In the last week, I've had the opportunity to sit with some members of the transgendered community and discuss life: how we are all doing, how our holidays went. The current state of our love lives consumed a small part of the evening. During this part of the conversation our resident teenage transboy talked about showing his girlfriend "Boys Don't Cry" to help her understand what it means to be transgendered. Looking around the room at that moment, looks of horror crossed the faces of some participants in the discussion. This movie is a sore spot for some of us for multiple reasons, but I was struck by the realization that transgendered people in the media tend to always fall prey to violence or death.
Having watched "Rent" on Thanksgiving Day with some new friends (three gay men, a Haitian fellow graduate student, and one very special transguy) it was very fresh in my mind that the gender variant character ended up being the only character to die. Now I use the term gender variant to describe Angel because there was much discussion that night about whether she was a transwoman or a drag queen. Either way she most certainly was a lady of the highest caliber. Through the plot of the movie/show, Angel serves as the heart and center of the group of friends in New York. She provides financial, emotional, and comic support while looking fabulous in the face of AIDS. Four of the main characters are living with AIDS, but only Angel dies.
His death proves to be the most poignant portion of the movie. Pushing us to realize he was holding the group together. As they leave the cemetery mourning his death, his lover laments, "I can't believe he is gone. I can't believe you're going. I can't believe this family must die." The portrayal of Angel does the work of giving us a character that represents the joys of my experience with transgendered people. Her heart and love was truly the light of the movie just as the heart of many of the transwomen I am surrounded by serves to light up any room they walk into. But alas, as one would expect he is the only character to die.
Clearly as a nation media portrayals of all minorities are still incomplete and misleading often with the information they deliver. Gay characters do not yet portray gay lives in complete and articulate ways however these portrayals are leaps and bounds ahead images of trans people. There is so much academic literature about the effects of seeing diluted and stereotypical images of themselves and their social groups on television on young people that the argument that it does have an impact is moot at this point.