It will likely come as little surprise to any of my regular readers that I am a great fan of the Doctor Who franchise (I watched the old Tom Baker episodes in reruns when I was a child; I recall being terrified by one episode in which the Doctor was menaced by robotic mummies on the planet Mars).
Anyways, this evening I was watching the latest episode (which was about an alien cyborg gunslinger attacking a town in the Old West–have I mentioned that I love the premises of this series?) when I saw a throw-away gag which amused me:
As the Doctor mounted a horse, the town preacher informed him that the steed’s name was “Jacob,” causing the horse to whinny plaintively. Now, for those of you who have not seen the series, it turns out that, through advanced technology, the Doctor can understand all forms of communication, so he interrupted the preacher and said: “No it’s not! I speak horse; his name is ‘Susan’ and he wants you to respect his life decisions!”
So okay: transsexual horse gag; and the doctor gets the pronouns wrong (though the joke wouldn’t have worked otherwise). But still; as the episode progressed it became apparent that
1) The Horse was actually a useful character.
2) The Horse had a personality outside of being trans (namely, the normal personality of a horse in a western story)
3) The Horse was not tragic; nor did she die at the end.
4) The Horse was not a prostitute or a serial killer (though you probably would have guessed that yourself)
5) While her transsexuality was used as a punchline, this is not the be-all-and-all of her character, and the Doctor treated it sympathetically.
6) The plot did not revolve around her transsexuality.
In other words, I think that Susan the Horse actually comes close to satisfying all of the relevant criteria on the list I compiled last week.
Isn’t it sad, then, that one of the most respectful portrayals of a transsexual character that I have ever seen on television is the goddamn horse in a Doctor Who episode?