Local Color

[Trigger warning for transphobia]

While Liss and Iain were watching Dancing with The Stars, Westsidebecca and I were watching Harry's Law. It's one of only 57 law shows on network tv, but Kathy Bates! (Also: Christopher McDonald!)

I'm not familiar with David E. Kelley's other work (although yes, I know), but on this show, the local color looms large. The show is set in one of those colorful neighborhoods in Cincinnati, where all sorts of people show up for legal advice (or to buy shoes). A lot of these folks are different from normal people.

Last night's local color was a trans woman played by a gay guy (because apparently there aren't any trans women who act). The storyline was a not-unsympathetic picture of a boy-crazy trans woman (with a penis, we're told!) who's basically stalking the guy who fired her from her job as a night club singer.

We're told that she could get a job at any other club in the city (even though she's got A PENIS!), but she's really attached to this guy who fired her-- they were lovers, but he's afraid it would ruin him if word got out that he was sleeping with a freak.

The character thinks of herself as a woman. However, it's easier for her to do that when she's on stage in buttloads of makeup and girly costumes, so she's really attracted to her particular line of work. Her name's Amanda. Because of course.


I hate being the local color.

Here's the thing: There are trans women who are attracted to guys, trans women who work in nightclubs and trans women named Amanda. And :cough: trans women do get fired from jobs for being trans, although (and this is important) we usually don't have several offers on the table when it happens.

I hate being the local color, because good neo-liberals really appreciate diversity. Kelley's trying to show how, even though non-regulars are totally one-dimensional stereotypes, deep down, we're just as human as people. This nugget of compassion makes a lot of privileged people slow to criticize this typecasting. But ultimately, I still feel like my life (or something that doesn't really resemble it) is being used for entertainment.

What I do love is when people are surprised that I'm trans. Because, you know, I'm nothing like trans people. While some of this may have to do with passing privilege, I don't think that's the whole story. For one thing, I'm a young lesbian woman. Did that make your brain explode?

The issue here is that trans people, like members of all marginalized groups, can't win this game. It's not fair to erase those aspects of individuals' experiences that parallel stereotypes, so I can't dismiss Amanda because OMG MY FRIEND AMANDA WORKED IN A CLUB FOR YEARS. Cis-washed characters would be just as marginalizing (and invisible to boot), so they're not showing up in the media any time soon. We're not going to see diverse, fully-formed trans characters, either, because that's not the point. Like members of most marginalized groups, we're merely there for color.

I hate being the local color.

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