As we are coming to the end of Trans Awareness Week 2020 and coming closer to Transgender Remembrance Day on 20th of November 2020 where we remember those in the trans community that have died due to a world full of misunderstanding and hate, I wanted to discuss an important documentary on Netflix that is a must. If you have not yet seen Disclosure, make it the next documentary you watch.
Disclosure is a documentary made by trans people, about the representation of trans people in film and television. Presented by Laverne Cox of Orange Is The New Black, Laverne and a range of other people in the industry ranging from actors, directors, writers and more, discuss how trans people have been misrepresented in media, which has created and perpetuated negative stereotypes. As Cox eloquently points out, “…people are taught to have a violent reaction to us, or that our presence is something to be laughed at.”
The documentary shows various examples of how trans people have been portrayed in television and film and is interwoven with deeply personal stories from various people in the trans community. What stunned me the most was being shown examples that clearly demonstrate the point Cox made, and to realise that I was one of those people who laughed. I laughed because the scenes were part of a comedy movie or show I watched, and I just thought it was part of what I was seeing. I had no idea at the time that it was at the expense of trans people. Now that I do, I am disgusted at the fact I laughed, and I’m disgusted that I have seen so much misrepresentation that was normalised. The frightening part is seeing this kind of misrepresentation occurring in television as recently as the last 10 years. In Law & Order: Criminal Intent, an episode referred to “transexuals” and associated that term with pathologising. I cringed hearing the language being used. Then there is one of my favourite shows Always Sunny In Philadelphia which makes fun of a transwoman on more than one occasion. Although that is a show that is not afraid to go in politically incorrect spaces. Spaces including mocking people with disabilities. They get away with it because it is a show about extremes, pushing boundaries.
It made me think of my own experience as a person with a disability. There is so much misrepresentation in the media when it comes to disability. Let’s talk about Glee for a moment. Yes, I’m talking about that guy who plays a wheelchair user and suddenly gets out of his chair and dances in a dream sequence. Oh, and the blonde girl who has an accident but miraculously can walk again thanks to music. In one episode of Always Sunny, they pretended to have disabilities just to get sympathy. Oh and let’s not forget that famous episode of Seinfeld. The one where Kramer buys a wheelchair for a woman and the brakes don’t work. Cut to seeing a woman trying to stop her wheelchair as it goes down a steep hill, and everyone laughed. I know people will say “oh, it’s just a bit of humour” but when it’s you that is being laughed at, because of who you are, and it’s not the first time, along with all the other barriers in place in society, that chips away.
This is why I loved Disclosure so much, it spoke to me. I will never understand what it is to be a trans person, but I understand what the impacts of stereotypes are on a person. As Cox says near the end of the documentary, we have a responsibility to make sure the conversation changes. That includes people within and a11lies outside of the communities. We must use our privilege and change conversations, and if we don’t know how to, we must learn. a11lyship is so vitally important, and we must question everything we see and understand how our own privilege has played a part in systemic barriers being upheld. People are people, every life is important. On the 20th of November, remember those in the trans community who have died because the world could not accept them as they were, people deserving of love, respect and equality.