Trans visibility in media led by youth

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In the latest story about trans visibility and inclusion reported in the media, Ray Ramsey, a self identified FTM trans teen from Concord, NH was crowned Homecoming King of Concord High the weekend of September 28.

“Ray’s a huge part of our school,” said senior class advisor Lisa Lamb to the Concord Monitor.

“He’s just been through a lot, and he’s just a really strong person,” said Ray’s friend Anna Robert.

The story, posted by the Concord Monitor on October 6, is just one of many that highlights the rise of visibilityamong teenagers and youth—of the trans experience. 

Transgender teens all over the country are winning homecoming pageantsproving that their classmates respect and appreciate their gender identitiesare helping pass legislation that allows trans youth in public schools access to appropriate restrooms, and are making their way into popular television shows such as Fox’s musical comedy-drama Glee and Canadian teen drama Degrassi. 

The way in which trans visibility is approachedwhether a person’s pronouns are respected in a story, whether a trans character is allowed a full and complex personality or whether they are defined by their trans-ness, whether the narrative being told allows for the possibility of hope for trans individuals in the futureis highly important at a time when so many trans stories are being shared across multiple media platforms. 

Characters such as Degrassi’s Adam Torres, a regular transgender character on the television show, are celebrated for the sensitivity with which they are portrayed, and with the complexity of character they are allowed by the writers of the show.

In a report about Adam Torres on August 16, GLAAD celebrated the groundbreaking portrayal, emphasizing the way in which the treatment of a trans character on television can foster empathy and understanding for trans people among a population that may have previously felt they had nothing in common with the trans experience.

“Adam was not solely defined by his transgender identity, and fans of the show could see that transgender people face the same challenges – and have the same successesin school and love that all teens face,” wrote Nick Adams, Associate Director of Communications for GLAAD. 

In news articles, the trans experience is humanized by sharing background information about the person being reported onan effort to create empathy between the trans person being written about and a reader that may not have any experience with trans people.

The article about Ray Ramsay’s Homecoming King crowning is as much about his win as it is about his relationship to his fellow students, his community, and most importantly, his father.

“After Ray Ramsey was crowned Concord High’s homecoming king last weekend…he walked over to his dad,” begins the article. “Standing there, his dad grabbed him by the shoulders, looked him in the eye and said, ‘I am so proud of you.'”

Family acceptance and support is of utmost importance for trans youth, who face discrimination, not only from their peer groups, but also from a society that is still struggling with understanding the trans experience.

Organizations such as Privacy for All Students, which is dedicated to repealing the recently passed AB 1266, California’s new state law which supports trans youth in the public education system’s right to use a restroom which aligns with their respective gender identity, contribute to the discrimination of trans youth by erasing their experience.

Stating that the legislation is an “invasion of student privacy” because it opens “sensitive school facilities such as showers, restrooms and locker rooms to students of the opposite sex” erases trans youth by limiting the conversation to one solely based on sex assigned at birth, instead of experienced gender identity.

The image conjured by such texts is one of clandestine sexual encounters under the guise of assumed gender identity, with an emphasis on the ways that such legislation can be taken advantage of by the seedy spirit of deviant sexuality.

“Imagine your daughter or granddaughter having to share a shower with a male student,” states the answer to “What is Privacy for All Students About?” provided by the organization.

“Conversely, imagine a scenario where a fully-developed teenage girl decides to shower with the guys,” the text continues, “claiming that she identifies with the male sex.”

Such arguments erase the trans experience by reducing gender identity to nothing more than a ‘claim’ which is based on “feelings and perceptions,” implying that trans peoples’ experiences are artificial or illusory.

Combined with the threat of sexual deviance as the ultimate outcome of such legislation, the text put out by Privacy for All Students repeats the same pattern of discrimination used time and again against the queer community: the double punch of completely erasing the humanity of a marginalized person, while also implying that granting that person equal rights somehow opens up the door to deviancy.

One way to counter such efforts by bigoted organizations is to bridge the gap between a public unfamiliar with trans people and trans people, to share the joys, as well as pitfalls, of trans lives.

Exposure to the pain of coming out and advocating for one’s self, as well as the joy that can come with acceptance of the self, can inspire empathy, as well as inspiration, in people previously unfamiliar with trans stories.

“He doesn’t fear any of the repercussions of being completely who he is, and that’s one of the most inspirational things about him,” Anna Robert, Ray Ramsay’s friend said to the Concord Monitor.

“Kids here have a heart and they know what’s right, and they love Ray and they support Ray,” Ray’s High School Principal, Gene Connolly said of Ray’s crowning.

“It’s one of the things that really makes this school special.”

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