Discourse and Disclosure: Representation in media

Finn Murphy discusses the representation of transgender people in the media.

2020 has given us all a time to reflect. With the media feeding us a large amount of our information in the modern world, it is important to discuss how every single person is represented. Netflix released a documentary this year titled ‘Disclosure’ about trans representation in film and TV from the perspective of trans people. The documentary highlights the problems with the representation of transgender people throughout history, and the double-edged sword that comes with this. Whilst it feels like a victory to see a transgender person on screen and in mainstream media, it is not always that simple. Executive producer of the documentary and Emmy-nominated actress, Laverne Cox, comments that “a few people are elevated, and the majority of people are still struggling.” Inaccurate representations also become an issue as they create a negative discourse surrounding trans people. The documentary gives special mention to this and discusses films such as ‘The Danish Girl’ in which a male presenting actor was cast to play a trans woman. This is damaging to actual trans people because it denies their existence and gender identity. Whilst the movie was given praise from critics and nominated for many prestigious awards, when you dig deeper into the moral values of the movie, the impact becomes dangerous and unpredictable. Even in July this year, Halle Berry was criticised for considering the role of a transgender man, despite being a cisgender woman. However, some might say that representation matters, no matter who is playing the role or telling the story. This is not true when it affects people’s daily lives in a negative way.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, “at least 31 transgender and gender non-conforming people [have been] fatally shot or killed by other violent means”[1] so far this year in the United States of America, with the majority of these attacks being against Black or Latinx transgender women. This is the largest this figure has ever been by this point in the year and HRC use the phrase “at least” because many cases go unreported or are misreported. The discourse around trans people and their lives directly causes these crimes. Until we change how trans people are represented in the mainstream media, our views will remain outdated and traditional. Offering space to those that have personally experienced some of these situations will educate and open up critical conversations. Educate yourself by paying attention to those who bravely platform their own stories and personal experiences.

In a video for IMDb[2], Laverne Cox laughs off the fact that she only felt herself reflected on screen for first time at age 35. We are living in a time when there is an abundance of information out there and a multitude of choice. This is not limited to one example. Everyone applies here and the fight will continue until there is justice. Search for the voices that create positive change. Discover the trailblazers and follow in their footsteps. It is now down to us to educate ourselves and then educate others because trans lives matter!


[1] https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-trans-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2020

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZrQqdKwlxw