Media, fashion, Hollywood: trans representation still has a long way to go | Devan diaz
I think it started in 2017, or 2016, the year of identity stuck to our ambitions. In a litany of newly profitable labels, I had a complete set: Latina, female, poor, trans. I was part of the think tank boom, and everyone had a story to sell. Torn from Tumblr by a new generation of feminist media, I was given the futile task of representation. People called me “brave”. I courageously wrote personal essays. Courageously, I was a model for magazines. At first, I was happy to share, even proud of my participation in this anti-Trumpian branding effort. It was urgent, because it was. We learn about ourselves through pictures, and the inclusion of marginalized people was a start.
I played along. The staff were political and monetizable. âDoorsâ had been âopenedâ – we had no idea what we had let out. I wasn’t planning on walking past a camera, but it does happen if you’re at enough parties. These were the decadent years, when everything called for a “launch”. Every look, tweet and interaction was an audition. Casting directors have been touring the dance floors in search of their next It girl.
When you’ve ripped up all your magazines and stuck them on the wall, at some point you (I) want to try and be the girl in the picture.
If you’ve gotten to know each other through fashion, the Eddie-Redmayne-in-The-Danish-Girl style, it’s understandable that you want to right some of your wrongs. Clothing can be a disguise or lead to new appearances. Millennials of a certain age are still recovering from the brain rot of the fashion age we were born into. We grew up calling ourselves models, photographers and stylists, all in opposition to a skinny white reality that didn’t match. We posted online and cultivated followers until we saw our ambitions come true. Yes, we were seeing more trans people, but what else?
I want to do more than just be seen. And that will require getting out of certain narrative appetites and representations of the moment.
When we first meet Jules, the teenage trans character from HBO’s hit series Euphoria, his aggression is our point of entry. This is not a misrepresentation, but it is not a good one either. Its tragedy is the public’s desirability; an educational moment at his expense. It would be less boring if the public portrayal of the trans girl was more varied – or if the growing number of actual assaults weren’t too great. Sure, violent assault is a reality for many trans people, but are we ever allowed to fantasize?
The trauma did not make me brave. Instead, I am angry, vengeful. So far, the cultural industry has won and turned a community into a competition. I started to think of his gaze as something that I was stealing from. In my mind, it’s better to be a criminal than a victim. The flattery of participation has worn off, and now I’m stuck. Do I finally decide to retire? It would make me feel less crazy, but I would still scramble to make rent. I am here to work. I keep taking diversity jobs, either because I’m hopeful, stupid, or broke.
Glamor is hard to resist. I get a DM offering a spot in a photoshoot with an âLGBTQ + castingâ and $ 100 for a day’s work. I do not refuse it right away. I feel uncomfortable: what if that’s who I am? I don’t want to exploit my image, but I could use the money. It might be worth it if the request to bring my identity was in the service of something that turned me on. This is rarely the case.
The salary is not the problem. I know $ 100 is a weekly MetroCard, pizza, and manicure. This is the âLGBTQ + castingâ for me. Like, it’s always on these sets, where I’m “celebrated”, where I will be asked for my pronouns several times. It’s okay, I know it’s the right protocol – but not until my breasts are out. Sure, I’ll tell you why I haven’t spoken to my dad for 10 years – but do you promise to foot the bill within 30 days?
But it’s fun to be dragged in, even when it sucks. This is how they seduce you. The purring of hairdryers, the muffled communication between photographer and stylist, the feeling of being part of it all. So I replied to the message.
I sent in my measurements and waited three days. I never heard back. Either way, rejection is worse when you didn’t want it at first. I laugh, I write and I wonder if they will read this.
I am optimistic. I’m bored too. I’ve been sold some genuinely trans stories, but I still don’t see them on TV or in movies or magazines. They’re there, but not on our social media feeds. They are downtown and south. In crowded bathroom stalls, where ideas are exchanged between snatches of gossip. Group chats where people say things they don’t dare to tweet.
I want to see trans women have fun. Something that isn’t afraid to frame us boldly, even harshly. Give me liars, cheaters and thieves. They also deserve our attention. I want something sexy rather than didactic. Glamor without a sense of mourning. If I am to be trans – and it looks like I am – then it is dangerous! Or happy, with better dialogue and beautiful lighting. I don’t care what it means to be trans or a woman. I want to be told stories.
Devan Diaz is a writer from Jackson Heights, New York
An earlier version of this essay originally appeared in CR Fashion Book