Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Trans People Are Not All Murderers and Prostitutes

...but if I were the kind of person who acquired all her knowledge of the world from television police dramas, I might be under the impression they were.

Why is it that every time I see a trans person portrayed in a TV police show, whether it's Canadian, American, or British, the character is either a psycho-killer or a drag queenesque streetwalker? And, because race is always a factor, I should point out that all the psychos are white and all the hookers are black. Just sayin' is all.

There are other kinds of characters on these shows. There are cops, there are victims (okay, I did see one episode of Law and Order with a trans hate crime victim--but even in that case it was implied the character was a hooker. She was black, after all...), there are family members, there are those characters the police initially suspect but turn out to be innocent, there are lawyers, doctors, investigators, there are political backroom types...the choices are varied and many.

Hello, television! There are trans doctors out here in the real world. They do exist. There are trans people who work at all levels of the penal system (yeah, penal, haha...funny word), in the court system, everywhere! I know some personally. And yet no TV writers seem to be able to escape that ridiculously tiny box they've crammed trans folk inside.

Here is a plotline that is no longer shocking, unpredictable, or even interesting: everybody's looking for the woman they're certain committed this crime (though, golly gee, how could a woman have the strength to wrestle a big honkin' man? Me oh my! It's a mystery!) and turns out that, dang, she's a he! (Or something along those lines. I'm sure you've seen at least one episode of some or another show that went a lot like that.)

AND police/investigator characters can't seem to stop referring to trans women as "he" (that's a no-no) and as "transvestites" (another no-no) which really doesn't help anybody. Is this verisimilitude? Likely. But these days public sector workers get a lot more training about working in an anti-oppressive framework than they used to. I have trouble believing nobody in that environ is going to speak up against transphobia and ignorance (or perhaps offer a weighted silence or dagger-eyes), at least for the sake of viewers like me.

Maybe writers of TV police dramas could use a little anti-oppression training.

Big Hugs,


  1. Sadly all to true. The only exception that comes to mind is an old CSI episode. It was very sympathetic in its portrayal of the community, and reasonably well-balanced in the attitudes of the CSI team.

    What always stays with me is the final scene. Grissom revisits the best friend of the victim (both women were transsexual) and consoles in his typical science-geek style by telling her about oysters being able to switch genders, and goes on to suggest that being stuck with one gender is actually the mutation.

  2. Sally, you just reminded me of an episode of Without A Trace where the woman who went missing was trans. It was respectfully done as well, but it came off like an after-school special which made it kinda....boring. But I guess that's better than the alternative.


  3. It's hard to find positive portrayals on TV. That's why I just stopped watching TV. Its so negative. Love your post.