Last weekend I sat down to watch a movie with my parents and older sister, a typical night for us. We decided to watch The Danish Girl, the Oscar-winning film about Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo sex/gender reassignment surgery.
Immediately my father expressed his displeasure with this choice of entertainment. The idea of watching a transgender woman’s transition made him uncomfortable.
Throughout the film my parents made little comments and jokes about Lili, they didn’t seem to understand the character or concepts in the same way my sister and I did.
This is not surprising. My sister and I are members of the Facebook-Twitter-Instagram-Tumblr generation. We see transgender people every day on social media. We know transgender people. We have classes together. We don’t pretend to be experts, but we are aware of the proper language to use when speaking about transgender people and the entire LGBTQIA+ community.
Because we see these people regularly, we are comfortable with them. Our parents, not so much. My parents were born in the mid-60s, they saw the first interracial kiss on TV, they saw Ellen come out on her sitcom. The progress was slow, but it was there.
However, the sources that my parents use to gather news and entertainment still have a long way to go. These are people who get their news from the morning paper, the evening news, and the headlines that scroll across Comcast’s homepage. In 2015, there were approximately 14 depictions of transgender people on film and television. Fourteen.
Representation matters. Representation everywhere matters.
When LGBTQIA+ individuals are included in mainstream media, acceptance and understanding will follow. When my parents can turn on their TV and watch a movie about a man who identifies as a woman and not joke about it, we will have real change. When conservative politicians stop policing people’s right to use public restrooms, we will be a better society. We need to keep learning and fighting until every human being, regardless of gender or ethnicity, has a seat at the table.
Here are some resources where you can learn more about representation in media: