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Transsexuals in popular culture

Recent Hollywood portrayals and fictional dramatizations have boosted the national visibility and humanity of transsexuals

John Ireland

Transsexuality has been on the American radar just over half a century. On December 1, 1952, the New York Daily News splashed the headline, Ex-GI Becomes Blond Beauty.” Christine (née George) Jorgenson returned from Europe after serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and taking a detour to Denmark. Although the operation was heralded as the first sex-reassignment surgery, such operations had taken place since the 20s. Jorgenson became an immediate sensation and was interviewed on radio and television, becoming a willing spokesperson for transsexual awareness. Before she died in 1989, Jorgenson said she had given the sexual revolution a good swift kick in the pants.” 

Hollywood’s recent portrayals of transgender” characters have focused on the rejection and violence that is all-too-common in transexuals’ daily lives. In 1992, The Crying Game used artful camera work to elicit a shocking cinematic effect revolving around misperception and passing” as the opposite sex. Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Soldier’s Girl (2003), and A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story depict real-life murders of transgender people.

Fictional dramatizations have boosted the national visibility and humanity of transsexuals. Tom Wilkinson plays a man who comes out” as a male-to-female transsexual in Normal (2005) and Felicity Huffman portrays a transitioning male-to-female transsexual in Transamerica (2006). The cable television documentary series TransGeneration (2005) follows four college students in various stages of transitioning. Broadcast television’s ABC daytime drama All My Children introduced a transgender character, as well, in 2006. Moving from cinema to television movie, cable to broadcast television, transgender issues are permeating the American popular culture, bringing a message of tolerance and acceptance.

John Ireland covers progressive politics and social dynamics in the United States, exploring democracy in action.” He has been published in numerous periodicals, including Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Baltimore Sun and the Advocate.
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