Anyone who’s watched TV, movies and/or plays/musicals and paid attention knows there’s an issue with parity in entertainment, especially when looking at how many LGBTQ and female characters exist in leading roles. That’s not really the worst part of the situation though; what’s more troubling than the lack of leading roles is how these two groups are portrayed. Often women are portrayed as submissive and, if they ARE a strong lead, most often they are portrayed in a way that makes them seem…well…like total bitches (though it is definitely improving lately).
It’s worse for those in the LGBTQ group. Too often we are viewed as stereotypes–men dressed in “womens” clothes, flamboyant gay men–and as comic relief, as comedic tropes. Rare glimpses are still the normal, however. As things are improving for representation and diversity in Hollywood, too often the standard tropes and stereotypes continue to be used, because they are easy to use.
Admittedly, queer people like me are–FINALLY!–starting to be recognized. Transgender actors are hitting the mainstream. Pose, Transparent. These are the shows we need in order to boost our profiles. Some TV shows and movies have had prominent Trans/GNC (T/GNC) characters, Orange is the New Black is one such show. The Conners has a gender nonconforming character too. The character, a young boy, wears a dress and likes boys. In this case, the gender nonconforming character is a child, and my guess is that the writers will have them “grow out of that phase” rather than embracing the beauty of being ones self. This is the predicament we face in the LGBTQ community when it comes to parity, to adequate and proper representation on TV, in movies and on stage.
Then there are those working on increasing queer visibility. Pooya Mohseni is fundraising for her Transit: A New York City Fairy Tale. Gabriel Furman and and his crew are shopping around a gem of a show about a GNC child; it’s titled Wonder. Neil Patrick Harris did Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
All this is an uphill battle. As you might have gathered, there is a profound lack of Trans/GNC characters on Broadway. While shows like Southern Comfort, Red Emma and the Mad Monk, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and a few others all have a focused main character who’s T/GNC, these aren’t Broadway. They are off-off- and off-Broadway. Granted, Hedwig made it to Broadway briefly…but it took 16 years to do that. It opened on off-Broadway in 1998, and was revolutionary. It didn’t parody the T/GNC community; it showed them (us) as persons dealing with unique issues. It was revived in 2014 on Broadway. During its run, it won and was nominated for several awards…yet, it was the last high profile play or musical featuring a T/GNC character.
But the times do seem to be changing. There is an increase in movement towards and desire to bring more T/GNC voices and characters to the stage and film.
So that’s good.
But we need more. Thankfully there are advocates like Pooya, Parity Productions, Shakina Nayfack and a growing cast of other diversity advocates in show business who are pushing for equity and parity within the entertainment industry.
I hope we will soon see an exponential increase in work that tells our stories.
If you’re a manager, producer, agent or director interested in reading my work with primary LGBTQ, specifically T/GNC, characters, drop me an email at email@example.com. We’ll talk. 🙂
I’ve existed in the “in-between” my entire life. This monologue discussed that in-between and the push and pull that placed me in one point on the gender binary when I wasn’t even close to either end.
This monologue is intended to be a stage performance.
WARNING: The monologue contains several topics which could trigger memories for the listener. In it, I discuss such topics as my childhood rape, my gender confusion based on what culture and society demand of someone who appears cishetero white male and discuss discrimination after coming out.
As might be expected, a major problem I have with TV and film is the depiction of LGBTQ persons in general. As a male-bodied gender fluid person, I’m most concerned with the depiction of those who fall under the transgender umbrella. In other words, I struggle with my suspension of disbelief as it relates to the lame attempts Hollywood makes toward social commentary.
There are few examples of positive transgender representation in Hollywood and solid attempt at social commentary. Transparent, POSE. Those are pretty much only. Yes, Orange is the New Black featured a transgender character, but how many times was she on? Rarely. It was as though she was pulled out when they needed a trans person. In the most recent season, we saw her maybe three times, and then she got (SPOILER ALERT!) early release.
Transgender people, otherwise, are used as a trope, and often as a stereotype or punchline. You know, like how minorities, particularly African Americans were 40+ years ago? Remember “black face”? Trans characters tend to be presented as flamboyant freaks. I’m glad to see that changing.
Stage is different.
On stage, like in Hedwig (I admit I’ve only watch clips of it since Hedwig would never make it to my current neck of the woods), a trans woman in a band, angry about how she has an “angry inch” after botched GAS. with an angry inch? Pretty sure that’s not gonna happen in Indiana.
Other examples of positive and prominent transgender or LGBTQ roles in major Broadway and Off-Broadway plays that aren’t stereotyped: Kinky Boots, Boys in the Band, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Rent, and La Cage Aux Folles. This is a PARTIAL list. There are currently a few Broadway and Off-Broadway shows with accurate depictions of queer characters…most of which are PLAYED by queer actors. Actors like Shakina and Pooya Mohseni and so many others are breaking down the wall in theatre. Playing right now to rave reviews is Red Emma and the Mad Monk.
Theatre, thus, is more accepting than Hollywood of the queer community, particularly the transgender community and the exploration of social issues.
Hollywood is lagging…and it might be due to the reaction of people who either love the concept or somehow miss the point. Take, as an example, the recent flap around the new show Insatiable.
A MISGUIDED INSATIABLE NEED TO CRITIQUE
In an episode of Insatiable there’s a scene with the LGBTQ outreach and particularly a bathroom scene where the main character and a trans woman bonded in front of a mirror.
Perusing Twitter, I noticed the hate and anger aimed at that scene. It wasn’t by transphobes though. No. The LGBTQ community and “Fat Studies” groups were the ones bashing the scene. This was puzzling and down right troubling.
The scene depicts the lead character, a young lady who dropped 70 pounds over the summer between her junior and senior years of high school. She’s not “hot” and “sexy”. In all entertainment, we must negotiate timelines and allow ourselves the suspension of disbelief.
What these people are outraged over isn’t all the pedophilia in Insatiable, but at a scene that wonderfully shows we all have internal demons against which we fight, that we all see someone in the mirror that’s not quite right.
It’s troubling to me that the rampant pedophilia is not shocking this audience: the young hot girl trying to seduce the older man, older married man, sabotaging him, outing him when she’s jilted and a scene where an older woman is having sex with a teen in the back of his car are two examples.
All that is fine to watchers. It’s the unifying factor of this scene, the one scene that shows us that we are ALL THE SAME, however, is highly offensive according to many vitriolic reviews.
Here’s the scene: The main protagonist (or antagonist, depending on your perspective) is having a dog washing fundraiser to raise money for eating disorders (yup, she is trying to raise money to combat eating disorders; a point completely missed by those complaining about the episode…COMPLETELY missed). One of the girls “helping” with the fundraiser sabotages the fundraiser and nearly ruins it.
That is until one of her love interests saves the day by convincing his friends—all trans women it appears—to wash the dogs and help the main character raise the money for EATING DISORDERS, a little tidbit clearly missed by many people.
The main character rushed into the bathroom. She’s flustered. She still feels fat (a theme that runs through the show). She feels like she’s not as beautiful as everyone thinks she is. She’s freaking out. A transwoman walks in and they begin to talk. The transwoman explains she too battles dysphoria. For her, it’s the obvious “I see a guy” dysphoria most transwomen have in spades. The main character explains her issues, that she sees herself as fat still. As it turns out, they BOTH see someone in the mirror that is NOT them.
Because of the dysphoria, they recognize they’re BOTH very self-conscious about their bodies. They are the SAME. They decide to be brave together and go back out to the fundraiser, proud of their bodies and who they are. As they get out, the social anxiety hits them both.
This scene was nothing short of brilliant. The writer(s) nailed it. As a gender fluid male-bodied person who identifies with primarily female pronouns, I know the issue of seeing one person in the mirror and it not being the true you. And I know many transwomen, and one who is especially close to me agreed that this scene is powerful, and not an insult to trans people at all, but as accurate a description of dysphoria as one can get in a TV show.
This accuracy was missed on several LGBTQ bloggers. But worse were those who jumped on the topic of weight in the episode and the show. knowledgeable about “Fat Studies” (not necessarily academics) were offended by the idea that someone could lose 70 pounds in three months and look like that. It’s expected that an audience understands “suspension of disbelief”. However, the group castrating the show seems to have forgotten this concept.
Anyone who’s been overweight, as I have, knows dropping 70 pounds in three months is NOT going to give you a body like that. For example, where is the hanging skin that accompanies rapid weight loss? Where? She didn’t have surgery as far as we’re told. We are required to suspend disbelief. The negative response to the character’s weight loss, the show and this episode is reactionary to current rebuff social activists. It’s unrealistic and it’s a comedy.
THE AUDIENCE DIFFERENCE
This is the audience Hollywood gets; it’s an audience heavily influenced by an emotional response to passive absorption of current social movements. Were this depicted on stage it would have been better. I’m not saying TV and film watchers are stupid and play audiences are smarter. I’m saying that such cultural commentary is perfect for stage.
And play audiences understand this. They seem to be inherently attuned to the fact a play will contain social commentary and that in many ways they need to suspend disbelief for the message to come through loud and clear.
Had this been done on stage, the response would have been like mine: “WOW! That nailed it! We all struggle with dysphoria! We’re not so different!”
Stage productions deal with cultural commentary in every single play. It’s Broadway’s bread-and-butter. It’s what they do.
It is for that reason, the stage’s insistence on cultural commentary in every single play, that stage, theatre, Broadway is moving more quickly to accepting ALL persons into their fold and why there are a growing number of labs, commissions and fellowships available to transgender/gender nonconforming playwrights.
Theatre hungers for the most current. It never has and never will shy away from controversial topics while simultaneously embracing the old—revivals of old plays are a staple of Broadway. And transgender issues are one of the final frontiers to explore…and Broadway never shies from addressing new topics. Ever.