Dear Mainstream media,
I am tired.
I am so very tired of this conversation.
We seem to have it every year. Every month. Every week. It’s the same conversation. I’m surprised you’re not tired of it as well. I have spent my life looking for representation, for mirrors of my life. Characters, plots, situations, scenes that echo and resonate within my soul. I have asked, yelled, begged, and pleaded with producers and directors, writers, for a scrap.
I get the same tired excuses. The public isn’t ready. Just a little while longer, you’ll see. Hey remember that movie that came out seven years ago or two years ago, that was representation right? I mean it did win an oscar. I’m greedy and unappreciative when I request for a story that doesn’t end in tragedy. When I tell them putting a cis man in a dress isn’t representative of trans women and is actually harmful to trans women I get shut down, ignored, told I’m being too needy.
I have turned my attention to subtext, the underlying message of the text we’re given. I have spent decades being taught how to disassemble and reconstruct the greater meaning in our media and I have used that knowledge to plumb the depths of pop culture to find those like me. Those who can’t come out, or forced to remain in the closet their writers and producers have designed for them. All because the greater public is ‘not ready’.
I’ve been told I’m seeing things, or ‘how could I really know, did one of the directors actually tell you this’. I’ve come face to face with defensive refutations of queer subtext. I’ve met with offensive refutations that threaten violence. How could I possibly want to see “that” on my screen??
I’m a thirty-five year old trans man. I didn’t know I was trans until I was twenty-five and I was so happy to know who I was, and so terrified at once again ‘not being normal’ I hid. I was a mess, and I had nothing to show me that there were more people like me, that I wasn’t alone. My media representation is thin on the ground, there are less than a handful of mainstream movies, they’re often oscar fodder and the main character is trans and tragic in equal measure. The narrative is clear in these films. To be trans is to be deficient and society will punish you for it. If you think I’m looking too hard at this, understand that this is the message that is being given. Boys Don’t Cry is a true story, the message is clear, society punishes the different. Albert Nobbs, whether the reveal is ever made to the rest of the cast is neither here nor there, the moment the audience is aware that he is trans (and let’s face it, the message in this film is not that trans people exist it’s that women dress like men to get ahead, not because they’re actually men) it’s only a matter of time before either society will step in, or his own tragic humanity will be his end.
Other representations such as the french film TomBoy, are so horrific in their equating of genitals = gender narrative that it’s worse than having no representation. Documentaries and other dramas are there and most of them end in death and sadness and pain. Reading the descriptions of these movies, written by cisgender heteronormative is equally as disturbing as these characters are stripped down to genitals or disguising themselves or somehow hiding the ‘truth’. Summary narratives are even worse than some of the films and misgender so much I’m left twitching.
And I think something that’s a real sticking point in all of this. The characters, unless it’s an indie film with limited release that it’s quickly buried, are played by cisfemale actors.
Yes this is a problem. No, I shouldn’t be ‘happy with what I get.’
Movies are boring me now. I’m tired of seeing cis male power fantasies, cis male revenge fantasies, cis male underdog stories. Your heterosexuality has been pushed down my throat until I have choked upon it and I am still expected to say please, thank you, and may I have some more.
That ends. I’m done. I’m tired of your promise for representation ‘someday’. The public will never be ‘ready’. There is no mythical readiness for when the public can stand my existence. I am here. I am not going anywhere. The public takes it cues from its media and pop culture. The more media shows that I am not a tragedy, not a sin, not somehow evil or wrong, the more it includes me, and includes me properly, the more the public accepts that.
I’m going to defend my right to see queerness in everything. I’m going to continue being aggressively queer, and show how media can be queer, and how it should be queer. I’m going to write my own novels and I’m going to promote representation of who I am, and others. I’m going to create intersectional stories will well-rounded cis women, trans women, trans men, POC and disabilities. I’m going to own up when I fuck this up. Because I am still learning, and I’m still unlearning a horrible system that has misrepresented me and others for more than a century.
Stop asking me to defend what I see. Stop asking me to prove that characters are queer. I’m fucking tired of this argument, but I’m not done fighting, not by a mile.