Based on some very interesting discussion about my last post on the way bisexual identity is represented on Showtime’s The L Word I am writing this post about another misrepresented and misinterpreted identity on the show.
In season 3 audiences were introduced to Moira Sweeny (Daniela Sea) a butch lesbian identified woman who transitions over the seasons into a male-identified Max. Moira/ Max was unfortunately the product of some disastrous character development and was highly criticized as a huge misrepresentation of trans men. Additionally, over the seasons Max was the subject of some hugely offensive trans-phobic comments by the lesbian characters of the show. AfterEllen.com has a great piece about gender trouble on The L Word.
Over the entire 6 seasons of The L Word there was only one other character introduced who played with gender norms. This was the brief appearance of Ivan Aycock (Kelly Lynch) who was originally introduced during a Drag King show. However, it becomes known that Ivan passes for male in everyday life and he starts to court straight Kit Porter (Pam Grier). Read more
Sometimes people say to me, “So Jarrah, what do you look for in a TV show?”
Ok, nobody actually says this to me, but if they did, until recently, I probably would’ve answered: “At least one strong woman character, intelligent plots, preferably a crime drama.”
From the previews, the new ABC/Canwest show Rookie Blue would seem to fit those conditions. But boy did the pilot episode, which aired Thursday, fall flat on the intelligent plot front.
**caution: spoilers ahead**
In case you hadn’t seen the previews, Rookie Blue follows a group of rookie police officers as they start on the force in an unnamed city (it’s shot in Toronto). The main character is Andy McNally, played by Missy Peregrym. She starts out her first day on the job making a huge mistake, for which she gets called a “Bambi” by a male superior. When she tries to fix it, he calls her a “Girl Guide”.
Because if there’s one thing we want in a role model for girls its the willingness to suck up sexist criticism from condescending men in the workplace.
Then there’s the writing, which is pretty weak. Entertainment Weekly notes one of Peregrym’s worst lines: “[A suspect] is out there…with a gun!”
But in spite of that I could’ve given it another shot were it not for the ream of stereotypes they’ve used to create the female characters. For starters hey’ve got the devious blonde (Rookie Gail Peck) and the sporty and earnest brunette (McNally). In the department of racial stereotypes, the African-Canadian (American?) character Rookie Traci Nash (Eunuka Okuma) is described on the Global website as a “tough-talking party girl and [single] mother to a six-year-old son.”
Believe it or not, even that representation was more subtle than the appalling portrayal of a transgendered woman.
The scene starts when Rookies Gail Peck and Dov Epstein are asked to deal with a woman who’s been arrested for stealing drugs. In the process of interviewing her, Peck finds out that she’s transgendered. Peck goes to talk to Epstein, convinced that he’s now the one who should search the suspect.
“She’s a chick!” he protests.
“No, she’s not a chick, she’s a man!” retorts Peck.
“I’m not a man, I’m transgendered,” the woman interrupts politely. Epstein then asks her what that even means, like she’s some kind of freak. He tells her she’s either a “chick” or a “dude” and whichever one she is determines which one of the rookies searches her. At that point, the rookies’ supervisor steps in, grabs the woman’s driver’s license and notes that it states the sex as “M”.
“I forgot to change it,” the woman protests lamely as the supervisor hands the latex gloves to Epstein for the search.
Where do I even start?
First, there’s the fact that when we have so few representations of trans individuals in pop culture, Rookie Blue had to go ahead and make their first one, in the first half of the show, a criminal and a drug addict. Many trans people face discrimination partially due to these types of images that stereotype them as deviant.
Second, there’s the whole idea that you’re either a chick or a dude and that any questioning of that binary makes you a freak. As soon as the rookies aren’t sure of the suspect’s gender they challenge her, with Epstein demanding she pick a gender so they know what to do with her. And instead of any acknowlegement that maybe the problem is with the police procedures, as they’ve tried to do on other shows like SVU, it seems like the Rookie Blue writers decided to let the audience off the hook by having the supervisor defer to the driver’s license.
Third, it’s disturbing, but I actually think the writers thought this was a funny scene. It seemed like the point was to show Epstein, in particular, having to endure an uncomfortable and embarassing situation. There was absolutely zero acknowledgement of the humiliation that might be faced by a trans woman being searched by a cisgender male police officer simply because her ID hadn’t kept up with the police manual.
The scene wasn’t funny, nor was it entertaining or necessary to the plot. The only purpose it served was to perpetuate transphobia.
So sorry, Rookie Blue, but next Thursday night if I’m bored, I’m going to read a book.
A neat video on how people with disabilities are sometimes treated like “un-people” via SexGenderBody.
We can’t forget that this week (November 15-20) is Transgender Awareness Week, ending with the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th. You can find information on events in Vancouver here. Here’s a bit of what the day’s about:
We set aside November 20th to remember those have died due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as transgender — that is, as a transsexual, cross-dresser, or otherwise gender-variant — each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgender people. The Transgender Day of Remembrance raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people, and publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through this vigil, we express our love and respect for those who face indifference, hatred and violence, while trying to educate, inspire and organize our way to a better world.
The Cup and Up Bra Implant
My friends at About-Face have a really interesting discussion going about female protagonists on TV shows? Is it good to show so many successful women in positions of power? Or does it undermine the value of more “everyday” women? Should we be having more realistic portrayals? Add your thoughts!
And last but not least, “Can the Princess Narrative Die Already?” from Feminists for Choice is an interesting read. Looks at why Sheila Walsh chose to make a God’s Little Princess Devotional Bible for girls versus the God’s Mighty Warrior Devotional Bible for little boys.