Media, society and transgender people


At a time when transgender issues have become more accepting, from Laverne Cox on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” and Caitlin Jenner, the movie released on Nov. 27,  “The Danish Girl,” is bound to get a lot of public attention.

Director Tom Hooper and Producer Anne Harrison tackle a subject matter that hasn’t fully been explored in mainstream movies. The film tells the true story of Einar, a painter who struggles with his identity in Copenhagen, 1926. Over time Einar transforms into his female alter ego, Lili Elbe, a woman who he and his wife dreamed up. Einar learns that he prefers to be in her body and struggles to find a doctor to have her cured.

Lili Elbe is one of the first-known trans women to undergo gender confirmation surgery. Viewers see her transformation and the consequences that come with it. The audience will get a grasp on the realities and politics of the early 20th century, when transgender people were considered abnormal or to have a medical condition.

Eddie Redmayne, the main character, had much difficulty getting into Lili’s role, as he wasn’t initially aware of the struggles of transgender people. The Los Angeles Times stated that he said, “In 31 states, you can still be fired for being transgender. The violence to trans women of color is confounding.”

In 2012, 53 percent of LGBT homicide victims were transgender women. The majority were transgender women of color, according to GLAAD, an organization that promotes cultural change. As Redmayne learned more about his role with the help of the transgender community, he realized the importance for the issue to be on the big-screen.

Critics in the LGBTQ community have complained about the lack of courage in having Lili’s role go to an actor who identifies with the gender assigned at birth. The Hollywood Reporter also complained by saying that people would have preferred a more adventurous approach to the story, especially since the “transgender representation has taken over from gay rights as the next equality frontier.”

Although some might argue the movie is coming out a little too late, I believe that it is the perfect time since the recent legalization of gay marriage and Jenner’s high-profile gender transition. The film will bring people an understanding of what the transgender transition process is like.

While the movie may be one step forward for the public to gain insight, I also believe that there should be other methods that people can learn about the community. If it weren’t for taking University of Miami’s gender studies course, I would not understand LGBTQ because I would only know about it from what I see on social media. The media mostly displays the physical transformation that people go through, causing viewers to misunderstand what happens psychologically.

The New Yorker stated that in a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 41 percent of transgender respondents said they had attempted suicide. It is facts like these that should be brought to the public spotlight so people can learn from places other than celebrities and movies about the difficulties of being transgender.

UCLA’s Williams Institute estimates there are 700,000 transgender people in the United States. Yet according to a GLAAD’s poll, only 8 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender. As movies and media presence of trans people is advancing, it is time that policies and acceptance towards them are, too.