Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

'Hung': Is The New Trans Role A Good Thing?

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 05, 2011 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: HBO, Jamie Clayton, Ray Drecker, Thomas Jane, TV Guide

hung.jpgIn the popular HBO comedy-drama Hung, which stars Thomas Jane as Ray Drecker, a struggling suburban Detroit high school basketball coach who resorts to male prostitution, there is a new plot element.

According to TV Guide, Drecker will "bed down with a pre-op transgender receptionist named Kyla before contemplating a full same-sex encounter." Kyla is played by transgender actress Jamie Clayton, who previously cohosted VH1's TRANSform Me.

The TV Guide description suggests that transgender identity remains completely misunderstood by the general public:

"Hung's Thomas Jane has long maintained a "no gay sex" mandate for his male prostitute character, Ray Drecker, and "that maxim still stands," he says. But when a rival anything-goes gigolo (The Vampire Diaries' Stephen Amell) hones in on Ray's territory in Hung's third season (premiering on HBO in October), Ray inches closer to the forbidden LGBT zone."

"Gay sex" and "transgender" don't belong together in the same sentence. It might be argued that since the character is "pre-op transgender," the sex will be "gay," but that presumes that genitalia are all that count. And "the LGBT zone" suggests that it's still all one and the same to the great unwashed out there. And it also suggests that there's something way wrong with gay sex.

Still, it's a step up that TV Guide, serving the lowest common denominator of the American public, presumes that people will know what "pre-op transgender" means. And getting to know us is the key to obtaining civil rights legislation that will help protect our community. Perhaps the old maxim is true; any publicity is good publicity.

But, unfortunately, the article gets worse.

Referring to Jamie Clayton, a transgender woman, it says:

"When Thomas first got wind of Ray's new adventures, "the idea of kissing a man was not a comfortable one for him, but he did great," says creator Colette Burson..."

Still, it's all too often that trans female roles are played by non-trans women, so seeing another trans actress on television is thrilling. Jamie Clayton is a particularly interesting person, and seems to have a head on her shoulders. She was profiled a few years ago in the New York Observer, where she disclosed that, in junior high, she won the top awards for math and science. She also disclosed that she visited Dr. Toby Meltzer in 2003, so she is "acting" when playing a "pre-op transgender" character.

She also knows how to work it. She moved to New York from San Diego when she was nineteen to pursue her dream of becoming a makeup artist. In addition to her successful VH1 role, she has worked with some of the most recognizable names in the industry in makeup and advertising.

It is impossible at this point to tell how this series is going to portray Jamie Clayton, and whether it will result in more understanding by the general public of trans identity, or more confusion. Nonetheless, I do feel joy when one of our own makes good, and I'm putting my anxieties aside for the moment to congratulate Ms. Clayton on her new role.

Image source: publicity photo

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As a lesbian trans woman, "gay sex" and "transgender" in the same sentence are just fine with me, as I suspect they would be with the gay trans men of my acquaintance.

That said, I *do* take your meaning.

"the great unwashed"

That phrase drips with contempt. It really does serious damage to an otherwise logical argument.

If your aim is to educate the public about transgender issues, it is pointless to take such a condescending, superior position. Not having a Ph.D or the opportunity to learn about gender identity issues does not make people "unwashed" or inferior to you.

There are plenty of people who believe that LGBT people are "dirty" and less than others. Please refrain from aping them.

Point well taken, Fritz. I should have used another phrase.

I have a lot of conflicted feelings about the storyline, participants' reaction to it and TV Guide story as well. I'm very pleased Jamie is getting a chance to be in a high profile show... even though I don't think she really has any acting experience, she has a great presence and can bring a lot to the role and better her than getting someone who's a gay male drag performer or non-trans person (the usual casting choices). At least there's some attempt at authenticity and giving a trans woman a chance.

What disturbs me is how this storyline is said to be a kind of pathway towards the main character ultimately having gay sex (which, the lack thereof has been a criticism from the gay community about the show). That, somehow, men want to have sex with trans women because they 'really' want to have sex with men. a) I think this massively mis-characterizes trans women as some kind of uber femmy gay male in medical drag and b) it very wrongly assumes that straight men's attraction to trans women (pre or post) isn't a be all and end all unto itself (which is the reality of it, I've never heard of 'chasers' eventually getting into guys... ever).

It further bugs me that she has to be identified as a 'pre-op'. This is one of several recent projects which have ID'd a character that way (another example is an upcoming role Chloe Sevigny is playing... described as a 'pre-op transsexual') Why is that so inherently important other than cheesy titillation factor and exploiting the ignorant question "does that make the male character gay?" Yes, I think there are some men who would have sex with a post-op trans women and not a pre or non-op and I KNOW there are lots of men who want their trans women partners to be pre/non-op. But other than the "are they gay?" question, why is that so important to know from the get-go on the show? And I kind of don't like Jamie's reply that this storyline is getting away from 'vanilla sex.' Does having sex with a trans woman automatically mean you're doing something wild and kinky... I don't think so.

(and please, no moronic replies about how SRS makes you a real woman while lack of SRS means you're not).

Yeah, the frequent and almost universal inclusion of surgical status with any mention of a trans character is totally out of line with the way most character descriptions go. You never see genital descriptions as the first thing describing cis characters. Just imagine it:

"This famous actor is going to play an uncircumcised man with a large penis, it will take some acting, though, because he's actually circumcised and not well endowed."

"Some other actress is playing a woman with a clitoral hood piercing."

"In her upcoming new film, she stopped shaving to get into the role of her character, a woman with a hairy bush."

I've seen movies and tv shows where circumcision, penis size, genital piercings, or pubic hair were actual important elements of the plot. Yet none of their descriptions discussed the characters in terms of their genitals. And when it is discussed as a plot element, they never describe the actor's actual genitals in comparison.

This. This exactly.

Thanks for nailing it again, Tobi.

Melissa Keiper | July 5, 2011 2:45 PM

I'm disturbed by the way alot of folks have handled this. But most of all, this:

"When Thomas first got wind of Ray's new adventures, "the idea of kissing a man was not a comfortable one for him, but he did great," says creator Colette Burson..."

I dunno, maybe it's easy for me to say, sitting in Brooklyn with no hope of ever having an acting career, but if I'm Jamie Clayton, and I saw that in print, coming from someone who (I maybe naively presume) knows me, and from my co-star, I would be furious at the level of tran-misogynistic ignorance, and absence of any basic respect for me, and say so. Yeah, I know-Both these people are pretty much two of her many bosses, so maybe I don't get it...But still...my gosh.

I don't watch the show, and I didn't watch TRANSform Me, mainly because I don't really watch TV.

Here's what I took away from this article:

1. The main character is a sex worker who wants to expand into new markets.

2. He's uncomfortable about the idea of having sex with a man, presumably because he's uncomfortable with people with penises.

3. He thinks that maybe if he has sex with a woman with a penis (because hey, he likes women, right?), it will help him overcome his discomfort with penises.

It seems to me that the premise could have been set up to treat trans women with penises as women, rather than just femmey homosexual cis men, but knowing the history of portrayals of trans people in the media in general, I have my trepidations about it, and the comment by the show creator doesn't fill me with confidence.

As for the general public, rest assured that pretty much everyone knows what "pre-op transgender" means. Otherwise, the first question out of people's mouths to a trans woman wouldn't almost invariably be one of operative status or intent, n'est-ce pas?

@Gemma: Your takeaways mirror mine. Unfortunately, as the storyline appears to be written from the viewpoint of a heterosexual male prostitute, it appears to be simultaneously true to the character and offensive to the LGBT community (starting with referring to the actress in question as a 'man', although it's entirely possible that's what an actor in that position might think).

I suspect the best strategy at this point (because you know the writers are watching this) is to see how the script plays out...

I think rather than going with a pre-op transsexual and mis-labelling them transgender they would have done a much better job of making their point with a non-op Transgender identified person.I seriously think that would have been the way to go because with that you have a person comfortable with their penis that identifies as a woman.

If the character is intending on SRS, wouldn't "pre-op" be the correct term to use? As problematic as it is to need to describe specific types of women based on what point they are in the supermagicalland of SRS, I would imagine that you, of all the posters here, would have a nagging need to know the character's status and her intentions.

The rest... well, it would be a derail to note the massive amount of erasure and assumptions in your tiny post.

Plenty of people who get SRS identify as transgender, and it is just as bad to police their identities as it is to non-consensually place all transexual people under the label.

(and please, no moronic replies about how SRS makes you a real woman while lack of SRS means you're not).

moronic replies? well, yeah . . . "real women"? . . . how about "real men"? . . . definitely . . . moronic!
but ??? real women??? i don't get it.

so, let's have an "intelligent" discussion about soap operas that are playing on premium cable channels? would that make those who can't afford a subscription "moronic" or just "poorly informed" or would it make them "elitist"?

oh, don't mind me. carry on . . . cock rings for the "male" penises, satin bows for the "female" ones . . . o kayyy, i think i'm beginning to get the hang of it? hung that is???

I wish this new bilerico format had a way of giving thumbs up and thumbs down to comments. Edith I love our comment LOL.

I meant to say Edith I love your comment my keyboard is getting old and is acting up.

The point I was trying to make was that if the character was trying to get over an aversion to the idea of engaging in gay sex a non-op by choice person would be a better choice maybe even a female impersonator or drag queen to give the illusion of female sexuality but still has male characteristics and identity. As far as erasure goes I clearly said that the person identifies as female. I neither endorsed or denied that identity I just put it out there.

Except for the fact that what the "Transsexual, Not Transgender" militants keep telling us is that it's not about gender identity as a woman, but the prescence, or lack thereof, that makes a woman...


Not mentioned in the article is that Thomas Jane was married to Patricia Arquette who is the sister of Alexis Arquette.

Rachel Bellum | July 5, 2011 7:43 PM

"When Thomas first got wind of Ray's new adventures, "the idea of kissing a man was not a comfortable one for him, but he did great," says creator Colette Burson..."

Yes, this jumped out at me as well. And in light of what SteveC brought up below (Jane formerly being married to Patricia Arquette), I find it even more curious.

Could this, perhaps, have been a reference to his eventual gay tryst rather than whatever is happening with Kyla? Or am I being too hopeful?

Rachel Bellum | July 5, 2011 7:47 PM

This was meant to be a reply to Melissa Keiper's comment.

What are we supposed to do, stomp and cheer and give Thomas Jane a medal for having to kiss drop dead gorgeous Jamie Clayton for 5 hours and "having her feel like a woman?" Whoopee, Yeehaw, Jamie passed the almost-like-a-woman test... I guess poor Alexis didn't. Thanks, Ms. Burson, thanks for allowing your star to kiss a good one and one of us us other delusional men. :(

Any insecurities Thomas had disappeared when he arrived on set. "I asked, 'So where's the guy?' and was told, 'That's her!'" he told me at the 2011 Saturn Awards. "There was this beautiful girl who blew me away."

Given the industry perceptions and the presentation, the following strikes me regarding the article by Keck:

1. Jane's concerns were more centered on appearance (that is, gender expression) and/or the potential of the typical cis actor taking on a trans role.

2. As it is TV Guide, the feature story is part of a publicity push to generate ratings, and thusly, the more salacious nature of the encounter is going to be played up in order to whet the public's appetite for voyeurism.

3. The following captures a lot of it:

When Thomas first got wind of Ray's new adventures, "the idea of kissing a man was not a comfortable one for him, but he did great," says creator Colette Burson, who is exploring the possibility of making Kyla Ray's full-time girlfriend in Season 4. "They had to kiss for hours. After his initial shyness, she became a woman for him."

First off, it involved physical contact for him to see her as a woman (the ciscentric framing describes it differently). More interesting is that this is intentionally being set up as a possible long term structure (relationship in season 4 remark).

The standard tropes having been covered (look, we can all play bingo!), there's a lot here that is fascinating in terms of the way the overall show is presented in what is, in the end, little more than the studio doing publicity for the show. This is not meant as any sort of real news or in depth look at a television show, this is PR mill work.

Note that social perceptions are deeply shaped by media portrayals and that those same portrayals often reflect certain inherent biases of the producers and performers.

So what we have is a receptionist (oh, yay, sexist stereotype) being used by a prostitute to prepare himself for what he expects will be an unavoidable encounter with another man (cue overt homophobia and transphobia tropes already explored).

The trans individual in the piece is not being portrayed as a sex worker (which is likely good given the protagonist is set up to be a top only which would conflict with the reality of trans sex work), is being portrayed as a pretty (that is, good looking) individual, and is apparently stable and reasonable.

This chalks up as more of a win in my book, at least from what little we have available, since the portrayal is more or less described as positive and the PR suggests that the reactions of the "manly man" star are at fault and shown as "typical" and to be expected.

I'm not excusing the overt problems and cissexism that's rampant here, mind you, I'm simply looking at this through the lens of another decent visible portrayal, which is critical especially given some of the other recent ones.

The saddest part is that it doesn't break any new ground -- its on a pay channel once again, not network, and so the exposure will be limited. I'd like to see more primetime shows tackle the issues here without the usual association of crime and poverty -- and especially doing so with a person of color, preferably Native or AA, with a bi or lesbian sensibility.

Eh, I dream big.

Another good one Dr. Weiss. I also applaud the protrayal of one of us by, well, one of us.I wish Jamie Clayton all the best in the role. But I do worry how the production will cater to the lowest common denominator. The lead male is a 'sex-worker'? He 'hooks up' with Ms. Clayton's character because he wants to ease into Gay sex and a pre-op MtoF who still has her wanger fits the bill? As to any publicity is good publicity, I generally agree with that. Lord knows that the general public needs to see more of us, be more aware of us, who and what we are. We are not Freaks! While the actress is an actual Transgender Woman, this role advances nothing. How does this differ from "The Crying Game"? Except the fact that the male lead will presumably know what he is getting into instead of being surprised. A female with a penis making Gay sex more palatable? Sorry, this portrayal does neither the Gay community or the Trans community any service. Once again,a Trans individual is protrayed as a Freak, as little more than a Drag Queen (apologies to Drag performers out there)And why do Transgender roles only concern sexual exploits? How about Trans people that are Doctors, Lawyers, Business people? We do exist! I suggest that Ms. Clayton refuse the role as insulting to our community and publicise the refusal and why! Now, THAT, would be good publicity and inform the public who and what we are!