More than 80 percent of the U.S. population has never knowingly met a transgender person. As a writer, director, and trans man living in Los Angeles, it has become increasingly clear to me that a majority of Americans generate their understanding of our community through media representation.
When I was a kid and thought of a man, I was like most other people who are familiar with that guy, a.k.a. the omnipresent character on television and in the movies: straight, white, and cisgender (meaning one’s personal identity and gender correspond with their birth sex). As Hollywood battles the systemic lack of diversity on- and off-screen, I believe it is incredibly important that we also challenge the dominant typecasting and narratives that have defined our understanding of what makes a good story.
According to a GLAAD report, the inclusion of LGBTQ characters in major studio releases last year was at an all-time low — in fact, “there were zero transgender-inclusive films from the major studios in 2017.” So why is it that the entertainment industry, which has thankfully increased the presence of other underrepresented communities, has not furthered positive representations of the LGBTQ community on the big screen? Heck, on any screen?
These questions go right to the heart of what we are now facing as a society, as we wrestle with gender norms and how we can treat each other with more respect. It is unrealistic to think that we can change the demographics and personalities of the typical Hollywood cast and crew while letting traditional gender stereotypes still dominate our scripts and screenplays. That said, I urge future content creators to rethink what constitutes the “archetypal” male or female character, especially as entertainment continues to leave such a large imprint on our daily lives.
It is for these reasons that I am co-creating Agent of Change, a short-form episodic digital series-in-the-making about a secret agent—who just happens to be a trans man—fighting crimes in the food industry. The show reimagines one of the most recognizable male archetypes in the history of film, the sleek superspy (think James Bond), through the eyes and revamped machismo of the lead male character, Guy Longoni.
Not only is our hero on a mission to save the future of food, he is also on a mission to save humanity, one gender stereotype at a time. By reimagining this classic male protagonist, we aim to probe the narrow expectations society uses to define masculinity and, with a humorous tone about serious matters, provide a positive role model for men to emulate.
By including transgender lead characters, played by actual transgender men, including Agent of Change co-creator and actor Shaan Dasani, we may be positively influencing millions of Americans through progressive media representation. Considering that, according to a report put out by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force, one in three transgender or gender-nonconforming K-12 students has likely experienced a physical assault due to gender identity, we may also be saving lives.
Moreover, positive representation matters socially. It allows those represented to dream of a world in which they matter, and it helps us see value in the parts of ourselves that overlap with the celebrated parts of others. This is true for any group who is underrepresented and/or misrepresented in the media. Positive representation breeds hope, which leads to possibility, and possibility creates a world in which people contribute their best selves to society because authenticity means more than just being you; it means loving yourself.
These days, transgender role models like Laverne Cox grace the covers of magazines and use their media presence to bring awareness to issues that impact the transgender community greatly. This includes disproportionately high suicide rates, the obscene rate of violence against trans women of color, and the fact that there is no census data that would help policymakers understand how best to improve the lives of trans people.
Being responsive to the needs of underrepresented communities means using the power you have to effect change where you are. For those of us who create media content, this is an important point to remember when making decisions about the types of characters and actors who land on our screens.
Transgender Americans and the larger LGBTQ community need to see positive images to help us love ourselves, but we’re not the only ones watching. Positive representation teaches others how to love us too, and that is incredibly valuable.
MIKKI DEL MONICO is a writer, director, and lifelong storyteller who is currently co-creating Agent of Change and writing a political workbook. His feature film debut, Alto, earned many accolades and is currently available on Amazon, iTunes, and other VoD platforms. He’d like to help create a world in which art is as important as commerce and gender is just another dimension of self-expression.