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Transexuals - According to the dictionary, a transexual is: A person with the external genitalia and secondary sexual characteristics of one sex, but whose personal identification and psychosocial configuration is that of the opposite sex. Individuals whose minds are trapped in the body of the opposite sex.

With the exception of the likes of THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW, transexuals are rarely seen on television. When they did surface, scriptwriters in both TV and the movies placed them in roles that were less than stellar, like serial killers, crackheads and prostitutes.

Would it have killed them to depict transexuals as empathetic, sympathetic characters? Of course, not. But instead, they continually cast them in various freak shows of one sort or another or make them the comic brunt of an off-color joke.

However, with the recent broadcast of such programs as Showtime's "Soldier's Girls", A&E's "Role Reversal" and HBO's "Normal" the portrayal of transexuals are afforded a more generous understanding in the eyes of the viewing public.

To chronicle the appearance of transexuals in the medium, I have created the following list (select as it is) that cover instances of transexuality in television and the movies from the 1970s to the present.

TV Series & Movies

  • Myra Breckinridge FilmThe movie Myra Breckinridge (1970) starred Rex Reed as Myron Breckinridge who travels to Europe and, after partaking in a sex change operation, returns to America as a very sexy but man-hating Myra Breckinridge (Myron's widow). The film is based on the novel of the same name by Gore Vidal. Veteran actress Mae West also appeared as Leticia Van Allen, a sex-mad Hollywood agent.

  • The sci-fi comedy QUARK/NBC/1978 is one of the earliest examples of a TV show alluding to transexuality. On each episode, Tim Thomerson played Jean/Gene, a transmute who possesses a full set of both female and male chromosomes. Because of his unstable genetic makeup Jean/Gene would switch genders, accompanied by the expected reactions and emotional states.
  • The 1982 film The World According to Garp costarred actor John Lithgow in the role of Roberta Muldoon, a large muscular transexual woman who used to be a male football player. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by John Irving.

Roberta: I mean, I had mine removed surgically under general anesthesia. But to have it bitten off in a Buick...
Jenny Fields: It's lust!

  • Written, directed and narrated by Lee Grant, the documentary "What Sex Am I?" (1984) is a sensitive portrayal that features a female-to-male teacher who lost his job in the 1970s due to prejudice as well as interviews with other transgendered people who faced the typical problems of being a transexual in our modern society.
  • The NBC police comedy THE LAST PRECINCT (1986) featured Randi Brooks as Officer Mel Brubaker, a sexy, male-to-female transexual in a mini-skirt who worked at the 56th Precinct in Los Angeles where all the misfits and malcontents from the city's other precincts were dumped. The Brubaker character was the first transexual to appear in a recurring role on a prime time comedy series. The show only ran 8 episodes, leaving little time for any character development. The series pilot aired after Super Bowl XX. Adam West (of Batman fame) played the Precinct's oblivious commander, Captain Rick Wright. NOTE: The first recurring transexual character on American soaps was actress Carlotta Chang who played the role of Azure C./Lee Chen, a male-to-female transsexual supermodel from 1995-1996 on the ABC soap THE CITY.
  • Episode No 117 "The Outcast" (3/16/1992) on the sci-fi series STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION has Commander William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) fall in love with Soren (Melinda Culea), a member of the J'naii, an androgynous race. However, when Soren declares a preference of being female (which is forbidden in her society), a council of judges finds her guilty and brainwash/condition her back into the fold - much to the disappointment of Riker who had mounted a rescue mission to save Soren, only to find he/she no longer feels any thing towards him.
  • The film The Crying Game (1992) tells the tale of a British soldier who escapes his IRA kidnappers and later befriends a London hairdresser named Dil. Becoming romantically involved, Fergus soon discovers that the female he knows as Dil is actually a man. Dil is still loyal to Fergus while Fergus is just freaked out over the whole affair.
  • Armistead Maupin's 1993 PBS mini-series TALES OF THE CITY (based on his novel "A Man I Dreamt Up") depicts a group of San Francisco bohemians presided over by Mrs. Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis), a pot-smoking, transexual landlady who serves as an unlikely mentor to her young tenants. The series continued with MORE TALES OF THE CITY (1998) and FURTHER TALES OF THE CITY (2001).
  • The film Different for Girls (1996) features former Seventies schoolmates Karl Foyle (Steven Mackintosh) and Paul Prentice (Ropert Graves) who meet again in present-day London. But now Karl is called Kim, a postoperative female transsexual. Over time, Kim and Paul begin to fall in love but not without some trouble along the way.
  • The documentary You Don't Know Dick: Courageous Hearts of Transexual Men (1996) follow the story of Lyle, Max, Michael, Steven, Ted, and James, all of whom were born female. Sharing stories of childhood, friends, coworkers and parents, the transexual men express the joys and tribulations that they have experienced in their lives.
  • The film Boys Don't Cry (1999) starred Hilary Swank as a female-to-male transsexual name Brandon Teena who lived quietly and happily in a small Nebraska town until a friend learns that Brandon is actually a girl named Teena Brandon and betrays her secret with tragic results.
  • Brandi Wrestles FinchThe NBC series JUST SHOOT ME featured a story line in which Dennis Finch (David Spade) meets up with an old school chum named Bert only to discover that "he" is now a male-to-female transexual named Brandi (played by Jenny McCarthy on episode No 5-06 "Brandi, You're a Fine Girl" (11/16/2000). Brandi returned on episode No. 7-17 "There's Something about Allison" (7/12/2003) to escort Finch to their high school reunion. A similar plot was used earlier on the CBS series BECKER when Dr. John Becker (Ted Danson) receives phone calls from a woman he doesn't know, then ends up meeting her only to learn that the woman (Nicky) is actually a male childhood friend who had a sex change A surprised Becker tells his friend "You couldn't have just been gay like everyone else?" (Episode No. 29 "He Said, She Said" 11/1/1999).

  • During the fall sweeps in 2000, David E. Kelley's Emmy Award-winning comedy, ALLY MCBEAL featured a male-to-female transgender character in a three-part story arc that aired on Oct. 30, Nov. 6 and Nov. 13. The story followed Cindy, a transgender woman who hires Ally's law firm to sue her place of employment because she does not want to take a mandatory physical. Attorney Mark falls for Cindy not aware she was a transgender woman. When he learns, he becomes hostile, and dumps her. He later realizes that he loves her and wants to continue the relationship saying, "I can't see you as anything but a woman."  

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