Parker Molloy
September 19, 2014 10:37 am

Next month, Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox and Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace will each be rolling out new documentaries about the lives of transgender individuals, and we could not be more excited.

On October 10th, AOL will debut True Trans With Laura Jane Grace, a docu-series featuring the 33-year-old punk rocker as she embarks on tour in support of her recent record, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” and interviews gender non-conforming and transgender fans, activists, authors, and others about their experiences with gender dysphoria and how they relate to gender, itself. The following week, MTV and Logo TV will broadcast Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, a documentary centered on the lives of seven transgender individuals between the ages of 12 and 24.

Between the two of them, Grace and Cox are trans forces to be reckoned with. Grace is known for churning out some of the smartest lyrics in punk rock — touching on topics of politics, class warfare, and gender — and Cox is the Emmy-nominated actress who has experienced a meteoric rise over the past few years, becoming Time Magazine’s face of the “transgender tipping point.”

But why is this such a big deal? For one, these documentaries have the potential to be some of the most honest, authentic portrayals of trans individuals as has ever been seen on TV. For years, the media has depicted trans individuals in a negative light, furthering the often shameful stereotypes that don’t come close to accurately portraying the complex lives these individuals have. While the past 15 years have seen a shift in how the media portrays gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals — with the improved representation being directly linked to the public’s willingness to accept and support their causes — trans people have, until recently, been waiting on the cultural sidelines.

Since 2002, LGBT media watchdog group GLAAD has kept track of TV shows featuring story lines about transgender characters. In the 102 episodes they catalogued, more than half were labeled as negative representations by the organization. Their report, “Victims or Villains: Examining Ten Years of Transgender Images on Television,” highlights just how blatantly networks play off of trans stereotypes when trying to depict the lives of this oft-marginalized group.

In 40 percent of the episodes GLAAD reviewed, the trans character was set in the role of a victim — a plot point frequently used in crime dramas — often as simply a lifeless body or victim of sexual assault. In 21 percent of these story arcs, trans characters were set in the role of a killer or villain; and in one fifth of episodes, the trans character’s profession was that of a sex worker. In addition, more than 60 percent of episodes made use of anti-transgender slurs, as outlined in GLAAD’s Transgender Media Reference Guide.

It’s been proven that media has the ability to encourage acceptance, and that’s why these two projects have so much potential to enact positive change. With so much on the line, there are no two individuals more deserving of the chance to make this happen.

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