The new Showtime series Ray Donovan premiered this past Sunday night, and unfortunately started things off with several scenes exploiting transgender people for "shock value" and a cheap laugh. What's worse, anti-trans material is becoming a pattern on Showtime, which is also one of the most LGB-inclusive networks on television.
During the introduction to the character of Ray Donovan (played by Liev Schreiber), who handles crisis cleanup for the rich and famous in Hollywood, Ray receives a panicked call from an agent whose action star client, Tommy Wheeler, was "caught" picking up a transgender woman on Sunset Blvd. The agent refers to the unseen trans character as a "tranny" in his description of the problem and says a number of other offensive lines in the ensuing scenes, including "the guy had an Adam's apple the size of my fist." Tommy swears that he "didn't know it was a guy" before breaking down crying with apparent shame and embarrassment. No other character, including Ray, challenges the agent's anti-trans comments or in any way indicates they are offensive.
This treatment of an unseen transgender woman as a figure deserving of mockery and disgust would have been bad enough, but Ray's solution for Tommy's "problem" goes a step beyond. Prior to this meeting, Ray's team was working damage control for a famous athlete who woke up to find a woman in his bed dead from a drug overdose. Ray decides to switch the athlete out for Tommy and leak it to the press so the story becomes about Tommy waking up with the dead woman instead. In the show's reality, it's apparently better to be found with an overdosed corpse than with a transgender woman.
Unfortunately, this isn't the first time in recent history that an original series on Showtime depicted a transgender woman in this fashion. In fact, Showtime's rating in GLAAD's 2012 Network Responsibility Index, which rates the networks for their LGBT inclusion, had to be reduced from "excellent" to "good" because of defamatory trans content in the prior TV season. House of Lies showed a character being repeatedly teased and harassed for having gone on a date with a "tranny," while on Californication a character reacted with extreme revulsion to discovering the sex worker he was hooking up with was transgender. He was subsequently mocked by friends as well.
This continuing issue is all the more surprising coming from Showtime, which continues to be one of the most reliable places to see diverse gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters depicted, and indeed Ray Donovan includes a lesbian character. But in recent years, depicting transgender people as more than objects of disgust seems to be nearly impossible for the network, (with the exception of one episode of Nurse Jackie.) In reality, transgender people face disproportionately high levels of discrimination and violence, and televised depictions like those on Showtime reinforce the pervasive notion that transgender people don't deserve basic respect.
GLAAD is in communication with Showtime about the issue and has made several requests to meet and discuss this content, which we hope to do soon. In the meantime, we ask Showtime to give their depictions of transgender people the same care and consideration they give to their gay and lesbian characters. From the previews of the show's second episode, it appears the storyline on Ray Donovan will continue, and GLAAD will continue to monitor it.