On Representation in Media

Or how I never properly realized how important it is until I felt it myself.

What follows is more a blog post than anything else. Largely unedited.

I’ve always been aware of the issues around representation in media. I think most of us are — the lack of strong or positive female characters, in gaming especially. Tokenism and the overwhelming majority that is the straight, white, cisgendered male character. And I’ve always been aware of how important proper representation is — I’ve been able to recognise the equality and fairness points (what’s right is right, after all) and to some extent I’ve been able to recognise the fact that people need to be able to see themselves in media, particularly those at risk. A teen struggling with issues around sexuality and gender, for example, is going to find positive representation in a character that mirrors what they’re going through a massive help.

That was me tonight and the past few days.

I’m a firm believer in turning to things like TV, books, films, games and the like as a form of escapism, a way to relax. When things are bad, I can sit in bed with an episode of my favourite show running in the background and feel much better almost instantly. It’s a comfort thing.

But over the past few days, the regular sort of shows simply didn’t help. I’ve been dealing with a lot of gender dysphoria, and I felt like I needed to watch something that would affirm that struggle, recognise it — something that I could watch that would make me feel like I wasn’t alone. This is rationalisation after the fact (well, to some extent — it’s still happening). When I’m in the midst of that need it’s less rational, more akin to an intense craving — something you know you simply need but can’t for the life of you figure out why.

Usually when this happens I go play a game with a female protagonist or the like. Something like Mass Effect works best. The control over the way your character looks, the ability to make decisions. It’s living vicariously, and it’s one of the best cures for dysphoria I’ve come across. But mitigating factors over the past few days have made that less appealing, so for what was surprisingly for the first time, I went and specifically looked for something to watch with a trans* character — or, failing that, anything with a LGBTQ storyline or character that wasn’t as condescending as all hell.

It’s pretty bleak out there.

Let me digress for a minute here before I forget. I started something similar last week, researching for a radio show featuring queer musicians. This was a bit better, in no small way due to the fact that music is a rather easier medium to self-produce than film or television is. I trawled through Bandcamp and found some great stuff there. I asked around and got linked to some great stuff (through that coming across the wonderful story of Laura Jane Grace). After a couple of days’ worth of work I had enough for the show, but was stuck with the niggling feeling that I shouldn’t have to be working this hard simply to find representation.

Looking for something to watch was a hundred times worse. Orange Is the New Black was the only thing I could think of with a not-utterly-horrid trans* character (a WOC, no less), but I wasn’t particularly in the mood to watch through all of it again, no matter how good it is. I started looking for documentaries and came across Crossover Kids, which was okay but twinged slightly of condescension, of looking in from the outside, looking in at this weird thing that was happening to the nation’s children — and what an outrage! I found A Self-Made Man, which seemed promising, but without the cash to spare I had to bookmark it for another time. I found another documentary on the “taboo transgender” and got thirty seconds into it before closing the tab, it smacking of transphobia and binarism.

It was around then that it all started to hit home — that this was one of the reasons representation was really important. Because when you need it, you really need it. There are times when you really really need to be able to recognise that you’re not alone, times when talking to people just isn’t going to cut it. Times when your favourite things just aren’t able to comfort you, when they aren’t able to recognise you. I’m still astonished at how privileged I’ve been to have come this far without having this realisation.

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Published author and/or writer, blogger, musician, artist (sorta), producer at @95bfm.