Waymon Hudson

NBC's The Listener: Taking on Trans Youth

Filed By Waymon Hudson | July 13, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: NBC, The Listener, trans youth, transgender

I've been watching a show on NBC that I haven't heard too much buzz about. The Listener is about a paramedic who can read people's thoughts and uses it to help others. Think "Heroes" without the giant cast and a little more believable (if mind-reading can be believable).

6a00d83451c17f69e201156fcae7e9970c-300wi.jpgIt also doesn't hurt that the lead is easy on the eyes, but that's neither here nor there.

I was catching up on some episodes on the TiVo and was pleasantly shocked at last week's show called "Lisa Says." This particular episode deals with the heavy issues facing trans youth: homelessness, not accepting parents, and lack of medical help. In fact it revolves around a young female to male trans youth, something else that has been rather unheard of on prime-time TV.

I think it was of the most positive and realistic depictions of the issues surrounding trans kids I have seen on a fictional TV show...

Video and more after the jump...

Of course it is dramatized and heightened a bit. But some of the back and forth between the trans kid and his mother was spot on and quite telling. The mother panics about her child, throwing out church, therapy, and a long list of "fixes." All of it fails to move her son, who simply tells her:

You've already lost your daughter. You're going to lose me as well.

Not only that, but the young kid repeatedly talks about how he's known since he was 6 that he needed to transition.

There is, of course, the typical straight guy response represented by the main character's paramedic partner- who doesn't understand how someone can "choose" to change their gender. This only serves as a set-up for the main character to really drive home the point about making your outside match your insides and giving a really good speech on acceptance.

I was even more surprised that they didn't put a neat little bow on the end of the episode, with the mother coming around and simply accepting her son. The young man decides he can't live with his mother until she gets help to accept him.

So I'm curious to see what the rest of you think, especially our trans readers. Do you see it as a step forward in the coverage of trans kids on TV or something negative?

You can check out the full episode online here.

Here's the teaser for the episode:

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Thanks Waymon, it will be interesting to hear thoughts from trans readers. I can't watch all episode now, just hope the medical community is very accepting. I have emphasized that over and over to my soon-to-be-med student daughter.

I'll watch the full episode when I get home, but I can tell you for fact that the teaser is right on the money. I had almost the _exact_ same conversation with my mother when I started taking hormones. It's so spot on that it's a little freaky.

Who knows? Maybe they even wised up and consulted with _real transpeople_ for authenticity! :)

One can only hope they have finally started talking to real trans folk...

It was incredibly realistic and very spot on (even gender pronouns were right by the cops/paramedics). I think it was a real milestone episode for visibility.

Oddly enough, I was telling a FTM friend of mine about this very episode. I was telling him about the points you made and he seemed to think it did pretty well. I am hoping that he will take a look at it.

I am not crazy about the series, but I thought they handled this subject very well.

I like the series (but I'm a sucker for sci-fi type stuff) and was really pleasantly surprised by the handling of trans issues.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | July 13, 2009 7:14 PM

Waymon, thanks for posting this. I'm impressed by the handling of the trans issue in the teaser. My concern/criticism involves what appears to be an ominous abduction at the end. Sure, now I want to see the rest of the episode, but the implied violence left me physically a bit sick to my stomach. I strongly resent that the very real threat of violence towards trans youth is being used to tease viewers to watch and see what happens.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | July 13, 2009 8:29 PM

Waymon, I watched the entire episode. Well done show. I liked it, and in context the abduction was revealed to be about something unrelated to gender. I’m guessing that the writers didn’t realize how the teaser would play to transgendered people who had no further context, and so (personallyam willing to give them a pass on it.

I never even thought of the end of the teaser in that context (I had seen the full episode beforehand). I think you are probably right- it was just a convenient place to stop the scene taken by writers.

I'll have to watch this episode. The teaser was very accurate, from all that I have heard from my younger trans friends, men and women.

First that I have ever seen of the series. I liked what I saw so maybe I'll watch the episode and most likely will get hooked on the series knowing me.

I've also been watching this sleeper show since it debuted a few weeks ago (yes, because of the lead but also the genre) and was pleasantly surprised by the story line and its treatment, too. I believe the show is produced in Canada, which I suspect provides part of the explanation for its foreward-thinking "analysis" and presentation. I was quite pleased with the youth-parent dialog and relationship and the end, as well. It was definitely not Hollywood happy!

I watched the episode, and I am an FtM. I give it an A+. The kid had issues, and his life wasn't the best, but they made sure that transness wasn't a major part of that issue (Except for his being unable to remain at home and accepted.)

Also, having the very nice protagonist point out similarities between himself and the trans kid was awesome. After finding out about the kid, he only used the female pronouns with the social worker, but otherwise referred to the kid as Daniel and 'he,' which seems to me a sign that he accepted the kid for who he was. The protagonist of the show is an advocate for the young FtM, dispelling ideas about his weirdness, interrupting his partner from calling the kid weird by pointing out his own weirdness. So the FtM wasn't made to be exotic. That was a plus.

Also, I like the way the mother is portrayed. She doesn't get it, but wants to, and is very adamant about the fact that she loves her kid. People care about Daniel, but the show isn't pandering about that. Also, he asks questions any teenager has to ask, and his transness isn't treated as the reason why he is questioning everything. And even though he's essentially on the streets, I don't feel worried for him. I feel like he's where he needs to be, and will now be able to figure things out.

So, this episode was win. Definitely an improvement from other shows where trans people are exotic murderers or just anomalies.

I have not seen the show so I can't comment on it, but it sounds like it was a positive depiction of a trans youth, and that is always something that can educate society about issues trans kids face. Back in the ancient days when I was a teenager, there were very, very few options.


I wish I had seen it... Or, could download it, but I still live in the last century as far as most tech stuff goes and it would take a century to download the program on my dial up modem...

In any case, "Thank You!" I hope sumone will remind us when this particular episode will be on re-run so we who missed it the first time will be able to see it as well.

Now, on to what I said "Cool" about at the onset of this note. You wrote:

"I was even more surprised that they didn't put a neat little bow on the end of the episode, with the mother coming around and simply accepting her son. The young man decides he can't live with his mother until she gets help to accept him."

It was the "The young man decides he can't live with his mother until "SHE GETS HELP TO ACCEPT HIM" part that I Love and it is so normalizing.

We, as transgenders, are so used to seeing ourselves as the ones who have a "problem" when in reality "we" are absolutely clear about who we are and have known since we were children what needs to be done. It isn't "us" who have a problem that needs to be fixed, its "them"... All the people who are so blinded by their intollerance they cannot conceive the fact that it is they who are made disfunctional by that intolerance.

I Love that very important change in perspective. It puts the focus where it has always needed to be.

Again, "Thank you!"


I was goofing off last night with nothing to do, so I went to Hulu and saw The Listener was one of the shows you could watch. I remembered your post, Waymon, and decided I'd watch an episode. I clicked randomly on an episode called, Lisa Says - it was this one! :) (It's the most popular episode of that show so far, btw.)

I linked it above in case anyone else wants to watch the full episode too.