Golden Globes 2016 Is Not the Year of Transgender Stories

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New York Daily News has a piece up that calls the 2016 Golden Globes “The Year of Transgender Stories.” I don’t think that these are transgender stories, though; they’re not told by transgender people, and most of them don’t even feature anyone who is transgender. The Golden Globe nominations include Transparent (3 nominations), Orange is the New Black (2 nominations), and The Danish Girl (3 nominations).

All of this media is made by cisgender people; only one of them has a trans actress, Laverne Cox, who plays a side character in OITNB, and she’s not up for a Golden Globe in 2016. The NYDN piece also mentions Tangerine, which stars a trans actress, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, which isn’t up for a Golden Globe award, but again, this was created by cisgender people.

Glaad’s Nick Adams, director of programs for transgender media, is quoted as saying, “For over 60 years, Hollywood has largely portrayed trans people as either psychotic killers or the butt of jokes … Only very recently have film and television portrayals begun to move beyond these offensive, defamatory stereotypes.” That’s true; we have only just started to move beyond those stereotypes. We’ve not yet managed to fully get past them, as proved by The Danish Girl and Transparent in particular.

The article goes on to deadname Lana Wachowski, which breaks Glaad’s media guidelines when talking about transgender people. This isn’t Glaad’s fault, of course; the NYDN did the deadnaming. To me, though, it’s weird that Glaad would retweet an article that breaks their own guidelines without at least adding a comment about it.

Is any publicity better than no publicity? I think that’s open for debate; it’s useful to talk about transgender issues, and these TV shows and movies create much-needed conversation. The drawback is a lot of the conversations are not positive ones. Like Nick said, we’ve had trans stories told in the media for decades, but they’ve always been negative portrayals. Is this, the Golden Globes’ “year of transgender stories,” showing positive stories of transgender people?

Laverne Cox, OITNB

Laverne Cox, OITNB

No, not really. Hollywood is still focused on the tragedy of transgender. Cisgender-run award shows reinforce the idea that to be transgender is a tragedy, not just for yourself but for those around you. Transparent is all about this; The Danish Girl, too, ends in tragedy. Hollywood gives out awards for tragic portrayals of transgender women by cisgender male actors frequently. A long while back, I called The Danish Girl an “award nomination bait” movie, a prediction that has proved depressingly accurate.

If your movie features a transgender woman as a tragic character played by a dude, then you’re looking at awards for bravery and the actor’s skill “portraying a transgender woman.” Trans women are not portraying women, we are women. I have to live every day of my life having cisgender people judge how “close” I am to a “real woman.” Hollywood’s continual reinforcement of the invalidation of trans women isn’t helping at all.

The NYDN article is really reaching; almost none of these stories are positive for transgender people. These awards are more about cisgender people saying how good it is that they are so inclusive now while still keeping out transgender writers and actors. We’ve still not reached the point where trans people are allowed to act in trans roles; when this is questioned we’re told they cast “the best actor for the part,” which when disproved, becomes, “Well we needed the cis actor for financing,” followed by other excuses. It’s still pretty much unheard of for trans people to play cisgender roles; Bethany Black’s upcoming one-episode role in Doctor Who is an exception. Trans writers are usually kept completely out of the creative process, and even the most successful ones, like Lana, get disrespected.

None of the stories listed in the Golden Globe awards reflect the reality of being transgender from a transgender perspective. Transparent is about cisgender reactions to someone coming out as trans. Danish Girl is a “love story” and, according to writer David Ebershoff, not about transgender issues. OITNB is a show set in a much-criticized unreal fantasy prison and isn’t starring Laverne Cox, and Laverne isn’t even nominated for a Golden Globe in 2016.

New York Daily News’ article should be entitled “The Year of Transgender Stories as Told by Cisgender People.” They claim that “pop culture is transitioning” (oh, see what they did there!) when really, it hasn’t yet. I think that change has at least started, and that’s a great thing, but I don’t think we’ve reached the point yet where joking that pop culture is “transitioning” is remotely accurate or funny.

When trans writers, directors, producers and so on can have trans actors and actresses in movies or TV shows playing trans or cisgender roles on a regular basis, then we’ve changed. From 2015, all we have is Netflix’s Sense8, co-written by Lana and featuring trans actress Jamie Clayton, and notably, that’s not up for any Golden Globe awards.

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Author
Marcy Cook
Marcy (@marcyjcook) is writer with a nerd job that pays the bills, and she lives with far too many cats. She's trans, sex positive and has an ongoing sordid love affair with Lego. Those last two are not related… probably.