The term ‘transgender’ was first used in the 1980s. It was refereed to someone who does not fit neatly into transvestite or transexual. In the 1990s, it was an umbrella term for anyone who doesn’t fit hegemonic gender regimes; can include effeminate men, ‘butch’ lesbians. A transgender is someone whose gender differs from the one they were given when they were born. Transgender people may identify as male or female, or they may feel that neither label fits them. A transsexual, however, is a person who has had surgical reassignment or identifies as a member of the opposite sex. Garber (2006) ‘Describes a person who is either pre-op or post-op that is waiting to have a penectomy, hysterectomy, phallo or vaginoplasty. Transsexualism is not a surgical product but a social, cultural and psychological zone’. Up to end of 19th century, transsexuals could only cross-dress until the discovery of sex hormones; postwar advances in plastic surgery. The word first used by American scientist in 1949. The representation of transgender identity has changed overtime due to much improved social behaviour and attitudes, as well as enhanced technology that has enabled TV to happen. In this essay, I will be discussing the representations of Caitlyn Jenner in her show ‘I am Cait’ and how Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset in the hit show ‘Orange is the New Black’ is presented. These two well-known examples will help me identify and contrast how the representations of transgender identity has changed in media over the years.
Transgender representation in film and tv series have changed dramatically over the last forty-five years. An example of this is the famous Bruce Jenner who transformed his entire identity and body image to become Caitlyn Jenner in 2015. She said that she had dealt with gender dysphoria since her youth and that, “for all intents and purposes, I’m a woman.” Jenner cross-dressed for many years and took hormone replacement therapy but stopped after her romance with Kris Kardashian became more serious in 1992.Jenner’s announcement that she is transgender came at an unprecedented time for trans visibility, including legislative initiatives. The 20/20 interview had 20.7 million viewers, making it television’s “highest-ever rated newsmagazine telecast among adults 18–49 and adults 25–54”. The Daily Beast wrote that Jenner’s honesty, vulnerability, and fame may have caused “cheap jokes” about trans people to “seem mean to a mainstream audience on an unprecedented scale”. Noting the shift in how comedians treated Jenner’s transition, The Daily Beast saw the change as the same evolution that took place in acceptance of LGBT people as a whole when “comedians finally cross the critical threshold from mockery to creativity in their joke-telling”. Her transition on the cover of Vanity Fair into the most famous trans woman in the world has earned her a massive global platform in under 24 hours. She later came out with her own reality tv show called ‘I am Kait” which was a great success. The series focuses on the “new normal” for Jenner, exploring changes to her relationships with her family and friends. The show also explores how Jenner adjusts to what she sees as her job as a role model for the transgender community. Although Jenner’s show was at most a success, there was many people who were quick to point out that there was still a lot of work to be done for transgender equality. As transgender activists said on social media, Jenner’s experience is far from the reality of most transgender people, who can only dream of experiencing the same support from their families and society. Someone tweeted “Yeah it’s great the media is paying attention to trans women. But Caitlyn Jenner and the reality of most trans women are worlds apart”. According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to live in poverty compared with the general population. On one hand, however, Jenner is a positive example of what it looks like to have access to the rights and treatment to which all transgender people aspire, said Lourdes Ashley Hunter, national director of the Trans Women of Color Collective (2015). On the other, as a rich, attractive white celebrity, she represents the most palatable narrative mainstream America is willing to accept for its transgender icons, Hunter said. “Caitlyn’s coming out is relatable to mainstream American society because she is white, Republican, rich and famous,” said Hunter, who advocates on behalf of black and Latina transgender women. “Her celebrity status is great for visibility, but it can and will be used as a distraction from the lived experiences of trans folk who continue to battle discrimination when accessing basic needs such as housing, employment, education and health care” he said. The premiere of Caitlyn Jenner’s new series on E! Entertainment Television raised conversations about the ways trans people are represented in popular cult. The first episode of I Am Cait opens with Jenner discussing her responsibility to the trans community, in particular, her desire to use her privilege and visibility to help trans youth in crisis. She is using media exposure for social justice aims. A Facebook event was even set up to draw people to the demonstration and included a quote from Jenner on her reality TV series I Am Cait, regarding users of social services: “You don’t want people to get totally dependent on it. That’s when they get into trouble. ‘Why should I work? You know, I’ve got a few bucks, I’ve got my room paid for.'” The page described Jenner as “a clueless rich white woman who thinks disenfranchised trans women of colour should just pluck themselves up off the street and stop being so lazy.” A protester at the event could be heard calling her “an insult to trans people” and “an insult to women,” according to Entertainment Tonight.