Quora

What’s an Example of an Authentic Portrayal of a Trans Character in Film or TV?

Jamie Clayton as Nomi in Sense8.

Murray Close/Netflix

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Answer by Jae Alexis Lee, transgender woman:

When I think about transgender characters in media, one of the things that we discuss so often is that the overwhelming majority of trans characters are portrayed negatively, heaped in negative stereotype or sunk deep into transition stories that serve as little more than a lens for the cisgender audience to view a portion of what trans people experience on their journeys. Even then, positive depictions of trans characters are often forced into narrow roles where the whole of their story is about transition or the character is intended to build audience attachment just before killing the character for dramatic effect.

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We have a shortage of authentic portrayals of trans characters in media which makes it hard for many of us, as trans people, to find characters we can connect to. But sometimes, you get something special, something that can resonate with the trans audience in a way that the endless parade of stock tropes and stereotypes never will. Something that makes you cry in both happy and sad ways because it’s so genuine.

Nomi Marks in Sense8 made me cry because the character hit so close to home. Because there were so many parts of her experience that I could relate to in a visceral way and it really blew me away because I have never related to a character that strongly before.

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Some of the things they did in setting up Nomi’s character were a little blatant and cliché, but they’re also things that happen. Watching her stuck in a hospital where she’s referred to by her dead name (the name a trans person was known by before transitioning) by doctors and staff because her mother refuses to accept her gender identity (and also constantly dead-names her). I think lots of us have family that refuse to accept our identity. That’s part of why this really struck home for me. Seeing her family bar her girlfriend from visiting is another pain that LGB people have known for far too long.

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Beyond that, what I love about Nomi is that the fact that she’s a trans woman that is neither erased or made to be a significant plot point. We’re not seeing a coming out story. We’re not seeing a desperately trying to transition story. We’re seeing a trans woman living her life. For lots of us, life after transition doesn’t mean you stop being trans. The fact that you’re trans can show up in odd ways but, just like trans people’s lives are about a lot more than just transitioning, Nomi’s character is fully realized as more than just a cardboard cutout of a trans woman.

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There’s this scene that I love when they introduce the character Bug who knew Nomi before she transitioned. When the conversation starts, Bug looks around and says: “Where’s Mike?” to which she responds “It’s me. I’m … Mike.”

I’ve had that moment. Sometimes I run into old students that I haven’t seen since years before I transitioned. When I say hi I get this moment of “Um, who are you?” That sort of thing doesn’t stop happening; it’s just a part of life, and it’s a part of life I can relate to. Later in this conversation (not in the clip), Bug says, “I got a serious hard-on when this showed up,” and Nomi’s response: “I know what you mean” completely throws him off for a moment. I about died laughing because, yes, this happens so much.

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What I love most about Nomi though is that, while the fact that she’s trans remains part of the story, it is rarely center stage which lets her get on with being the truly badass hacker and team coordinator that she is. She isn’t a lens for the cisgender audience to look at trans issues through, she’s a trans woman that we, as trans women, can relate to.

The fact that the actress who plays her (Jamie Clayton) is actually trans and that the Wachowskis, who are two of the writers/producers of the show, are also trans lends a lot of legitimacy to how the character is handled. I, for one, love it, and I hope we get to see a lot more of things like this.

What are some examples of realistic transgender characters in fiction? originally appeared on Quora. More questions on Quora:

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