Transmedia and Public Representation

Transgender People in Film and Television

by Magalí Daniela Pérez Riedel (Volume editor)
©2022 Textbook VIII, 172 Pages
Series: Cultural Media Studies, Volume 3


Is media changing the way we see transgender people or is it the other way around? In the past twenty to thirty years, transgender people have gradually appeared in films and television shows with more and more frequency. However, more visibility does not always translate to a higher degree of acceptance of trans people. Authors in this book studied the most popular programs and movies of all times to see how much (and how little) media portrayals have changed when it comes down to trans folks. Although in recent years openly transgender celebrities and fictional characters have broken into the mainstream to challenge hegemonic understandings of this population, productions such as Transparent and Orange Is the New Black fall victim to commonplace portrayals, repeating the negative tropes they were trying to resist. Nevertheless, nuanced interpretations and thorough analyses from this collection show evidence that movies and programs with transgender people make progress from total erasure or invisibility. Transmedia and Public Representation: Transgender People in Film and Television is as complex and diverse as the authors, productions, and characters in it. It is a must-have, must-read book for anyone who studies or works in areas related to media, social sciences, and LGBTQ studies and activism. But it is also an appealing invitation to understand the current media landscape through the eyes and voices of trans and queer people, their relatives, and their allies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Rewind or Fast Forward? Transgender Representation on Screen (Magalí Daniela Pérez Riedel)
  • Part I Representations, Change, and Progress?
  • 1. The Construction of Transnormativity: Whiteness, Wealth, and Deviance (Sarah F. Price, Sim Butler, Richard Mocarski, Robyn Myers, and Debra Hope)
  • 2. “I’m Not Your Adventure”: Trans Fetishism on Contemporary Television (Charles Goehring)
  • 3. Hollywood and the Pathologization of Trans Identities (Patricia Di Risio)
  • Part II From Irrelevance to Stardom, or Vice Versa
  • 4. Beyond Tipping Points, Trauma, and Trailblazing: Adventure Time and the Transordinary (Emma A. Jane)
  • 5. Performing as a Trans Reality Star: Chaz Bono and Isis King (Erika M. Thomas)
  • Part III Trans Narratives and Their Spectators
  • 6. Trans, White, and Privileged: The Public Framing of Caitlyn Jenner on Twitter (Nathian Shae Rodriguez, Jennifer Huemmer, and Mary E. Brooks)
  • 7. Her Story , Educating a Mainstream Audience (Katerina Symes)
  • List of Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

←vi | vii→



To the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, for giving me the foundations, the skills, and the training I needed to publish a second book.

I would like to thank my colleagues and friends, Pablo Scharagrodsky and Nancy Diaz Larrañaga, for working beside me for many years, encouraging me to become a better researcher.

To the team of the outreach project “Prácticas de comunicación y educación por la desobediencia sexo-genérica” [Practices of communication and education for sex-gender disobedience] from the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, for their continuous effort to make schools more inclusive spaces.

To Francisco Perales Pérez and Alfredo Martínez-Expósito, for the discussions and work we did in Australia.

I would also like to thank Liora Elias and Raechel Tiffe for building this project many years ago, and for trusting me to take over the project when you could not continue with it.

To the reviewers and the series editors Leandra H. Hernández and Amanda R. Martinez, for your comments and feedback on the book. To the team of Peter Lang, for the ongoing administrative support and assistance to complete this book.

To the contributors of this volume: Charles, Debra, Emma, Erika, Jennifer, Katerina, Mary, Nathian, Patricia, Richard, Robyn, Sarah, and Sim. I am particularly thankful to each and every one of you for your time, patience, dedication, ←vii | viii→and commitment. Without you, this book would have never seen the light of the day.

To my family, Estela, Daniel, and Damián, for their love and support throughout these years.

To my chosen family, Leonel and Berenice. Thanks for always being there and helping me keep my feet on the ground.

To all and everyone of you, thank you.

Magalí D. Pérez Riedel
Manchester, United Kingdom

←vii | 1→


Rewind or Fast Forward? Transgender Representation on Screen

By Magalí Daniela Pérez Riedel1

Anzaldúa (2009) defines homophobia with a metaphor, saying it is the fear of going home. Then, it could be argued that transphobia is the fear of transformation or change: discrimination against trans folks is a way to protect gender hierarchies and boundaries. According to Darryl B. Hill (2016), transphobia is “the set of beliefs and values, the psychological motivation, for anti-trans discriminatory behavior and attitudes,” and “it is clearly related and bolstered by cisgenderism” (2016, 1273). Transphobic and homophobic representations in media and other spheres have precluded the advancement and equal recognition of the rights of LGBTQ people. According to Thompson (1998), mediated representations have historically spread moral panics and promoted social anxieties, using homosexual persons as scapegoats to term what was normal. Thompson suggests that the media portrayed gays as criminals and promiscuous sexual deviants, saying they were mentally ill and carried sexually-transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. These “sexual deviants” were said to be a menace to the traditions and hegemonic values of the “normal” members of society, who were under threat. These fears were (and are still used) to marginalize transgender people (Pérez Riedel 2019). Following that logic, the exclusion and the violence against those “perverts” is a ←1 | 2→justified and reasonable measure to remain safe from the dangers that LGBTQ people are said to represent.

The rights of LGBTQ people, and particularly those of transgender people, are constantly under threat. Serrano Amaya and Ríos González (2019) claim that “anti-rights movements have found in the buzz-word ‘gender ideology’ a connecting point to push back advances in gender and sexual rights” (2019, 378). Conservative governments are questioning the legitimacy of transgender subjectivities and challenging their inclusion in many spaces such as the military. Hate crimes are primarily taking the lives of Black transgender women, for example, in the U.S. (Martinez and Law 2019). In this context, mediated representations of non-cisgender and non-heterosexual people are slowly starting to proliferate and evolve. LGBTQ movements and advocacy groups have been fighting to halt discrimination and violence. Cultural texts are evidence of the recent changes and progress in terms of rights and protections of the transgender population in some Western civilizations. The growing visibility of transgender people in mass media accompanies the processes of social, political, and cultural transformations that demand the democratization and equal recognition of the human rights of vulnerable sectors, including transgender people.

Reading mainstream texts with transgender and gender-nonconforming characters allows us to interpret the mechanisms that support the heterosexist and cisnormative status quo. Here, we use the term “transgender” broadly and in an inclusive way, following Spencer’s (2015, xii) suggestion to avoid using strict and fixed definitions. The authors of this volume and I often use “transgender” as an umbrella term to refer to the multiplicity of identities and subjectivities that distance themselves from the cisgender norm. Additionally, we use the term “mainstream media” to refer to popular and commercial products that disseminate and perpetuate hegemonic meanings, which can be either negotiated or challenged (Williams 1977). Communication is a meaning-making process that occurs within a culture, where people interpret and make sense of the actors and the processes that are part of their lives (Martín Barbero 1987). Even though discussions from this volume focus on media representations and the relationships among producers, cultural texts, and their audiences, communication cannot and should not be reduced to the media. Instead, it should focus on the mediations and the meaning-making processes (Martín Barbero 2008). Nonetheless, mediated communication is a fundamental point of entry to examine hegemonic ideas, values, and representations in a specific society at a given time (Orozco Gómez 2001).

The contributors of this volume reflect upon the role of television and film portrayals of transgender people in a context where there is a growing number of transgender and gender-diverse characters in the public eye. The authors analyze mainstream and independent productions where transgender people were cast or ←2 | 3→featured as main or secondary characters. Investigating transgender representation in cultural texts is an increasingly important topic in transgender media studies. The changes experienced by increased transgender visibility over the past decade remain unprecedented: now more than ever, transgender narratives are widely broadcast across network and cable television, on-demand streaming services, and even web series. In light of these recent events, it is becoming difficult to ignore the key role of transgender portrayals to understand broader social structures and cultural processes.

The contributing authors of this book answer the following questions: (1) how are transgender people represented in television and film? (2) how do recent transgender portrayals differ from the ones from the previous decades? and (3) how does the public respond to the films and programs that include transgender people and characters? Their investigations make progress in a growing field of literature that is concerned about the changes and challenges posed by the eruption of transgender folks into the mainstream.

Literature Review

There is an emerging area of interest in transgender studies and communication that recognizes the importance of studying transgender representation in television and film (Spencer 2015). A considerable amount of literature has been published on how portrayals of transgender women reinforce notions of cisgender normativity. A seminal study in this area is the work of Miller (2015), who identifies that transgender character constructions in popular film comedies “are constructed to support the system of cisnormativity” (2015, 128). Miller defines cisnormativity as the “systemic expectation that there are only two mutually exclusive genders and the gender of all members of a society will match the sex assigned to them at birth, [labeling] those who do not, transgender and queer individuals, as deviant” (2015, 127). She adds:

Analysis of transgender representation in film and other media continues to be important, and future research must continue to bring attention to the myriad ways transgender people are distanced by these representations, but the privileging of cisnormativity in all films also works to maintain separation between transgender and cisgender people. (Miller 2015, 142)


VIII, 172
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. VIII, 172 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Magalí Daniela Pérez Riedel (Volume editor)

Magalí Daniela Pérez Riedel is a Doctor in Communication from the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina. Magalí is a lecturer and researcher who specializes in media and LGBTQ representations. Her first book, Género y diversidad sexual en el blog Boquitas pintadas, was published in 2014.


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