90s and 2000s. Watching this documentary, I noted how many terrible portrayals I’d (thankfully) missed. There’s some discussion of an arc for a trans woman on Nip/Tuck which looks truly awful. I’d seen a few episodes here and there, but missed that whole arc. And whatever Ace Ventura movie I saw, it thankfully wasn’t the garbage one featured in this movie. I was a young, impressionable cis, and I don’t honestly know what kind of impact the overt disgust these fictional trans women characters were treated with would have had on me.
This documentary asks questions about those things. How do cis people view trans people, how do media portrayals of trans people affect their empathy for trans people, and most importantly, how do media portrayals impact trans people, and especially young trans people? They do also make the important point about how elevating a few trans actors in the eyes of society won’t actually liberate trans people in general.
Do you watch/have you watched media, possibly with trans people in it? Without trans people in it? This documentary is for you.
But if you’re not already very familiar with the works discussed and shown in this movie, then content warning for severe transphobia.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
This documentary follows Victoria Cruz, a transgender women from the Anti-Violence Project, attempting to get the Marsha P. Johnson case reopened. Her death had initially been ruled a suicide, but it’s hard not to believe that it was probably a murder.
In the process she speaks with friends of Marsha’s, and the history of the Gay Right’s Movement and Stonewall features as well. One important takeaway is that sex work, especially for trans women, and especially for trans women of colour, is dangerous work, and it’s still today the way it used to be in the 90s, and in ever – when trans sex workers disappear or their bodies are found, not enough is done to give their families and friends closure, and not nearly enough is done to keep them safe in the first place. And even for trans women of colour who aren’t sex workers, there’s not enough done to keep them safe either.
I would like to now watch a documentary made in 1992 called The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson, because I think it probably features more of Marsha herself. This one does have many clips of her, but I would like to see more of her life. That said, I liked the way it followed Victoria Cruz. I would like to hear more about her life as well – the joyful parts, the monotonous parts as well, if she wanted to share any of it.
Even this Page is White by Vivek Shraya
I’d already read this book, but felt it was time to reread it. It’s a collection of poetry, with a conversation between Shraya and a few white friends about racism in the middle.
This collection makes me uncomfortable, but that’s the thing about trying to commit to anti-racism: you have to be uncomfortable sometimes. You have to “sit in your discomfort.” Shraya has made herself uncomfortable as well, confronting her own internalized racism, and the ways that racism affects Indigenous people and black people differently.
I thought it was important to read something written recently by a Canadian trans woman of colour – while the reality of everything happening in the US is hard to ignore (and we shouldn’t ignore it), white Canadians need to reconcile with the racism that happens here and not just congratulate ourselves that we’re not American. Especially for any and all white Canadians, I recommend reading Shraya’s work, and in particular this one.