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The success of shows such as Orange Is the New Black, Sense8, and Transparent mark a new era for trans representation on television, while Eddie Redmayne's performance as Einar Wegener in The Danish Girl is already being touted as Oscar-worthy. But while these have been praised for treating the story arcs of trans characters with accuracy and sensitivity, they remain infrequent successes. Across the media, the trans community remains hugely underrepresented.
"We're on the very forward edge of something, but I think we've overstated it," says writer and actress Jen Richards, reflecting on the notion of a trans tipping point in entertainment. "When you really look at the roles and the numbers, it's still pretty slim. We're still waiting for our Will & Grace moment...when a character just becomes a part of everyone's family, and is in their living room and just seen for who they are."
Richards is the producer, co-writer, and starring actress ofHer Story, a new web series that explores the dating lives of trans women. When she was putting the project together, Richards was keen to ensure that as much of the team as possible, from the director to the cast, were trans themselves, with the goal of making a show with the authenticity that's often lacking in some of the more mainstream portrayals of trans lives.
"Unless we have trans writers...those parts aren't going to be much better than the ones we've been given so far," says Richards. "I'd really like to see a pipeline develop for trans writers, directors, and producers so that we can create content that's a little bit more authentic to our experiences."
Historically, trans roles have often been limited to sex workers or addicts, and exploring original, more positive stories has been a focus of Richards's writing. Her previous projects include running multiple websites (she was co-founder and director of The Trans 100 and creator of WeHappyTrans.com) that worked toward improving trans visibility, and she would often receive letters from other trans people crying out for better representation in the media.
"Just seeing another trans person represented positively in the media, it gave them a sense of hope and purpose," says Richards. "When you look at the last 40 years of media and you see that trans women have only ever been jokes or tragedies, you internalize that. I just love the idea that someone who is coming of age now can say, 'I can be on magazine covers someday,' or 'I can be actress or director.' We're opening up all these different possibilities."
Richards hopes Her Story will be picked up by a network and transformed into a 10-episode series, with the current six episodes making up the pilot. It would allow her to explore many of the other experiences and stories of trans people that have yet to be told. "The range of trans identities is something that we've barely even scratched the surface of," says Richards. "And not just the negative stuff too. The resilience and the humor and creativity I see that abounds in any marginalized community, I think it's something really special."
Midway through Her Story, one of the characters, a cisgender journalist called Allie (Laura Zak), reads an excerpt from an article she's written about Richards's character, Violet, and trans life in Los Angeles. "It's less that the world has changed for trans people and simply that we're seeing them as people," she states in a beautifully delivered monologue. The hope now is that the mainstream media continue to do the same.
All six episodes of Her Story are now available for free viewing online at HerStoryShow.com. Click here to read about the West Coast premiere at Outfest in West Hollywood, which was followed by another screening at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach.