'Balanced View': TV shows representing LGBT+ community fairly
Audiovisual media like cinema and TV shows have always played a pivotal role in shaping our society and mindsets and have been hugely influential in raising awareness and bringing about change in minds and hearts on politics, culture, history, climate change and many more vital issues.
However, when it comes to representation of LGBT+ people, the mistreatment and misrepresentation here have only added to their exclusion and ridicule. Whether it be overtly sexualising lesbian women or portraying trans women as just a “man in a dress”, the stereotypical representation has only pushed the community further to the sidelines.
There could be multiple reasons for this, says Tanvi Nair, an out and proud trans woman, a TEDx speaker, and a business analytics professional working for a multinational financial servicing company.
“It could be lack of intent, lack of research, lack of representation, and various commercial aspects like box office collections, sales, promotion, etc. Maybe it could just be the lack of 'entertainment' that the industry seeks,” she says.
Raga Olga D'silva, author, speaker, entrepreneur and international LGBT advocate, agrees that cinema and online content has a huge influence on all of us, and especially, in this regard.
“Therefore, the content ridiculing LGBT+ people over the years, has really hurt us of the LGBT+ community and added fuel to homophobia that already exists. Films and television are just beginning to create content that is a true representation of us. Slowly but surely, they are coming out to the community as well,” she says.
D'silva, who recently watched Fame Game on Netflix, says as a gay woman, raised in India with no role models or LGBT stories, this series was refreshing for her.
“I have been raising this point consistently that we need to not just show 'coming out stories' which are also essential; but we also need to normalise these stories. The main protagonist's (Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit) son Avinash's fear around his mother's acceptance and her response to him coming out to her was handled is truly admirable. Avinash's acceptance of himself was also shown sensitively. What stood out for me was the mainstreaming of a lesbian character, Shobha Trivedi who plays a cop, living with her same sex partner. This is how we need to be represented in cinema. We are a fabric of this society just as anyone else,” she says.
As a creative person herself, D'silva is now writing stories for cinema and online platforms that are sensitive and a true representation of our community without being apologetic.
No doubt a good and authentic representation does more than just entertain the audience. “It allows the audience to take something back with them and ponder upon it. It gives a glimpse of the lives that people living on the margins experience,” says Nair, listing five TV shows that she feels are a must watch for everyone to know and be more aware about the community.
And as March 31 is celebrated as International Transgender Day of Visibility, dedicated to celebrating transgender people, their accomplishments and also raising awareness about anti-trans discrimination, let’s see her picks.
Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen (Netflix)
A documentary film directed and produced by Sam Feder, it sheds light on the portrayal of Trans people throughout the history of Hollywood movies and how it impacted their lives.
“I relate with this documentary because all the experiences shared by the people interviewed were in line with what I felt growing up watching people like me being made a subject of mockery,” says Nair.
Work in Progress (Hotstar)
This is a comedy drama created by Abby McEnany and Tim Mason, and directed by Mason. It stars McEnany in a semi-autobiographical role and follows her story of being a “fat, queer dyke” (in her words) who falls in love with a Transman while struggling with mental health issues.
This story breaks away from the stereotype of queer people always being portrayed as loud and fabulous. It touches upon various aspects of the community including the rift between people of different sexual orientation, the downsides of dating a younger person etc. It also dwells deeply into the mental health issues of the person who doesn’t fit into the boxes of gender and sexuality.
This is a science fiction drama created by Lana and Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski. The story revolves around eight strangers from completely different walks of life connected to each other mentally.
"I love science fiction and when it is combined with authentic representation, it is like a cherry on the cake. The creators of the show are both Trans women and it is a great example of how authentic creators portray authentic characters," Nair says.
Tales of the City (Netflix)
This is a drama based on “tales of the city” novels by Armistead Maupin. It is the story of Mary Ann who returns to San Francisco after 23 years to celebrate the birthday of her former landlady Anna Madrigal. What follows is her navigating through the place which she once knew as her home, some things old and some things new. This show gives a glimpse of the lives of Trans people and their struggles during the 1900s when being Trans was considered a crime and there was an unjust tax collected from Trans people. It also portrays the changes that the community has gone through from time to time.
This is a drama series created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, about New York City's drag ball culture throughout the 1980s and 1990s. This show highlights the struggles of the community and how they support each other in the midst of the HIV crisis that hit the community worst. HIV used to be known as God’s punishment for the sins of gay people with the government letting people suffer and mountains of dead bodies that were dumped into mass graves.
“The common theme I like about all of them is the authentic representation (actors belong to the community) and the fact that the stories do not revolve around the characters' sexuality or gender identity which is the case with most other series involving LGBT+ people,” says Nair.