Transgender in the Media

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Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

The media is a powerful thing. If you think about it, every piece of information we know about the world has been expressed or portrayed in the media. Television, movies, magazines, ad campaigns, newspapers, whatever channel it may be.

Media has the power to praise, condemn, raise awareness, poke fun at, or expose any person or any thing. That is sheer power, and that power sparks change within the public.

An important transformation in media as of late is the prominent presence of an often misunderstood, mistreated and unrecognized social group – transgender individuals. With this community making waves with features in entertainment outlets like Orange is the New Black and Dallas Buyers Club, there is a question as to why transgender people, a social group that has been present for a very long time, is just now making a strong appearance in the media.

“I think it’s just because for the longest time, this hasn’t been seen as something socially acceptable,” says Dan Warner, vice president of Penn State’s Rainbow Roundtable. “The media is taking a big step in realizing that its role in society is to show the whole picture, try not to exclude anything and tell the truth. And the truth is transgender people exist and have prominent roles in society and they should be recognized for that.”

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Transwoman and Penn State student Athena Royster also commented on the subject. “I think it’s because the lesbian-gay community is really up front and now becoming mainstream in some way. And now transgender people are looking for liberation. People are becoming more aware of who we are. That being said, we’re not at a stage where we can make fun of things. In the media we’re still being portrayed in a negative light. We need to go beyond that and see each other as human beings,” Royster says.

Social reform is a slow process, and a huge step towards awareness is gearing that positive press towards tolerance. In a recent Barneys catalog and magazine spread, 20 transgender models were featured wearing high-fashion designer clothing, bringing to light a new movement in LGBT equality.

Michelle Rodino-Colocino, an associate professor of media studies in the College of Communications, describes the gradual change in not only the media, but as a society.

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Transgender actress Laverne Cox as Sophia in Orange is the New Black

“I think as a society we’ve become less homophobic,” Rodino-Colocino says. “And I feel like recognizing transgender individuals and identity might be the last stronghold of homophobia. It may take a little bit longer, but once people are okay with embracing it in a way that’s not worth mentioning, then I feel like transgender might be next to receive the same treatment.”

Times are changing, and so is the media. Eventually, along with the changing media, will come a new position on equality by society. That influence is powerful. It is present. It is happening now. And it’s long overdue.

Photo by Kyle Biller  |  Photo credit: salon.com, nbcnews.com

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