Victims or Villains: Examining Ten Years of Transgender Images on Television

In recognition of Transgender Awareness Week and the Transgender Day of Remembrance, GLAAD has reviewed its archives of transgender-inclusive television episodes over the past ten years, and found that a great deal of progress still needs to be made for fair and accurate depictions of the transgender community.

Since 2002, GLAAD catalogued 102 episodes and non-recurring storylines of scripted television that contained transgender characters, and found that 54% of those were categorized as containing negative representations at the time of their airing.  An additional 35% were categorized at ranging from "problematic" to "good," while only 12% were considered groundbreaking, fair and accurate enough to earn a  GLAAD Media Award nomination.

The release of these findings coincides with the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is an annual observance on November 20 that honors the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.   You can find more information at http://glaad.org/tdor or http://transgenderdor.org.

Over the ten-year period examined, offensive representations and storylines were found on every major broadcast network and seven different cable networks, demonstrating that the problem remains widespread.

Additionally GLAAD found:

  • Transgender characters were cast in a "victim" role at least 40% of the time.
  • Transgender characters were cast as killers or villains in at least 21% of the catalogued episodes and storylines.
  • The most common profession transgender characters were depicted as having was that of sex workers, which a fifth of all characters were depicted as (20%).
  • Anti-transgender slurs, language and dialogue was present in at least 61% of the catalogued episodes and storylines.

Some of the exploitive and negative representatives included:

  • CSI (CBS), which not only featured a transgender serial killer who murdered his own mother, but scenes in which transgender murder victims were openly mocked by the show's lead characters while examining their bodies and crime scenes.
  • The Cleveland Show (Fox), in which a man vomits onscreen for a lengthy period of time after discovering he had slept with a transgender character.  The episode also contained anti-trans language and defamatory characterizations.
  • Nip/Tuck (FX), which featured a storyline about a transgender woman who regretted her transition, a transgender sex worker being beaten, and an entire season about a psychopathic trans woman depicted as a baby-stealing sexual predator who sleeps with her own son.

Earlier this summer, GLAAD had to downgrade the Showtime network from an "excellent" score in this year's Network Responsibility Index because of several examples of transgender content on the network that was stereotypical or negative in nature on shows like Californication and House of Lies.  In fact of the ten scripted television episodes catalogued in 2012 so far which contained transgender content, six have been largely defamatory. 

"We hope that representations of transgender people on television evolve to become as diverse, nuanced, and inspiring as the community those images reflect," said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick.  "Media has a history of telling the world a story that transgender people are always victims or villains, instead of true depictions that show the transgender community as citizens worthy of equality and respect.  On Transgender Day of Remembrance -- a day on which we remember those who lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence -- we hope television networks will think about what they can do to combat ignorance by improving their depictions of trans people." 

There have been several high points as well, however.  Episodes of shows like Grey's Anatomy (ABC), Cold Case (CBS), and Two and a Half Men (CBS) have demonstrated that transgender storylines can be depicted very well in both comedy and drama, and received GLAAD Media Award nominations for doing so.

For the purpose of this study, GLAAD excluded the few regular or recurring transgender characters that have appeared over the years.  Although not always perfect, the groundbreaking storylines on shows like The Education of Max Bickford (CBS), Degrassi (Teen Nick), The Riches (FX) and Ugly Betty (ABC) deserve credit for their more fully-formed and complex representations of transgender people.  GLAAD also has high hopes for the potential storylines developing on shows like Glee (Fox) and the scripted series the Sundance Channel is currently developing about a young transgender man.

more publications

Frequently Asked Questions: Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

Answers to the most commonly asked questions about the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," what it does, and what the legal challenges to it are.

Frequently Asked Questions about ENDA

Click here for spokespeople who can speak about ENDA

What is ENDA?

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) bill introduced in congress would extend the current non-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity, making it illegal to refuse to hire or promote, fire, or harass an employee based on these qualities. The current version of the law outlaws workplace discrimination on the basis of race, skin color, religion, sex, and national origin.

GUÍA PARA UNA COBERTURA OBJETIVA DE LOS DEPORTES Y LA COMUNIDAD LGBT

Agradecemos la cobertura de las personas gay o transgénero en los medios, y GLAAD le insta a todos los medios de comunicación a prestar mucha atención al lenguaje que se emplea a la hora de cubrir cualquier noticia que tenga que ver con la comunidad lésbica, gay, bisexual y transgénero (LGBT). Por favor no dude contactarnos con cualquier duda o pregunta.Nosotros en GLAAD estamos comprometidos a proveer los recursos necesarios a los medios para que la cobertura sobre nuestra comunidad sea justa, correcta y equitativa. 

Consistent Respect: Reporting On Transgender Crime Suspects

Transgender people are sometimes suspected and/or convicted of crimes. The media has a responsibility to represent all transgender people accurately, with their correct names and pronouns, and without relying on dehumanizing stereotypes. This responsibility does not change with the circumstances of a story, including instances where transgender people are suspected of crimes.

Hechos y Cifras: DOMA y la Proposición 8

Mientras que la Corte Suprema de EE.UU. se prepara para intervenir en los casos que cuestionan la llamada Acta del "Defensa del Matrimonio" y la anti-gay Proposición 8, GLAAD está colaborando con varias organizaciones para asegurar que en los medios de comunicación se aborden con precisión estos procesos históricos así como sus significado para parejas del mismo sexo. A continuación está una guía de recursos para ayudar a los profesionales de los medios a cubrir DOMA y la Proposición 8 durante y previo a las audiencias ante la Corte Suprema el 26 de marzo y 27.

Pages