Welcome to the Media Review!

Though many may not realize that crossdressing and transgender characters have been present for a very long time first in print and then in the visual mediums, film and television.  We are to be found in the works of Virginia Wolfe, Shakespeare, Byron, Bronte, Twain, Tolkien in some form or other as well as in a myriad of more recent books.  The characters tend to be used mainly in comedy, but do exist in drama, thrillers, horror, and suspense. In this first Media Review article, we would like present some characters that you may or may not know or have forgotten about.  And since all things must have a place to start, the age of television seems to be a great place to begin. Fair warning there are spoilers ahead!

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the rise of television would expose a wider audience to different cultures, worlds, people, and ideas, as well finding new way to advertise.  The tradition of the trope man in a dress was still popular as a comedic prop. You could see “Uncle” Milton Berle in a dress telling jokes or Curly dressed as a woman in earlier Three Stooges shorts in syndication. Or in “McHale’s Navy”, someone dresses as a woman as part of a scheme.  In the United Kingdom, Monty Python’s Flying Circus has the male cast play various “pepper pot” ladies and other female characters. At the same time the movies show Gary Grant wearing a dress in” I was a Male War Bride” (1949) trying to sneak onto a ship or Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in “Some Like It Hot” (1958) hiding out from the mob as women musicians, or a movie like “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, where Alec Guinness plays the character of Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne among his 9 roles.

To this day they continue but in the 1970’s we begin to see more sympathetic characters as well as horrendous ones. But we will leave those ones alone.  We had Geraldine on “The Flip Wilson Show” or Maxwell Klinger on “M.A.S.H.” and even a show like “The Love Boat” had a transgender character (played by Mackenzie Phillips) in an episode where she and Gopher have a history prior to her transition and now what their friendship means.  On season 6 of “All in the Family” Archie saves the life of a passenger, Beverly LaSalle who Archie does not realize is a Drag performer, played wonderfully by Lori Shannon (nee Don Seymour McLean). She makes 2 more appearances and again there is the comedy of the situation, the character is shown to be a warm, confident and loyal friend.   In the movies, we have Chris Sarandon in “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) playing the love interest of Al Pacino and the catalyst for the story.   We may not be sympathetic to her boyfriend’s decision to rob a bank but we can at least understand his motives.  In “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976) Inspector Clouseau follows a suspect, Ainsley Jarvis the butler to a nightclub where it’s learned that he performs as a cross-dressing lounge singer, the song is sung by Julie Andrews.  Or we can look at Stan/Loretta in “Life of Brian” (1979) and though played for a laugh with her declaring that she wants to be a woman is shown to be accepted as still an important member of her group.

And then comes the 1980’s, on the small screen crossdressing or trans characters continue to show up in sitcoms, such as “Bosom Buddies” (1980-1982), a show that’s original premise is 2 men dressing as women in order to have a place to live.  Though their exploring of gender identity is eventually played down, I remember being very interested in what they would wear when “Buffy and Hildy” were on screen.  In TV drama, the ground breaking “Hill Street Blues” (1982-1987) had Alan Wachtel, an attorney later judge who is openly a crossdresser, played by Jeffrey Tambor. The character begins as stereotypical sleazy attorney and grows into a cynical by the book judge, but at least we are seeing someone willing to openly express despite the world around him.  It is in this time period, a Japanese Anime series appeared on television, called “Robotech” (1985), it was made up of 3 separate series but combined into one for American viewers. During the 3rd story arc, we meet Lancer, a soldier who disguises himself as Yellow Dancer, a popular female singer that is born out of necessity and by the end of the series, continues to perform as his alter ego.  There are many more characters like this in Anime that we hope to cover and introduce to our community.

On the big screen, some very memorable appearances occur in main stream comedies that inadvertently portray cross-dressing as necessity to survive.  Blake Edwards “Victor/Victoria” (1982) has Julie Andrews as Victoria, a woman posing as a gay man performing in drag in 1930s Paris. There are scenes showing other cross-dressers in the audience while Robert Preston performs “Gay Paree”.   Edwards showed a glimpse into a world that most people would have never have seen.  In “Tootsie” (1982) Dustin Hoffman is Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, an out of work actor who dresses to get a soap opera role, and experiences the trials and tribulations of being a woman in show business as well as in life.   A year later, Barbara Streisand plays a young woman passing herself off as man to get an education in “Yentl” (1983).  Her character refuses to except the gender roles assigned in her world and to find a way to forge her own path.  Cross-dressing is used once again as tool to achieve ones goals and brings attention to the restrictions in place to define our roles in society.

Never mind the 80’s here comes the 1990’s! There are 2 characters that I would like to mention from 90’s television.  The first is Steve Carey from “The Drew Carey Show” (1995-2004). Steve (John Carroll Lynch) was the straight crossdressing brother of the title character of the show.  Steve is comfortable being who they are and finds love. Though they remove the crossdressing in later episodes, it was someone who many had not seen before on television.   The other is Denise Bryson (David Duchovny, yes Fox Mulder) from “Twin Peaks” (1990-1991).  A former Drug Enforcement Administration Agent who worked with FBI agent Dale Cooper, in the past but sent to investigate allegations against him.  She tells Cooper about how working undercover as a crossdresser led to her dressing.  Dale’s acceptance of his friend’s new identity is refreshing.  She works to help clear Dale of the charges. All the while, she is taken seriously as an agent by Cooper and the local law.  She returns in “Twin Peaks” (2017) and has had a career advancement to FBI Chief of Staff along with coming out as a transwoman.

Ah the movies of the 90’s.  We will see drag queens, crossdressers, transmen and transwomen. In 1992, Neil Jordan’s “The Crying Game” was released.  A thriller with a twist about a Fergus Maguire (Stephen Rae), IRA member in Northern Ireland promises a British soldier prisoner, Jody (Forest Whitaker), that he will find tell Jody’s girlfriend back home what happened if he should die.  Not only does Fergus find Jody’s girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson) but falls for her as well. As you may guess the twist, Dil is a transwoman, hairstylist by day and performer by night. From there it is a story of the past catching up with Fergus and Dil.  The following year “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) is released with Robin Williams playing a failing actor in work and home dressing to become a nanny to his children.  It highlights, Williams’s incredible quick wit and acting skills for laughs and drama.  Eugenia Doubtfire is a smart, sassy woman who seems to take on a life of her own.    Then in 1994, Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” is released with Jonny Depp playing the title character.  Some of you may never have heard of Ed Wood, a b-movie director from the 50’s and 60’s who crossdressed. The movie has a fun scene that mimics, Wood’s “Glen or Glenda” as a tribute to the director.  As we get into the middle of the 90’s “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (1994) and “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar” (1995) both gave us the trope of buddy road movie. The first features Terrance Stamp/Guy Pearce/Hugo Weaving as Drag performers on a quest.  Stamp plays Bernadette a seen it all and bored transwoman but loyal to her performing partners, Felicia and Mitzi.  In “Too Wong Foo” we have A list actors Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo, and Wesley Snipes as drag queens travelling cross country to get to a contest in California and the adventure getting there. On the dramatic side, “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999) a biographical movie about Brandon Teena played by Hilary Swank maybe tough to watch but it is also showing that trans people exist. And then we come to today….

…. Of course, there are many we haven’t named or remembered and that is why we are counting on you.

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Michelle Liefde

Hey there, I am a member of CDH and wanted to show support to my sisters on our sister site.

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26 Comments
  1. Dasia Anderl 2 weeks ago

    Michelle and all, in my reseach on Bea Cordelia for my “Chasing Blue” play review I found something that complements Michelle’s Media review above. I found it on http://www.beacordelia.com and it’s an encyclopedic article chronicalling the 105 television appearances of trans women in America as of 2016 as reported by Autostraddle. Has analysis of the trend. It can be found at: https://www.autostraddle.com/105-trans-women-on-american-tv-a-complete-history-and-analysis-216732/

  2. Dasia Anderl 2 weeks ago

    Boy Meets Girl, 2014

    Funny and provocative, Boy Meets Girl vividly captures the giddy excitement, sexual heat, and inherent heartache of “non-traditional” love in a small town. Ricky (Michelle Hendley) is a 21-year-old trans girl living in Kentucky. Her only real friend, straight-laced Robby, has been her trusty, totally platonic, confidant for over 15 years. Her day job slinging lattes is merely a stepping-stone toward her goal of being a famous New York designer. She’s confident, cool, and completely ready for something new – and then her world is transformed when an enchanting debutante saunters into her life. Triggering fresh feelings and experiences, this unlikely connection conjures up intense questions about identity while uncovering ghosts from Ricky’s past. Indie-film veteran Eric Schaeffer (My Life’s in Turnaround, If Lucy Fell) builds a compelling, compassionate world that focuses on the emotions and messy challenges of complex people navigating complicated relationships. -excerpt from imdb.com

    My reaction to the film:

    I love this movie! It’s about a trans girl who has passing privilege and many of the coming of age difficulties she has. From having to work so many long hours to save money for bottom surgery, being best friends with an accepting guy, what school was like being the only trans girl there, what others, cisgender, people think of her once they realize she’s a young trans woman to falling in love and starting to discover that sexuality is fluid. As a proud pansexual I would love to assign her that but she never comes to a label conclusion. What’s incredible, actually, is that she doesn’t come to a label conclusion but that furthermore it just doesn’t matter to her. Labeling myself has been a position of power for me my entire life and I couldn’t fathom how to discuss such things with cis/het people without such labels! Maybe that’s what this younger generation is hinting at…these conversations shouldn’t be happening at all. I think these conversations, however, are valid. All the same I was enamored by Ricky’s grace under fire, her courage to be proudly herself, her forgiveness of cisgender abusers, and her fierce determination to not allow transphobia, homophobia or, and I found the film mildly biphobic but I’ll just posit this anyway, biphobia to dictate any of her paths in life.

    I highly recommend this film! I give it 4/5 stars due to slight bierasure and sometimes unconvincing acting.

    Here’s some trivia on the star, Michelle Hendley, who played Ricky:

    She is not a trained actress and was in Cosmetology school when cast as the lead in ”Boy Meets Girl (2014)”.
    Michelle grew up playing video games and reading comic books, and enjoys watching anime in her spare time.
    She was discovered from her YouTube channel (ChelleHendley), and filmed Boy Meets Girl (2014) while attending cosmetology school.
    Michelle was an aspiring animator before finding a career in film.
    Had no acting experience prior to being cast in ”Boy Meets Girl (2014)”.
    Lives in New York City.
    Grew up in Columbia, Missouri.

    • Author
      Michelle Liefde 2 weeks ago

      My wife and I enjoyed “Boy Meets Girl” a lot. We both thought Michelle did a great job for someone with no acting experience. My hope is to see more films in this vain showing transgender characters in everyday situations. I did notice that too about Ricky in regard to labels.

      • Dasia Anderl 2 weeks ago

        Oh great, I’m glad you two loved this one. I think it’s charming and just love it. I’ve found so much bierasure in my life. It’s like the gay, lesbian and straight people think it either doesn’t exist or it shouldn’t exist. Just last summer I had a cis/lesbian married couple ask me about my sexuality and gender as we kayaked a creek together. They actually asked me, after I came out as pansexual, why I just don’t consider myself a lesbian since I’m married to AFAB Non-Binary person! That was our first time meeting for a local meetup group. The chosen ignorance of the general public is astounding. Blows my mind!

    • Jennifer 1 day ago

      OMG, I loved “Boy Meets Girl”. A well done movie especially with such a low budget and a storyline that not only followed the life of a transgirl and those tribulations, but the good side too complete with “regular” relationships. I have to admit to being a big crybaby during several scenes particularly one when she was walking from the swimming hole, I sobbed seeing the courage and vulnerability… well I won’t spoil it for anyone else. My all time favorite transgender film for sure.

      I also thought “Soldiers Girl” was a great movie and a particularly believable storyline which also drove me to tears at the end.

      • Dasia Anderl 23 hours ago

        I’ll have to check out Soldiers Girl! I watched Princess Cyd today. It’s about a pansexual cd young cis woman and her summer lovers. Totally delightful!

  3. Dasia Anderl 2 weeks ago

    I just watched “Finding Kim” from 2016 on Hulu. It’s a documentary about a Transman named Kim and closely follows his transition and his top surgery. It has interviews with his surgeon, his friends and has small interviews with famous Trans people in America. Since Kim is from Seattle it also outlines how Seattle accepts the most and urges Dr. Drew urges Trans people to “clump up” or move to Seattle. He thinks that living together will help us have the most whole life. It was graphic in parts. I really enjoyed this one. It was honest, included a lot of our famous and not so famous community members, and was interesting to see how a Transman goes through transition.

  4. Dasia Anderl 3 weeks ago

    The Wachowski sisters are an incredible inspiration to me. Acclaimed writers and directors of The Matrix Trilogy in the 2000’s and later in the 2010’s with Cloud Atlas. After they came out and transitioned I can’t help but see Transgender themes in the Matrix Trilogy. A created mainstream toxic culture clashing with an expressive subculture eventually the two work out a peace treaty. Amazingly hopeful! I love the Matrix Trilogy!! Cloud Atlas, however, I just didn’t understand. Maybe someone can explain it to me. Btw, the Wachowski sisters worked in construction as they wrote the Matrix, then made it, wowed the world and now live much better lives as Hollywood elite. They’re a true rags to riches transgender story.

    • Author
      Michelle Liefde 2 weeks ago

      I am hoping to have something written on the Wachowski sisters on their works and themes. I am a big fan of Sense8. Cloud Atlas was interesting film and I am still digesting what I watched. Did not know that they worked construction, they truly are a success story.

  5. Dasia Anderl 3 weeks ago

    Well that was a fun informative trip through the decades! I really enjoyed that article. It was fun to remember most of it and learn of some characters I missed.

    Recently I watched the drama, Tangerine. It was about several non-white trans women working the streets as prostitutes in LA. One had just been released from prison. It was the story about a day in their lives. It was realistic, modern and a movie of our own. So rare, so poignant and well worth a watch! I found it positive in that it helped me to feel not so alienated. Something about not being alone in our common struggles that I find reassuring.

    Then there’s the Trans movies made by us that I’ve seen at Gender Reel. Most of those are documentaries and all are strikingly honest. Sometimes hard to watch as they all paint a realistic picture. Many from America but most are worldwide, which is enlightening, and tell the various trans stories of modern cultures.

    • Author
      Michelle Liefde 2 weeks ago

      Thanks Dasia! I really appreciate the feedback and the suggestions. I am trying to put a list together of films and books that are of interest to both TGH and CDH. So this awesome.

  6. Jennifer Reavis 3 weeks ago

    I adore Jazz, she been my idol since I’ve known about her for almost 3 years. anyways, the Wayan’s brothers in the ‘White Chicks’, Robin Williams in the ‘Bird Cage’, the lady from ‘Orange is the New Black’ are good movies and tv shows.

    • Author
      Michelle Liefde 2 weeks ago

      Thanks Jennifer! I have only recently heard about Jazz. The Birdcage was a fun movie in its day. And Laverne Cox was very good on Orange is the New Black.

    • Author
      Michelle Liefde 5 days ago

      hi Jennifer, I recently caught a few episodes of “I am Jazz”. Thanks for mentioning her to me. – hugs,
      Michelle

  7. Paige Turner 4 weeks ago

    That was a great list and it brought back a lot of memories. I was surprised to not see, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I hope it will make the next article. Now, we have Jazz Jennings (born October 6, 2000) who is an American YouTube personality, spokes-model, television personality, and LGBT rights activist. Jennings, a transgender woman, is notable for being one of the youngest … Jennings stars in the TLC reality TV series, I Am Jazz, which focuses on her life with her family as a teenager.
    I really enjoyed the article, and I hope Michelle will consider writing more.

    • Author
      Michelle Liefde 4 weeks ago

      Thanks Paige. I am glad you enjoyed the article. And great suggestion on Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I remember reading the book long before the movie came out, and enjoying both. Have not had a chance to watch I am Jazz but would be very interested in someone writing a review on the show. Our hope is that we will have a mixture of both old and new books, film, and tv series that we may not all be aware exists. So stay tuned….

    • Dasia Anderl 2 weeks ago

      Ah, the Lady Chablis…now I’m going to have to watch Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil again

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