Inspired by this post by Dil Wickremasinghe, I thought I would write a bit about depictions of the transsexuality in the media.
I don’t live in Ireland, so I’ve not seen the advertisement in question. However, as a transwoman, I can certainly agree that the overwhelming majority of mass-media depictions of transsexual characters can charitably be described as ‘leaving alot to be desired.’
Most of them are played for laughs– the ‘men in frocks’ to whom you refer. Honestly, I don’t necessarily find these offensive; for example, “Some Like it Hot” is one of my favourite movies, but in that case, I think that a lot of the humour stems from the extreme awkwardness of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis’s rather macho characters being forced to blend-in as women*. Where such depictions do become offensive, however, is when the assumption is made that a male-bodied person in a dress is funny simply because (s)he is a male-bodied person in a dress. For example, the pilot episode of “Big Bang Theory” has Sheldon and Leonard mention their former neighbour, a “two hundred pound transvestite with a skin condition.” That’s the only joke. I assure you, it’s a great deal less funny after the third or fourth time that a man screams obscenities at you in public because you don’t “pass” well enough.
When our lives are not being stepmined for their ‘comedy’ potential, we’re usually being murdered on screen. This can take one of two different forms; we can be the throw away victims in procedural dramas (i.e, the raped and beheaded corpses of transsexual prostitutes can turn up by the docks, so that our gritty, alcoholic detectives can reflect on the tragic loss of human life while swigging from their hip flasks), or as rather one-note characters who are too beautiful for this sinful Earth (and end-up dying anyway, usually horribly**).Of course, even that is, arguably, better than being depicted as depraved serial killers…
Failing that (or sometimes overlapping with it), the transsexual experience is either used as a metaphor for some other aspect of the Human condition, or to examine the interplay between gender and conceptions of identity (in much the same way that I would use black holes to exam the interplay between gravity and quantum mechanics). Almost entirely missing from the equation, of course, are depictions of transsexual characters in which we’re just kind of there, living our lives the way normal people do, without the work necessarily having to centre around ideas of gender identity in any meaningful way.
*Although it’s worth pointing out that the early 2000s remake/tribute/rip-off, Connie and Carla, which reversed the gender roles, was a great deal less funny.
**This is a sizable chunk of the reason for which I can’t decide whether I loved or hated A Game of You.