Researchers at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism claim the following:
Watching transgender characters on fictional TV shows has the power to influence attitudes toward transgender people and policy issues.
The research was published in the Springer Journal Sex Roles and further highlights the ways political ideology shapes viewer responses to transgender depictions in entertainment.
The researchers found that the June 2015 episode of Royal Pains, which featured Nicole Maines in her acting debut portraying a transgender teen, did more to promote positive attitudes about transgender people and policies toward us than news events.
Beyond the impact of the Royal Pains episode, the study is the first to demonstrate the effect of cumulative exposure to transgender portrayals, across multiple shows. The more shows featuring transgender characters (such as Amazon's Transparent and Netflix's Orange is the New Black) that viewers saw, the more transgender-supportive their attitudes. Viewing two or more transgender storylines reduced the association between viewers' political ideology and their attitudes toward transgender people by half.
While media visibility of transgender people reached new levels in recent years, little has been known about the effects of that visibility. Our study shows the power of entertainment narratives to influence viewers' attitudes toward transgender people and policy issues.
--Traci Gillig, lead author
Watching TV shows with nuanced transgender characters can break down ideological biases in a way that news stories may not. This is especially true when the stories inspire hope or when viewers can relate to the characters.
--Erica Rosenthal, Annenberg Norman Lear Center
There's still a lot of misconceptions about who trans people are. There are so many representations of us being victims or predators. They influence the way in which policies are made, so it's so crucial that we have representations on television that are diverse, that represent the full humanity of trans people. We have to tell these stories better, because lives are on the line.
More actors like Cox might be there too, if the few transgender roles went to trans actors, and if trans actors were allowed to play non-transgender characters. Like, for example, the non-trans role Transparent's Alexandra Billings will play on the second season of Amazon's Goliath.
Things are changing. We certainly have to have more of the dialogue, but Hollywood is starting to take notice.
Ultimately, Billings wants to see all references to LGBTQ disappear.
The label is for people who don't identify that way, so you all can have some place to put us.
Someday, she hopes, we'll all just be in one container: human.