REPORT UPDATE: Transgender images on TV remain largely negative, but standout roles hold promise

Last year, in recognition of Transgender Awareness Week and the Transgender Day of Remembrance, GLAAD examined the previous ten years of transgender inclusive television episodes, and found that more than half of those tracked were either negative or outright defamatory.  Sadly, after reviewing the 20 additional trans-inclusive episodes and storylines GLAAD tracked on television in the twelve months since releasing that report, we've found that the ratio hasn't improved.

Of the 20 episodes tracked by GLAAD since the last report, 60% (12) of them were found to contain enough offensive content to be considered negative and defamatory.  Another 30% (6) of the episodes were considered somewhere between okay to problematic, while only 10% (2) of the episodes tracked this year were considered outstanding.  Last year's report found that 54% of the tracked episodes which aired from 2002 to 2012 were negative/defamatory, 35% were okay to problematic, and 12% were outstanding.

Anti-transgender slurs, language and dialogue was even more prevalent in the past year than what was found in the previous report.  Of the 20 episodes tracked, 75% (15) of them contained problematic language - often spoken by popular or sympathetic characters.

On a more positive note, the transgender characters themselves were less likely to occupying the stereotypical roles of victims of villains.  Only 10% (2) of the roles were those of murderers or villains compared to 21% in last year's report.  Additionally, only 15% (3) of the roles were categorized as victims compared to 40% of the roles from 2002 to 2012.  This year, transgender characters were also less likely to be depicted as sex workers; 15% (3) this year versus 20% in the previous report.

Ongoing storylines

For this report GLAAD examined only one-off or non-recurring transgender impressions and storylines, but there were actually several regular transgender characters that deserve recognition.  On Fox's Glee, transgender teen Unique was finally upped to a series regular on the show, and most recently found herself struggling with harassment and a school policy barring her from using the girl's bathroom.   Unfortunately television also lost an important trans teen character this past summer, when on TeenNick's Degrassi, Adam was tragically killed in a car accident.  Having been one of television's only regular transgender characters for a number of years – not to mentioned a very well written one – Adam's absence is still felt.

By far one of the biggest developments in transgender characters this year wasn't on broadcast or cable TV at all.  The Netflix original series Orange is the New Black received raves for its creative and diverse cast of characters living in a women's correctional facility, and among them is transgender inmate Sophia.  Played by transgender actress Laverne Cox, Sophia's rich personality and backstory have led many to rightfully declare her a breakthrough in transgender representation, and the show's many fans eagerly await her return in the upcoming second season.

Other Highlights and Lowlights

- There were several episodes that aired in the previous year that GLAAD felt were defamatory enough to warrant public comment, including an episode of the CBS show CSI which aired right after the release of the previous report.  Nick Adams, GLAAD's Associate Director of Communications, penned an Op-Ed for The Advocate explaining why the story of a dead transgender woman working as a drug mule was so problematic and fit into a longstanding pattern of CSI mishandling trans storylines.

- On the premiere of the Showtime series Ray Donovan, a possible news story about a famous actor "caught" with a transgender sex worker is averted when Ray decides it would be better if the actor was instead found in bed with the corpse of a woman who overdosed on drugs. The storyline continued as the sex worker attempted to blackmail the actor, and then later briefly married him. Each time Ray was hired to cover up the actor's involvement with the woman.

- Fox's Family Guy brought back the transgender character of Ida for two brief appearances, including one gag in which it's implied that she has sex with her own son Quagmire, and another where her former lover Brian jokes that she "still has bits of penis left."  As noted in last year's report, the numerous Fox shows created by Seth McFarlane have regularly featured defamatory humor.

- The CBS sitcom Mike & Molly has been a repeat offender when it comes to anti-transgender humor, and definitely crossed the line with a recent episode in which a trans woman was repeatedly mocked and mis-gendered while she was on screen.

- Though several CBS programs have been among the worst offenders this year, the network should also be credited for creating perhaps one of the most unexpectedly welcome transgender characters.  On Elementary – a contemporary re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes – the classic housekeeper character of Ms. Hudson was revamped as a transgender character played by trans actress Candis Cayne.  The new Ms. Hudson was an antiquities expert who agreed to help Sherlock and Watson out with housekeeping duties while she mended a broken heart. She was a multi-dimensional character whose identity and storyline didn't hinge on her gender identity, and she is precisely the type of transgender character needed on television. GLAAD hopes that Ms. Hudson will make a return appearance at some point, and has expressed as much directly to network executives at CBS.

You can read last year's report here.

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