A few posts ago I talked about my love of gaming and even linked to a wonderful story from the Magic: the Gathering lore about a trans character. That piece again is here:
The reason this is such a big deal is it’s about representation. Representation is one of those ideas that everybody kinda understands, but the majority never really think about. If you’re a white, straight cis man, then you’re in such a majority it’s easy to forget that most characters in tv shows, in movies, in books, singers, actors, political figures, any public figure looks like you and are someone to whom you can relate. That’s not to say there aren’t great women, or great people of color, great gay/lesbian people, or even great trans people to be representatives. But each of those had to be fought to gain mainstream acceptance.
These role models start out as just that: someone to model yourself after. But there’s another important factor as well. Being seen by others as real, complex and human people makes it that much harder to reject us. When it’s clear we’re your brothers and sisters, your daughters and sons, you sympathize and empathize with us. Like the film “The Defiant Ones” in which Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier are criminals who escape while chained together. The two men disliked each other for being different skin colors, but by the end have saved each other, because they had to face the humanity of each other through their escape. When we stop being punchlines and start being people in the eyes of others is when we are accepted, and great representation does just that.
But in a lot of ways the most important part of representation is that of the role model. Alesha, the character in the story, is complex, someone of authority, power and agency. While not real, she shows that a trans woman can be powerful and a leader. Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are a pair of pretty famous trans women of color (double represent girls!) and both are awesome at not just busting down stereotypes, but at being public figures to look up to for the girl who doesn’t understand why she’s been told her whole life she’s a boy. Recently Bruce Jenner came out as trans in a major national news interview. I personally have not watched the whole thing, seen only a few clips, and read much about it on twitter. Jenner (who as of this time has not given a preferred other name, and requested continued use of male pronouns) gave a detailed, complex and emotional interview in which it appears more and more people are able to finally see trans people as more than bullshit lies spread to hurt or terrible jokes. I’ve seen some criticism about misgendering, but over all the only thing I can really say about the interview: If it helps one trans person better understand themselves, if it helps one cis person come to be more accepting of trans people, isn’t that worth the spectacle? Sure it might be showy and even gaudy, but Jenner is a celebrity, it’s how they live their lives, and no one forced the interview.
Finally I want to end with my personal story of representation. No, I’ve never been one to someone (at least not that I’m aware of) but there is someone who’s story helped me so much more than she’ll ever know. Her name is Shadi Petosky. She appeared on an episode of Chris Hardwick’s podcast a few years back, and her telling her story helped me come to such a better understanding of myself and the truth of who I am. I’m forever in her debt. The link to her interview will be at the bottom.
So who are some of the representatives who’ve mattered to you?