Representation of the transgender community: a blessing and a curse

By Pranavi 

Member, Creative department

 

To be heard, to be noticed and to be cherished is one of the greatest forms of comfort one could experience. Every fight comes with gains and losses, and when we’re fighting for something so powerful, widespread, and important, such as the deserved respect for the trans community, representation is the right weapon. It is the weapon that can change minds and hearts like the directions of the wind, It is the weapon which gives birth to one of the most precious and angelic essences of life- hope.

For a long time, the true voices of the trans community have been suppressed. It took a long time for the media to acknowledge the fact that the trans community doesn’t exist to be the butt of their jokes and that these “jokes” and “depictions” about the community have snatched many people’s dreams, lives and dignity right out of their hands. The irony is truly uncanny because it was the media itself that gave me, and many others, a deeper insight about their lives and struggles.

Representation defines how trans people see themselves and how others see them as well, and that goes for both the bad, unrealistic manner and the real, powerful and beautiful manner they are portrayed. This is one of the many things that I learnt while watching Disclosure: trans lives on screen- a documentary about the impact of hollywood’s depictions of transgender people. As mentioned in the documentary by these incredibly talented trans artists: the media has taught people how to react to trans people and for decades, movies had portrayed them as dangerous, psychotic and atrocious- as either serial killers or perverts. This portrayal has been positioned in a lot of minds for a very long time and I could not realise how intensely this had been done until I had a conversation about this with my mother.

My mother was born in the late 1970s – a time when transphobia was widespread . While speaking to her on this topic, she remembered how when she was around 10-13 years old, one of her relatives-who was trans-had visited her house. “He was a man but always dressed and acted like a woman”, she said. When I asked if she ever had the chance to speak to them, she simply answered- “Oh no, me and my siblings were asked to go and hide in a room by our parents, we were horrified- we were taught to be”. On asking if she was able to overcome that fear, she said “I try to. But I get a bit startled when I see someone who is trans”.

When trans folks are represented negatively in movies, and media in general, it doesnt only encourage transphobia amongst cis gendered people but also contributes in the decline of trans poeple’s self esteem and mental health.Two thirds of trans people (67%) have experienced depression in the last year. Seven in ten trans people (71%) have experienced anxiety in the last year.One in five trans people (19%) have experienced an eating disorder in the last year.

On the contrary to problematic fictional representation, when real life stories by the people of the community are shared- filled with raw emotions of struggles, fear and joy all at the same time, the impact is truly captivating. Given that not many people have personal contacts with members of the trans community due to marginalisation, representation is the only guidance for young children who are going through the same thing- it holds the power of reassurance and provides comfort at the time of uncertainty and confusion. Elliot Page, a Canadian actor and producer, recently shared his graceful story with the world and his impact on the industry has been massive. Other talented celebrities who are part of the community such as Laverne Cox, Sam Smith, Demi Lovato, Chaz Bono, Hunter Schafer, Elliot Fletcher and many more have played a great role in the process of making the world understand the community. In India, Stylist Saisha Shinde, actor Gauri Arora, dancer Narthaki Nataraj-who is also the first trans woman to be awarded India’s fourth-highest civilian award- the Padma Shri, are great reminders of how far our country has come.

Even though the trans community is still courageously paving their way through the hardships, a lot of change is yet to come. Slurs used for the community like hijras and chakkas have always had an insulting tone to it and should be discouraged. Members of the community are still struggling with basic human rights and dignity like unemployment, death threats, etc. 

The process of figuring out your true identity and falling in love with it should never be looked down upon. Too many people have sacrificed so much for the freedom and respect of the trans community and now it is our responsibility as humans to help them win this fight of equality, respect and accurate representation, and celebrate their existence with pride. 

 

References:

https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/ceo-blog/trans-mental-health-stonewall-simon-blake/

Disclosure (Netflix series) – https://www.netflix.com/in/title/81284247