of the limited representations of transgender individuals in the media, it’s worth considering the different factors that can shape these representations and the stories they tell. We can consider the genre (movie, television, news, documentary), historical period, and type of production (mainstream or independent).

It’s also worth considering what role the transgender individual plays in the storytelling. In other words, is sexual identity central to the story? Is the story using sexual identity to make a political or moral statement? Or, is the transgender individual simply one of many characters?

As with representations of other identity groups, there are some common stereotypes and conventions we can see if we pay close attention to the patterns in what we’re viewing. Stereotypes of transgender individuals in many cases parallel those associated with other LGBT individuals. They may be promiscuous, freaks, deviant, immoral. They may also be struggling, lost, outsiders.

These stereotypes and conventions may not reflect our reality or any reality we personally know or recognize. In fact, they simply may be common shorthand used by those working behind-the-scenes doing the writing, directing, producing, casting, set design, costuming, hair and makeup.

If we can start to see patterns, even in the smallest details of someone’s dress, their body type and body language, where they live, what kind of job they have, we can begin to understand how representations create meaning, perpetuate ideologies, and potentially reinforce stereotypes.

dig in...do now

Begin by making a list of the types of representations of transgender individuals you can think of in American media. Also, take a look at the media on this site tagged “transgender,” “gay,” “lesbian,” and “LGBTQ.” Then, consider:

  • What types of representations of transgender individuals do you typically see?
  • Are the characters stereotypical or complex?
  • If they are stereotypical, what kinds of stereotypes do you notice?
  • Are the representations masculine or feminine? How can you tell?
  • How do they dress? How do they speak? Who are their friends and romantic partners? Where do they live? What do they do for work?