O’BRIEN | Cis People Telling Trans Stories: Questioning ‘Trans Visibility’ in the Media

March 31 was Transgender Day of Visibility. Intuitively, the media industry is in a better place than just a few years ago when it comes to trans visibility; in 2015, The Danish Girl was nominated for multiple Oscars, and Transparent for several Emmys. Yet, critiques of these media representations by trans writers and activists reveal that the narrative of representation and progress is not so simple: though there is an increase in the depiction of trans stories, they are still overwhelmingly being told by cis people. In a media landscape where, according to a media-monitoring report by GLAAD, 53 percent of depictions of trans characters since 2002 have been negative, and a large chunk of the rest involve typecasting characters in victim or sex worker roles (who, it’s important to note also deserve to have their stories told), clearly, the depiction of trans people on TV and movies has not been fair, accurate, or nuanced. So when we see an increase in trans characters who are complex and humanized — even as main characters in a couple works last year — it’s easy to herald those as progress.