Theory in a Digital Age: A Project of English 483 Students, Coastal Carolina University

Transgender Representation and Acceptance in the Mainstream


One of today’s most controversial issues revolves around members of the transgender community. The transgender community is comprised of individuals whose gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex. As a consequence of this, trans* individuals face challenges like body dysmorphia, prejudice, and oppression, but it wasn’t until recently that the mainstream and cis individuals have recognized and worked to remedy the hardships thrust upon transgender individuals by society. Today there are celebrities representing the transgender community in a responsible way and legislation fighting to protect the rights of trans* individuals. This sort of visibility and acceptance in the mainstream is new to the transgender community, and I would argue that this related to the spectralization of gender.

    Transgender individuals are helping to destroy the gender dichotomy because they, by their very nature, show that gender and sex are not the same thing. They show that gender is something that can change, that can be wrong and impermanent. This rejects the rigid gender dichotomy of the past which viewed gender as being identical to one’s biological sex and being unchanging. The fact that transgendered people are becoming better represented in the media and accepted is indicative of society’s attitude towards gender changing for the better.

    Two key celebrities representing the trans community in mainstream media are Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, is a former Olympic athlete and divorcee of Kris Jenner, the mother to the famous Kardashians. Caitlyn’s loyal Olympic fans in addition to fans of Keeping Up With the Kardashians fans rallied around in support of her transition in addition to more traditional transgender activists. Jenner had a brief TV series, multiple interviews and articles, and was on the cover of several magazines. This kind of publicity for someone transitioning was previously unheard of. Of course, in addition to the acceptance, celebration, and positivity with which Jenner was greeted, there was surge in transphobia and emboldened hatred, but in general, Jenner has offered education, representation, and visibility to a historically marginalized and ostracized community. This is not only evidence of the spectralization of gender, it’s a cause of it.

    Similarly, Laverne Cox is a transgendered woman of color who stars on the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black and offers representation and visibility. Cox transitioned before reaching the superstardom she has today. Having trans women playing roles in popular media and appearing in magazines not only benefits the transgender community but desensitizes cis people to the idea of being transgendered being “strange” or “unnatural” and better helps them to understand the separation between physical sex and gender.

    Finally, Leelah Alcorn is also relevant to this conversation. She was a trans girl in her early teens who killed herself as a result of consequences of her a lack of support and acceptance from her family, when her suicide note when viral she exposed people who may have been ignorant otherwise to the struggles and realities of being transgendered. She inspired activism and serves as a martyr for her community as she was mourned internationally for her poignant words that helped us all to understand a little better, how gender is in most ways nothing, but in some ways everything.


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