Breaking Down The Wall: Why We Need Trans Visibility In The Media

by Carmel Jones
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This past May, a Canadian study was published confirming an intuitive point about improving the lives of transgender youth.

It reinforced the theory that support from family, friends and community is crucial in order for them to navigate the challenges they often face.

The study focused on local level support, particularly the positive, life-saving impact adults can have on transgender youth.

This invites a larger question of how support for transgender people can be more broadly realized beyond the local level.

Enter film and television, two important mediums that have profoundly impacted society’s views on gays, lesbians and same-sex marriage.

Film and television, however, can similarly affect attitudes toward transgendered people.

In "'Will & Grace': The TV Series That Changed America," Jack Myers argues "Will & Grace" brought “homosexuality out of the television closet.”

"Will & Grace" presented a gay character that defied gay stereotypes, a character who “passed for straight” and didn’t challenge society’s masculinized views of heteronormativity.

This construction was paramount in breaking the “gay” wall.

Once the walls of heteronormativity were broken, "Will & Grace" ushered in a never before seen era of gay television, including "Queer as Folk," "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," "Boy Meets Boy," "Six Feet Under," "Glee," "The New Normal," "Modern Family," "Warehouse 13" and "Orange is The New Black."

Some of these shows more than others focused on gay themes, but all featured openly gay characters.

These television shows have achieved widespread commercial acceptance and the subsequent impact on gay rights is absolutely unmistakable.

Though significant work remains in pushing forward gay and lesbian rights, comparing 1998 America, when "Will & Grace" premiered, to 2015 America is wildly like night and day.

Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, a milestone that up until recently was thought unimaginable by members of the LGBTQ+ communities, their allies and even their adversaries.

The military can no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation.

There are openly gay government officials as well as openly gay chiefs of multi-national corporations (hello, Tim Cook).

Of course, "Will & Grace" and the era of gay television it helped launch did not single-handedly win these rights, but as Vice President Joe Biden succinctly put it on "Meet the Press," “I think 'Will & Grace' probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done so far.”

Shortly after Biden’s interview, President Obama publicly declared his support for same-sex marriage, the first ever sitting president to do so.

The success television had on advancing gay and lesbian rights can be replicated for transgender rights.

The wheels of media are already spinning in this direction.

From Caitlyn Jenner’s "I Am Cait" and Amazon’s "Transparent" to the upcoming film "The Danish Girl," film and television are being utilized to advance the cause.

"I Am Cait" depicts Caitlyn Jenner’s daily life as transgender celebrity.

"Transparent" is a family comedy that's premised on the kids discovering their father is transgender.

And "The Danish Girl" is a fictionalized story about Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

Too often, society pathologizes trans life.

Film and television are compelling counters to this trend, as they were for gay and lesbian rights.

Mistreatment of transgender people is largely a result of misunderstanding about their lifestyle, and this misunderstanding can be positively addressed by film and television.

Fear is a barrier to understanding. It maligns and breeds resentment.

Supporting transgender people starts with learning more about who they are.

Film and television can greatly help this task.

It can break down the "trans wall" in media, which is already underway.

As media helped transform a new era of gay rights, it can also assist in writing a new chapter for trans rights.

It can build understanding and help people become better educated and thoughtful about others around them.