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Why it's Important to have Realistic Representation of Trans People's Lives in Mainstream Culture

Published: 18 April 2019 Tags: By Emma Underwood

As we consume any form of media, we also absorb information. We learn about people and issues outside of our own experience, and we broaden our understanding of the world around us. This evening, the long running soap Emmerdale will air an incredibly important episode, as Matty Barton, a character played by actor Ash Palmisciano undergoes top surgery. Both Matty and Ash are trans men, and the introduction of this character to such a popular TV show has absolutely highlighted the importance of good representation of trans people in the media.

Matty’s story echoes the experiences of many trans men in the UK. As we see him navigate old relationships and the complexities of surgery, we gain an insight into a life that’s rich with love and affection, even if it encounters some difficulties. “It’s the start of his life”, Ash Palmiscano has said – and this can be true for many trans men and non binary people undergoing top surgery. The relieved dysphoria and the freedom from a part of their body that has historically caused them discomfort means that they can continue onwards, towards a happier and more confident existence.

When we look at media portrayals of trans lives, there is unfortunately little to celebrate. We are often depicted poorly and inaccurately, and commonly by cis actors who do not share our gender. But when trans characters are done well, they can be phenomenally compelling, moving, and funny. Be they Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black, Annie Wallace as Sally St. Claire in Hollyoaks or indeed Ash Palmisciano as Matty in Emmerdale, for trans people to be able to see accurate representations of ourselves is crucial to establishing confidence in ourselves and in our identities. It shows that we are not alone, that there are others out there going through the same issues we are, and that ultimately, our struggles, our lives, are simply normal.

The stories we consume have a direct impact on how we see the world. The better the representations of trans people in media are, the better society will perceive us. Our stories are complex and multifaceted, full of comedy, love, and tragedy – just like every story out there.

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