This is the trailer for Disclosure, a new documentary on Netflix helmed by the incredible Laverne Cox. It’s ostensibly about the way trans people have been represented (or in the case of trans men, not represented) in film and TV, but it’s really about what it’s like to live in a world that constantly tells you you’re not welcome.
It’s an American programme, and that means there are some differences between it and any UK equivalent. For starters, it got made. And it provides proper representation of all kinds of trans people, not just unrepresentative rich white women. But its US focus means there’s no room for the portrayal of trans and gender non-conforming people in other countries, such as Little Britain, the IT Crowd and what felt like all TV comedy in the 1970s and 1980s in the UK.
It’s an intelligent, insightful programme: rather than damn programmes or films outright, many of the contributors explain how on the one hand a portrayal was appalling, but on the other it was the only time they had ever seen someone like them on screen.
But even those stories are often heartbreaking. Imagine how it feels to finally come up with the courage to tell your best friend that you’re trans and to be asked, “what, like… Buffalo Bill?”
Buffalo Bill was the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs who murdered women and wore their skin like a suit.
Over the course of the programme a clear theme emerges: the way trans people are portrayed or erased on screen has a powerful effect on how other people see us, and on how we see ourselves.
It also makes a strong case that the portrayal of trans people as deceptive and disgusting is directly connected to the violence many trans people experience, particularly trans women of colour in North and Central America. In just the last week, my news app has brought stories of three trans women’s murders: one shot in the face multiple times after revealing her trans history; one found dumped by the side of a motorway; and one dismembered and thrown into a river. A cisgender man is in custody accused of her murder and mutilation.
I cried quite a lot watching this, and for me there were two scenes in particular I wish everyone could see. The first is a simple montage showing some – not all, but some – of the films where a man’s discovery that a woman he liked was trans caused him to vomit, something that started in The Crying Game and was then amplified sadistically in many comedy shows and films; and the second is Jen Richards trying not to cry as she talks about how her family told her she would only be welcome if she did not come as herself.