Welcome folks, to Reel Queer The Muse’s new Queer media column! We’re excited to bring you all the best, and the rest, LGBTQQIP2SAA+ content the web has to offer. Queer representation in mainstream media is quite often despicable; this has real and damaging effects. This column aims to feature the authentic and overlooked.
We’ve decided to get the ball rollin’ with the very best of trans representation. In a world where trans folks, particularly women, are fetishized and hypersexualized by mainstream media, Jen Richards and Laura Zak’s web-series, “Her Story,” is a refreshingly genuine look at the day-to-day lives of trans and queer folks. And, lo’ and behold, the characters who are trans women are actually played, as well as co-written, by real-life trans women! And there’s no shortage of trans talent behind-the-scenes either; the entire production team is comprised of trans folks and allies. This is the future of trans representation in media, friends – or, at least, I hope to gosh it is.
Media ought to move away from casting cisgender actors in transgender roles. Just in terms of quality, authenticity is key. Trans actors have lived experiences that give them insight into trans characters that cis actors don’t have. When trans actors tell their own stories, viewers see richer, deeper, and more accurate portrayals of trans realities. Why does this matter? Aside from higher quality performances, consider the stigma and violence that the trans community faces daily, especially trans women of colour. We might not immediately realize the impact of media representation on the real lives of trans folks and the violence they face, but there is a connection. Jen Richards explains it better than I can, please me excuse long-quoting her poignant series of tweets in response to Mark Ruffalo’s casting of Matt Bomer as a trans woman in the upcoming film Anything:
“I auditioned for this. I told them they shouldn’t have a cis man play a trans woman. They didn’t care … Cis audiences reward [cis actors in trans roles] because they see being trans itself as a performance. Trans actors rather perform THE STORY, not our gender. But all of this pales to the main reason … [which] is making me cry as I type this. It will result in violence against trans women. And that is not hyperbole, I mean it literally. Cis men playing trans women leads to death. Here’s why: I’ve spent years looking at violence against trans women, particularly who does it and why. I talk to survivors. There’s a pattern: straight men are attracted to trans women. They always have been, always will be … BUT they are afraid that being with trans women makes them gay/less masculine. They seek us out, enjoy us, then punish us for their anxiety. Let’s be more direct: they have sex with us, worry that makes them gay, then reassert their masculinity through violence aimed at us. WHY do men, who aren’t attracted to men, who only date women, think being with trans women makes them gay/less masculine? Because culture as a whole still thinks trans women are ‘really’ men … Again and again cis men play trans women in media with the furthest reach, are rewarded for it, and tell the world trans women are ‘really’ men … When Matt Bomer plays a trans sex worker, he is telling the world that underneath it all, trans women like me are still really just men. And that is going to lead to violence. Not to me, likely, but to girls already most at risk. Any cis men who do this have bloody hands. I’m not some screechy activist. I mean all this literally. It’s happening all the time. The stakes are life and death. Our women are dying. I’m a filmmaker. I hold the freedom of art sacred, but I also recognize its power as a responsibility. We shape perception, we are culpable.”
Wow. Folks, this is a matter of life and death. What’s more? There’s nothing important to be gained from continuing to cast cis actors in trans roles. Sure it might make a production company feel more secure in predicted box office sales to have a name like Jared Leto on a poster, but I don’t think we should be willing to perpetuate violence against trans women to save production companies from having to take a few risks in the name of more authentic and socially valuable art. I don’t want to participate in a process that aggravates violence against trans women while trying to hear their stories and learn more about their experiences. That’s all kinds of wrong.
There’s nothing to lose by casting trans actors in trans roles. The results: better quality art, increased access to employment for trans actors, less stigma, less violence. So thank you to the Her Story team for their essential, and high-quality project.
Her Story follows two trans women as they go about their daily lives in LA. Resilient and reserved Violet (Jen Richards) is new to the area and recovering from an addiction. Paige (Angelica Ross) is a bad-ass, no-bullshit, lawyer at a legal firm that chooses cases aimed at advancing civil rights, and she’s Violet’s sponsor. Violet meets Allie (Laura Zak), a quirky and open-minded writer for GAY LA, and they slowly form a romantic bond. Paige meets sweet cis James (Christian Ochoa), and they fall for each other over the course of the first season.
Part of what makes the series so exceptional is the depth of the characters. Though the entire season has a runtime of under 60 minutes, I felt like I really knew each character at the end. I’d become invested in their journeys, and am now anxiously awaiting the second season.
They also got the light-dark balance just right, as far as I’m concerned. I really value a show that can deal with tough, heavy, issues without leaving me feeling like I was hit by a bus at the end. The Her Story team has achieved this balance better than I’ve ever seen it achieved. I think this speaks to the shows authenticity: even when life is tough and hard, there are still laughable moments, experiences to savour, and love to be shared.
I don’t want to get anymore into the plot, because since the series is short, it’s hard to talk plot and avoid spoilers. But I really hope you check it out! For trans folks, it’s a refreshingly genuine representation of the day-to-day experiences of trans women. And it doesn’t shy away from tackling divisions within the queer community in a sharp and smart manner. (CW: Lisa (Caroline Whitney Smith), one of Allie’s friends is a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist.) For those outside the community, it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with trans experiences and queer community dynamics without participating in a process that perpetuates violence against trans women. Everybody wins!
Keep on eye on this show. It’s nominated for an Emmy this year, and I think it’s going to get beautifully big and continue to challenge how mainstream media represents trans-ness in a crucial and influential way. Kudos, and thank you, to the folks behind this gem.
You can watch Her Story for free at: www[dot]herstoryshow[dot]com