Friday, 23 October 2015

The missing transmen of TV.

Tatiana Maslany, I love you. You are wonderful and gifted, a charming and charismatic actress and the star of one of my favourite television shows. You're the heart of Orphan Black, which is consistently such a fantastic and intelligent shows... and yet, I have a complaint. Not about you, per se, but about the clones in your television show.

I have a complaint about Tony Sawicki.

Tony is a fantastic character. He's got a criminal record and seems far less trustworthy than our morally ambiguous heroine, Sarah Manning. He's feisty and flirtatious, and wields his crooked smile like a weapon. And he's trans, bucking the trend of his family of clones by not being mirror images of the others. The girls can freak out over their identical faces whenever they meet each other, but not Tony. Strong and stoic, he's already different from them, and he wears his difference with pride.

My problem is not with Tony: it is with the absence of him. For Tony only appears in one episode in Season 2 of Orphan Black, Variable and Full of Perturbation. That's the lowest appearance count of any clone who isn't currently deceased, and so one of the only transmen on television is cut out of the show entirely except for one token appearance, which could cynically been seen as existing just to highlight how inclusive and progressive Orphan Black is. Tony appears in a whirlwind, shares a brief kiss with Felix, then disappears from the narrative and is promptly forgotten about.

I won't even make my usual gripes about a cisgender actor portraying a transgender character, as Tony's status as a clone means it makes sense for him to share an actor with the others. That's how much I appreciate Tony. He's an example of positive representation of a transperson who actually has a character that revolves around something other than his gender: he's not a patient saint whose presence makes others better people, nor a walking ball of angst. He's Tony, transient and flighty, and we're just getting to know him when he leaves.

Tony's absence from the show is symptomatic of the missing transman characters in the rest of television, and pop culture at large. Our representations of trans* people are Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Caitlyn Jenner. In the UK we have Rebecca Root, Bethany Black and Paris Lees too, beautiful women who don't or can't speak for whole swathes of the community.

Non-binary or genderqueer representation in the media isn't much better: I can think of Jack Monroe, Laurie Penny, Miley Cyrus and Ruby Rose, all AFAB people with fabulous stories but whose stories and struggles are still not the same as the AMAB people who don't connect with their gender. The only one I can think of is Andreja Pejic, who first appeared in fashion magazines presenting as a male model in the women's fashion industry, though obviously this is a false recollection as she is actually a transwoman.

So what I want from Orphan Black is for Tony to come back, to be more than just an interlude in the tightly woven plot. And from the media in general, I want more transboys, and kids who are neither male nor female. Give me a Project Castor clone who wears dresses and identifies as they; give me men cross-dressing as women with no shame or transmisogynistic jokes; and please, for the love of all that is holy, give me a transman portrayed by a transgender man actor.