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2014: A good year for trans issues, but much work lies ahead

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"Orange is the New Black" and "Transparent" brought trans issues into focus in 2014. Lots of work lies ahead for trans activism, but a look back in history shows there's much to celebrate this year.

The year 2014 saw transgender people in the spotlight with Netflix's "Orange is the New Black" and the Amazon series "Transparent."

Public figures like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox proudly and openly told their personal stories of life as trans women.

But positive representations of trans people in the media are fairly new. And despite these representations, trans people continue to endure unique daily challenges in their personal lives. They are still highly likely to deal with discrimination, bullying, and suicide. One terrible example of this is the recent death of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn in Ohio, who died of an apparent suicide after stepping in front of a semi truck.

For some, tragedies like this bring transgender progress into question. 

Yet, despite the work ahead for trans activism, a look back at the history of the trans community shows there's much to celebrate in 2014.

Loni Shibuyama is an archivist at USC's ONE archives, one of the largest collections of LGBT materials in the world (view images from the archive in the slideshow above). She joined Take Two, along with Zackary Drucker, a trans woman, artist, and consultant on "Transparent," to highlight the issues trans people face, and the progress that has been made.


Why was 2014 a big year for trans issues?

LS: 2014 stands out in so many ways. The amount of stories that are out there now from transgender people representing themselves, but also the type of representation that’s out there. If you go back to the days of Maury Povich and Sally Jesse Raphael, you know, the only time you would see transgender people on TV, they would be on shows like that, and it would be very sensationalized representations, fetishized representations of trans experience.

I think 2014, we’re starting to see a major trend in showing transgender people telling their own stories, and talking about their authentic selves, and living their authentic lives openly.

ZD: I so appreciate what Loni said about talk shows of the 80s and 90s. I mean, that was my earliest exposure to gender non-conforming people, and it was a pretty destructive view.

I’m really sincerely hopeful that, with shows like “Transparent,” and public figures like Janet Mock, and Laverne Cox, and Laura Jane Grace, and this sort of flood of intelligent, self-actualized trans people, we’ll create a safer world for future generations.

Why is it important to preserve media depictions of transgender people?

LS: It shows that LGBT people didn’t just show up out of nowhere, they’ve been around for a really long time. And, the visibility we’re seeing now, especially in the transgender community, is the result of decades of activism, decades of building community networks that have gone largely under the radar for a long time.

ZD: There’s room for misperception that the trans experience is a new phenomenon. And being aware of one’s history sort of offsets the misperception that it could be a youth culture thing or that it’s new.

Being trans, there are so few representations. And if you don’t know that you exist, if you don’t know that there are people who came before you that sort of paved the path, then you feel like you’re sort of in a vacuum, or that you maybe don’t exist, or that you’re the only one. So, it’s sort of imperative, I think, that we have organizations and spaces that preserve a history that’s written in so few places.

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