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Where’s the “T” in media?

November 12, 2010

Last month, organizers from Columbia University’s Queer Awareness Month invited three transgender advocates and media professionals to address the question of how the media represents transgender people.  For the Women’s Media Center, this issue is especially salient, as both transgender women (male to female transgender persons), and transgender men (female to male transgender persons) both experience sexism (in addition to homophobia and transphobia) in news and entertainment media. With the 12th Annual National Day of Transgender Remembrance coming up on November 20th, we wanted to bring some of these issues to light. Transgender people face several of the same issues that other minority groups have and continue to face in the media: under-representation, prejudice, stereotyping, and pigeon-holing. Yet while many political and social gains in regards to women’s, queer, and black civil rights have made it into the mainstream, political and social organizing around the plight of transgender people in America receives much less attention and credibility. Unfortunately, because transpeople often face difficult and unique issues in relation to employment discrimination, access to health care, sex-segregated facilities, and sexual violence, appropriate attention to these issues is extremely necessary. Transwomen face a specific combination of sexism and homophobia in the media (remember this disgraceful skit on David Letterman’s show, or this clip on MTV’s Jersey Shore reunion show?) that often goes unaddressed.   Since media’s transmisogyny is rooted in both sexism and homophobia, it is harmful to all women.  As violence against women on television must  be addressed in order to create a safer, world for all women, transphobic media representations must be stopped to make the world safer for a community of women who are often the targets of hate crimes. On a more positive note, more and more TV shows feature transgender characters and some companies are casting transgender actors.  Additionally, genderqueer individuals, who do not identify as either gender and/or who see their genders as fluid and dynamic, have been organizing in order to increase awareness of gender identity issues.  As a result, broadening conversations about gender roles are being picked up by celebrities like James Franco. At the Women’s Media Center, we know it is extremely important for all women, including transgender women, and also transgender men (female to male transgender persons) to create, and not only criticize, media images. The WMC  is committed to addressing sexism, transphobia and transmisogyny against transpeople in the media.  Only when all types of communities work together, are we able to fight discrimination based on gender, both in and out of the media spotlight.

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