Antonia D'orsay

Portrayals Of LGBT People in Media

Filed By Antonia D'orsay | April 15, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: Immigration reform, LGBT media, LGBT people in media, LGBT portrayals

I thought for today's column I would key into the overt issues that are involved in several discussions around a more covert one that I expect to tackle fairly soon head on, and with all the vigor I can manage.

On Tuesday, I took a break from the usual LGBT blog scene, and I didn't do it on purpose. I wasn't tired of hearing about how some new story is out where either trans folk are bitching about something or cisLGB folk are defending the same thing, or cisLGB folk are bitching about something and trans folk are defending it, and all the various possible permutations of all that stuff.

Instead, I read several national newspapers, a few national magazines, watched the local news, the cable news, and paid attention to my local newspaper, of which I am not all that fond.

The reason is that on Tuesday, the majority of the elected representatives to the Arizona State Legislature passed a law. It is, in my personal and professional opinion one of the worst laws that have ever been passed.

It is, at the least, an equal law -- it doesn't specifically single out LGBT folks. So, ultimately, a lot of folks likely won't see it as something that affects us, that really has much to do with us.

The law made it a criminal offense -- trespass -- to be in the State of Arizona without documentation. It also gives the law enforcement agencies in the State the expectation of having to add stopping someone who looks like they are not a citizen of the US and asking them for their papers.

"Your papers, please." Or you are arrested and taken away. They don't need a reason to stop you other than you look like you don't belong here.

And, in much of my state, you look like you don't belong here if you happen to walk funny, dress funny, or talk funny -- inclusive of the stereotypical portrayals of LGBT people in mainstream media.

Bravo, Logo -- these are not mainstream media channels. And when people say mainstream media channels, they do not mean *stations* or *dial positions*, they mean the routes through which mainstream media reaches people.

For those who don't follow such things, Arizona has a fairly large population of persons whose descent traces through pretty much everything south of the border of the state -- all of Central and South America -- plus the islands between North and South America, plus the Philippines -- basically, places where the colonial reach of Portugal and Spain were very strong.

Latino/a is one of the terms for them. Hispanic is another. I am often taken for a member of such on sight. I grew up here, where the heritage of this state includes a great deal of Mexican and Spanish influence. I have cousins who possess the "typical features" of persons of Latino/a descent.

Anyone know what those are, by the way? Not a rhetorical question. I'd really like for someone to answer that question.

The person to whom I am legally married is a woman who is proud of her Mexican heritage. Although there is a great deal of other crap in the way, the truth is I still love her. She is the mother of my children. And, it follows, as such, that they are at least somewhat Mexican.

This law just placed these people, these human beings, these members of my family -- even if they don't have anything to do with me because I'm a transsexual -- in a bad place. Until this law is repealed, they can go nowhere without carrying "proper identification." Then, on top of that unspecified and questionable request, they have to present it when asked for at any time, on the basis that they look like they don't belong here.

All of them were born here.

On her side of the family, there is a track back to long before there was an Arizona, long before there was a United States. On my side, the track goes back to both the original Dutch colonies and the Lakota people who were here long before any of them. In my son is the blood of the Native peoples who were here long before the Vikings or Colombus, or North America and Central America, both.

And this angered me. It angered me just as much as I get angered by the idea that when I fly I have to carry every single document I own to prove my identity. Or the idea that I can go in for an interview and be told I will not be hired because I am a transsexual. Or the idea that I'm married to another woman and yet my gay and lesbian and bisexual friends and family cannot marry someone of the same sex. Or that trans folk cannot serve in the military -- openly or in the closet, even post-operatively -- and get treatment for it.

Those things propelled me run for office in 2012. This new thing propelled me to walk down to the District Democrats meeting and participate, and walk out with the start of running for precinct committeewoman.

And while I was there -- and I know you are all wondering why it is that I titled this thing the way I did when I haven't talked about such yet, I did what I do in political situations.

I made sure that people knew I was trans. The member of Equality Arizona that was there, he sorta vanished quickly. The attorney who had an HRC sticker invited me to the women's group at the local community center. I was asked if I would be at Pride. I answered yes, since this Saturday, I and a collection of trans folk will march under the banner of the political group of which I am co-chair.

And I was told several times that they were so glad I was dong this because there are so few positive portrayals of LGBT people.

Not merely trans, but any of them. But yes, trans in particular.

And that left me walking home that night thinking more deeply about the portrayals of LGBT people in the media. This is particularly interesting to me given the reactions to that horrible film and to the CNN show and then, of course, my friend Jillian's satiric posting recently, which is really interesting to contrast with Bil's post that same day.

I've seen people make claims that the horrible film is being censored, but they were silent when it came to saying the same thing about the CNN thing.

I've seen LGBT people defend a show's homophobia and transphobia with "but it was a fictional character!", apparently forgetting the way that LGBT people were portrayed in media in the 1980's and 1990's and the reactions those things sparked.

All surrounding the idea of how we are portrayed.

So here's two simple questions for all of you.

When was the last time you saw a fictional, positive, non-biographical portrayal of an individual in each of the various kinds of LGBT people in the mainstream media where they were not a victim? Television show, newscast, that sort of thing. Logo and Bravo don't count.

When was the last time you saw an individual of each of those things played in a way that was not all that pleasant -- such as for laughs (including camp) or as some sad pathetic thing or as the villain of the piece?

So each list should have one lesbian, one gay man, one bisexual, and one trans person in it.

I ask because I can't think of one positive portrayal -- and I figure maybe I've just been missing something. I'll toss mine into the comments later...

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Bisexual - Susan Ivanova in Babylon 5.

Lesbian - Admiral Helen Cain in Battlestar Galactica. FAR too complex to be called a villain. Or Willow in Buffy if you find her too dark.

Gay - Don Finlayson in the Australian prime-time soap Number 96. (1972–1977) Yes, 1972.

Trans - .....................<crickets chirping>

Though there is this, again from Number 96:

Carlotta was featured in the soap opera Number 96 in 1973 as Robyn Ross, the new girlfriend of Arnold Feather. In the story it was soon revealed that Robyn was in fact a transsexual showgirl, a revelation that led to the character's quick departure from the show. To preserve the shock ending to this storyline the true identity of Robyn's portrayer was kept secret from all but a few central cast and crew members of the series, her scenes were shot on a closed set, and Carlotta was credited as "Carolle Lea".
Carlotta's sex-change operation in the early 1970s was not the first such procedure in Australia, but due to her celebrity status it became the first to receive publicity there.
Of course when she's revealed as Trans, she has to disappear. Gays are one thing, Trans another. Good for shock value - but at least the character was portrayed as "normal human being".Pic here. Yes, in glorious black-and-white, this pre-dated colour TV in Australia. 1973 people. 1973. When was a trans woman last seen on prime-time TV in the US playing a trans character?

That is SO depressing. "Gay Liberation" was only just getting into gear in Australia in 1973. I was an unenthusiastic straight ally at University in the late 70's, when it was no longer underground. The worst was over by then. It had been pretty bad in 1973.

Earlier in the day a group of 12 gay activists had invaded the Macquarie Street offices of a doctor famed for his lobotomies as a cure for homosexuality....
OK, that's enough of the thread hijacking.

Oh wait, there's one. Bernadette Bassenger, in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Recently widowed, looking to start a new life. The one character that wasn't campily Over The Top.

I can also think of one Intersex character, on House IIRC. A teen who had the choice of what sex to be.

I had to look hard.

William Defoe in the "Boondock Saints" comes to mind for a transgender person,otherwise, I'm still thinking.

trans characters

Flaming Creatures
Chelsea Girls -- Candy Darling and others
Pink Flamingos (scene of pre op MFT in park)
Rocky Horror
Crying Game
The Brendan Trina movie with Hilary Swank
Orlando with Tilda Swinton
Bruce la Bruce' No Skin Off My Ass
Corontation Street UK soap opera character Haily transsexual (included as entire plot line for years)

off the top of my head...

I watch primarily Sci-Fi and Fantasy Fiction which are not really that cut and dry.

Xena Warrior Princess portrayed a lot of situational LGBT characters. Xena as Xena has a pretty masculine role. There are also episodes in which Xena or Gabrielle are reincarnated in male bodies. At one point Xena's spirit actually shares a body with a male character. Xena is also bisexual (And I've been through a gazillion shipper wars on that topic. She's bisexual.)

There's one episode in particular that was nominated for a GLAAD award and received an award from a Trans group (sorry, I can't remember or find which) that featured a guest trans character played by Karen Dior. I just rewatched it since I have the series DVDs. In retrospect it has a few problems, but it was 1997 and the series is set in Ancient Greece so whether the character is a drag queen or intersex, I dunno. But the character is definitely not a victim nor the butt of jokes at least.

Xena also conceives a child with a female Angel named Callisto, who had been her arch nemesis when she was alive and got sent to hell. But Xena saved her and they made a baby named Eve and Gabrielle is the father. I've lost you now haven't I?

What's sort of interesting about Xena: WP though is that they would put Xena in a male body to get away with a same-sex kiss. I mean at the time they couldn't get away with Xena and Gabrielle kissing but put Xena in Autolycus and oh look he can kiss Gabrielle.

I don't know if one would consider the Trill species on Star Trek as trans, but they're definitely bisexual or pansexual.

Sorry, you wanted a list. Problem is the best characters aren't what you want. I think they should bring both joy and pain and should not be perfect nor easy to categorize as good or bad.

My favorite lesbian couple on TV ever, Willow and Tara, also had a really traumatic end that was cliche for lesbian characters. That pissed off a lot of people for a long time. But they had depth and were imperfect, and they resonated with people...including straight people. They weren't seen or portrayed as just being victims or screwed up, it was just part of it.

I can think of a lot of LGBT victims from cop shows. Though I'd rather not.

Xena also conceives a child with a female Angel named Callisto, who had been her arch nemesis when she was alive and got sent to hell. But Xena saved her and they made a baby named Eve and Gabrielle is the father. I've lost you now haven't I?
No. The medics decided I was more properly classed as biologically female than biologically male in 2005. But I'd contributed genetic material to father a child in 2000 (syringes etc). I'm not the only woman who's fathered a child in that sense.

Compared to my everyday reality, that fictional situation is positively mundane.

The Xena trans episode was titled "Here She Comes, Miss ............" the town name escapes me. The trans character was played by a bio male, was a contestant in the world's first beauty pageant (the hook) and actually wins in the end. The subject matter was handled with respect.

The groundbreaking series Picket Fences also featured a transsexual teacher (played by a bio-woman)in one episode in the first season. The treatment was somewhat balanced and realistic but she never re-appeared again in the series.

The John Larroquette Show featured a transsexual actress, Jazzmun in 10 espisodes and a transsexual character named "Teddi" played by a bio-male in six episodes.

And lets not forget All In The Family and the Beverly La Salle character played by a female impersonator and appeared multiple times before being murdered on the show. This was in 1975!

WackoTheSane | April 15, 2010 9:40 PM

Gay - Captan Jack in Torchwood and Dr. Who BBC America

Gay - Richard May presenter Top Gear BBC America

Lesbian - None come to mind that have not been mentioned above

Bi - None come to mind

Trans - Only in the SciFi sense as Deelin undergoes a transition from Minbari to half human and half Minbari in Babylon 5. I think that would meet the definition of trans.

Delenn was originally intended to transition from male Minbari to female human/minbari hybrid, but as she was female all along, she's not trans.

Kathy Padilla | April 16, 2010 6:55 AM

I think Captain Jack Harkness was bi.

All of the members of Torchwood were bi...... one of things I loved about it was bisexuality was just the norm among them.......

Trans people in the media

Alexis Mead (plyed by rebecca romain) - Ugly Betty (television)

Breakfast on Pluto (film 2005)

Hedwig - Hedwig and the angry Inch

Felicity Huffman - Transamerica

Poison - Final Fight (video game)

Candice Cane - Dirty Sexy Money

Gay people in the media

Admiral Hoshi - Battle Star Galactica

Marc -Ugly Betty

Justin - Ugly Betty

Kurt - Glee

Michael & Cameron - Modern Family

Brian and Steve - Sarah Silverman program

Oscar - The office

Kevin & Scott & Saul -Brothrs and Sisters

Lesbians in the media

Lina Inveeres (a six cylon model) - Battlestar Galactica

Nancy & bev - Roseanne

Jo - the facts of life


Willow & Tara - Buffy