Trans Representation in The Media
GLSEN research consistently highlights the profound significance of positive LGBTQ+ representations in classrooms, emphasizing their role in creating safer and more inclusive school environments for all students. But what happens beyond the school bell?
In educational settings where LGBTQ+ history, individuals, and events are positively represented, students experience enhanced educational outcomes. They feel more at ease engaging in conversations about LGBTQ+ topics with their teachers, and they develop stronger connections within their school communities. Representation becomes a powerful tool for dispelling stereotypes, empowering students, and validating their unique experiences and identities. When trans youth encounter authentic portrayals, it sends a resounding message: their lives, stories, and contributions matter.
As we mark Trans Awareness Week this year, both current and former members of the National Student Council have come together to shed light on the paramount importance of trans youth representation in the media. NSC member Selena wrote an insightful essay exploring the significance of trans youth representation in the media. NSC Alumni Ambassadors Eris and Via curated a list of recommended media and current NSC member Scar spotlighted the work of trans actors and activists who leverage their platforms to amplify trans awareness and ignite meaningful conversations. Additionally, we provide a practical guide on how GSAs can organize movie screenings or book clubs based on our media recommendations.
Despite prevailing assumptions, research unveils a concerning trend – the representation of LGBTQ+ individuals in the media is actually on the decline, not the rise. This underscores the urgency of supporting transgender musicians, writers, and actors who work diligently to amplify their voices.
Join us in celebrating the power of representation & advocacy during Trans Awareness Week!
Why We should Extend Media Representation to Trans Youth
By Selena, 23-24 NSC
It is 100% no question that Trans representation in the media has vastly approved from it used to be; whether that be the practice of having non-trans actors playing trans roles no longer being used in hollywood, or, trans people no longer having their transness as something to be villainized and seen as something negative, we have to give media outlets their 10’s for crafting stories that feature trans people in meaningful and impactful roles that are crafted with love, respect and sensitivity.
While trans representation in the media has come a long way, there are of course, areas that need improvement. One of these areas where growth is needed, is to include trans youth in these stories.
When we look at some of the most well known Trans characters in media, how many of those characters are 18 or younger? I can think of one–Jules Vaughn from Euphoria. Jules Vaughn is a unique, multifaceted character whose transness is seen as something positive, with a whole episode being centered around her desire to not conform to cisgender and heteronormative standards. This is an incredible and genuine portrayal of a trans character, but it's one portrayal out of many.
Looking at other well known trans characters in media that have been commended for pushing the envelope (such as Elektra Evangelista from Pose, Viktor Hargreaves from The Umbrella Academy, Sophia Bursett from Orange is The New Black, Sin-Dee Rella from Tangerine, etc), none of them are youth.
Representing marginalized people in the media we consume is extremely important, not only for visibility purposes, but also due to the fact that when the public is exposed to diverse and positive portrayals of trans people, it inspires change and leads to a more inclusive society. In a time where trans kids are constantly villainized by the right wing media, we must combat this toxic and extremely harmful rhetoric. One of the ways that we can combat this, is simply by exposing the public to trans kids and having stories that include them, because it’s important for people to see themselves in the media and because it’s important to combat harmful rhetoric.
Trans Kids deserve to be able to see themselves and their transness represented in characters that are just like them, we deserve the same thing our cisgender peers have. We must call on various media institutes such as Film Studios, TV Networks and Publishers to start cranking out stories that feature trans characters in meaningful and impactful roles, with honest and non-harmful portrayal.
Eris and Via’s Not-At-All-Complete List of Our Favorite Trans Representations
By Via & Eris, NSC Alumni Ambassadors
Living in southern, conservative states, we both were forced to reckon with the fact that we were often the only (or one of very few) openly LGBTQ+ kids in a room. Because of this, we, like many other queer and trans youth in non-accepting areas, turned to LGBTQ+ representation in the media to feel more connected to a sense of community and learn more about ourselves and our own identities.
Although all books, movies, shows, etc. that feature queer and trans characters do a lot in helping raise visibility for LGBTQ+ issues, this Trans Awareness Week, we would like to compile a short list of trans media we loved, by trans creators or actors and centered on trans experiences to highlight authentic and inspiring work within the community. Our list is not at all exhaustive—there are so many examples of positive representation for trans youth out there, but the ones below are some that meant a lot to us and we want to share with all of you!
- POSE - There’s no better way to start our list than with Pose– this show made history as the first scripted show to center on trans people of color and their experiences, as well as placing trans people in the actors, writers, and director positions.
- HEARTSTOPPER - A favorite among queer teens in 2023, Heartstopper is one of the most successful and positive LGBTQ+ shows of the year. It also features an entirely LGBTQ+ cast and crew.
- ONE DAY AT A TIME - Okay, we’re already breaking the rules a little… This one isn’t created by trans people but the non-binary representation with Elena Alvarez was so good and the lesbian coming out plotline felt so real that it must be included on this list. Plus, this show is heartwarming and hilarious for all four seasons and should definitely be on your to-watch list.
- Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender - This book is so amazingly honest, real, and fascinating. I got through this in one sitting and highly suspect others read it similarly… I would go on a limb and say this is probably one of the best trans books of the last decade. Also, any novel with a Stonewall Book Award is guaranteed to be incredible and amazing queer representation
- If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo - This book was actually the first queer book I ever read and it had such a large impact on my interests in YA LGBTQ+ lit. It’s an easy, but also deep read, and I cannot recommend it enough. Also, the Stonewall Award doesn’t hurt!
- Pet by Akwaeke Emezi - If you’re looking for a queer fantasy novel with magic, monsters, and tons of positive and central trans representation, Pet is the book for you. Oh, and you might be noticing a bit of a pattern with this book as well… What can I say? I love the Stonewall picks!
- The Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas - ANOTHER QUEER FANTASY NOVEL??? This is your lucky day. Beautiful, brilliant, and a page-turner. Enough said!
- The Matrix - This trilogy was written and directed by trans sisters, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, and is often referred to as one of the most famous trans allegories ever. It’s a must-watch.
- Paris is Burning - This documentary is all about drag, the femme-presenting community, and trans people! It showcases “house” culture, ballroom, and voguing while connecting it to the intersectionality of racism and socioeconomic issues. If you’re all about queer history, give this one a watch!
- Boy Bowser (he/him) - Transmasc rapper, Boy Bowser, is a California native who is passionate about performing and trans rights. This creator makes electric, up beat with heavy hip-hop influences! Check out his song “Yes Ma’am” released in 2022.
- Sam Smith (they/them) - Nonbinary superstar, Sam Smith, was just on the Top 100 earlier this year for his song “Unholy” featuring Kim Petras, another transgender artist! Their music can either pump you up or get you all in your feels! Check out their most recent album “Gloria”!
- Shea Diamond (she/her) - This soulful r&b singer-songwriter embodies transfemme joy in everything she does. Shea Diamond’s songs speak to her journey being trans as well as her activism here in America. Check out, “I Am Her,” her 2016 hit!
- Ryan Cassata (he/him) - This transmasc singer has had a recent charting album, a remarkable number of performances internationally, and many features from his seven albums for his pop, rock, and alternative music genre. Ryan Cassata has also been an outstanding advocate for the trans community since his teens! Check out his most recent album, “Magic Miracle Mile!”
- King Princess (she/they/it) - King Princess is a genderqueer pop icon for the queer community. She is a multi-instrumentalist as well as a singer-songwriter. Two of her most popular songs "Make My Bed" and “Talia” have been certified platinum and gold internationally, respectively. Check out their most recent album “Hold On Baby!”
5 Modern Day Trans Activists to Keep Your Eyes On
By Scar, NSC 23-24
With more and more transphobic legislators and policies being put in place, many trans students are unable to feel safe in school. Now that trans awareness week is in full swing it’s important to acknowledge the trans activists who are continuing to fight for better treatment for trans youth. The following list of activists represents five trans activists that we are keeping our eyes on!
- Zooey Zephyr (she/her) is an American Politician who represents Missoula in the 100th district in the Montana House of Representatives. She is a bisexual, trans woman fighting for legislation that is human rights orientated. Zooey Zephyr has proven to be an unmoving force fighting for trans youth. She was banned from speaking on the chamber floor by the house speaker as of April 20th, because she refused to apologize for saying her colleagues who supported a gender affirming care ban for minors had “blood on their hands”
- You may know Bella Ramsey (Any Pronouns) from their acting career, as they starred in The Last of Us and Game of Thrones, but they have been an outspoken advocate for trans rights ever since they came out as non-binary. Being a trans youth himself, he has been outspoken on his desire to highlight trans joy. Currently, they have put their focus on improving the clothing industry to allow trans individuals to wear gender affirming and comfortable clothing that allows them to express their joy in their identity.
- Laverne Cox (She/her) has been an outspoken trans advocate for years. She was the first trans woman to win a Daytime Emmy as the executive producer of Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word. Laverne often speaks openly about her experiences as a trans individual and disassembling stereotypical expectations of how one should express their gender identity.
- Dominique Morgan (she/her) is the first trans woman to have a street named after her. Morgan is the executive director of the Okra Project which is a black trans led mutual aid organization. She strives to dismantle the systems that maintain violence against black trans people.
- Ever since Elliott Page (he/him) came out as a trans man, he has advocated for the psychological benefits of transitioning. Elliott Page, through his advocacy work, has always tried to strike a balance between the harsh realities of being trans, and the joy that comes with it. Currently, Elliott has been focusing on representing trans people through media, specifically film.
Organize a movie screening or book club with your GSA!
Organizing a book club or screening is a great way to elevate trans youth in the media. Choose a book, show, or film from “Eris and Via’s Not-At-All-Complete List…” or check out the IMDB page of the actors from Scar’s list of “5 Modern Day Trans Activists to Keep Your Eyes On.”
Here's a step-by-step guide to help your GSA get started
- Gather Your Squad: Decide if you will organize this with your GSA, another club, or with your friends. Find a core group of people who are excited and willing to put in the work necessary.
- Choose Your Medium: Decide whether you want to host a movie screening, TV show binge-watching session, or a book club. You can rotate between these options for variety.
- Pick Your First Piece: Select one item from Eris and Via’s recommended media list to kick things off. Make sure it's easily accessible to all members, whether it's available on streaming platforms, at your local library, or affordable for everyone to buy.
- Set a Date and Venue: Coordinate with your group to find a suitable date and venue. Whether it's a cozy classroom, a community center, or an outdoor space for a movie night, ensure everyone can attend comfortably. Consider accessibility needs and provide those details in the fliers. If organizing it with your GSA, check with your advisor and school calendar.
- Snack Attack: Plan some tasty snacks and drinks to keep everyone fueled and in the mood. Include vegetarian/vegan, gluten-free, kosher and halal options so that everyone can enjoy!
- Promote Your Event: Spread the word among your classmates and friends. Use social media, posters, or word of mouth to let everyone know about your upcoming gathering. Use this as an opportunity to invite people who share an interest in the recommended movies, TV shows, or books to join your GSA.
- Host Your Event: On the day of your screening, set up your chosen medium and create a cozy viewing atmosphere. Don't forget blankets and cushions for maximum comfort! For book clubs, read a designated number of chapters/pages before your meeting.
- Engage in Discussion: Gather for a discussion. Share your thoughts, favorite moments, and any questions you have about the story. Organizers should prepare questions to facilitate discussion. During the gathering, take turns discussing your impressions, favorite quotes, and any questions or theories you have.
- Rotate and Repeat: Keep the momentum going by rotating the responsibility of choosing the next movie, TV show, or book.
- Reflect and Adapt: After each event, take a moment to reflect on what went well and what could be improved. Use this feedback to make your future screenings and book club meetings even more enjoyable.