While visibility and diverse representation are important parts of, they’re not the end of the story. How and what is publicly presented and depicted about transness is an important aspect, too. It has already been touched upon the normative ideas that come along with transness and how they do harm to people who live up to them, as well as the coinciding in/visibility and also hypervisibility and how they relate to violence and harassment.
All of these are important to discuss in a mainstream that is adamantly interested in accurate representation. It seems only logical that trans people should also have a say in cultural productions about trans identities, e.g. newspaper articles, movies and art, as has been recently pointed out by Reina Gossett. She did extensive research on Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans activist in the Stonewall Riots, and created a documentary about Marsha’s life (“Happy Birthday, Marsha!”). In the meantime, another film producer, David France, published a documentary “The life and death of Marsha P. Johnson” on Netflix. Gossett accuses France of having used parts her material and research and hired her staff as producer for his film. France denies this and points out that both have been in contact to secure that their films are sufficiently different from each other. Put aside what really happened, these kinds of situations happen so often, that one cannot but see a structural element to this. Marginalised persons too often do not get the chance to tell their stories. Thus, it remains important not only that trans stories are depicted and told but that they get the chance to tell them themselves, as reporters, artists, film makers, producers, authors etc. In an interview, conducted in 2015, Gossett says :
‘We’re in this moment where so much of trans representation is not written by us, or the stories that cis people tell are designed for a cis audience. We’re never the intended people in the movie theatre. ‘
Gossett’s statement highlight how the intended audience is also vital for cultural productions, and following her argument, it is also not enough that trans people are depicted ( often actually by cis people, instead of trans actors) in a way that matches expectations of cis people. Or worse, further fostering and stabilising normative assumption on transness. This development, cis people (or generally more privileged people) capitalising on trans stories and experiences (or other marginalised, underprivileged positionalities) for other cis people, is downright harmful and also very much connected to modern ideas of art production, as Grace Dunham puts it very plainly:
‘For a long time, a bunch of old assholes acted like the artistic position was one of distance and removed objectivity. But the work of so many radical trans artists and women of colour artists has shown us that so often, we can’t separate who we are from the art we make.’
This idea, that those who are affected by some form of discrimination e.g. cannot provide an informed, interesting perspective on their reality, in scientific or cultural productions, delegitimises these people and their work and is a common misconception of objectivity that is especially nonsensical in art and culture. (Also following that line of argument, only cis white heterosexual men could ever be objective, also: can there ever be a perspective that is purely objective?) We delve into love stories, we are touched by personal accounts of history and experience, so why not put those in charge that actually live them?
All quotes are to be found in this article: http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/28653/1/happy-birthday-marsha-say-her-name
More information on the case of Reina Gossett: