As a bisexual woman, a focus of my journalism career has been telling the stories of the queer community.

Whether it’s been an in-depth feature on someone’s transition right through to covering Wagga’s first Mardi Gras – I try to allow the person to shine through my words, so the article becomes more than the events listed.

But today I realised more than ever, while the world is improving there still needs to be an effort to shift ideologies and public policies, combined with more representation of trans people. As allies, we have a responsibility to push for this. 

After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Netflix recently released a new documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives On Screen.

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 Directed by Sam Feder, the film is an in-depth look at the media’s long, typically problematic, history with trans representation in the media.

It features interviews from Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Brian Michael Smith, Sandra Cladwell, Jamie Clayton Jazzmun, Chaz Bono, Candis Cayne, and several more famous trans/non-binary celebrities.

Grappling with films like Dog Day Afternoon, The Crying Game, and Boys Don’t Cry, and with shows like The L-Word, and Pose, they trace a history that is at once dehumanising, yet also evolving, complex, and sometimes humorous.

What emerges is a fascinating story of the dynamic interplay between trans representation on screen, society’s beliefs, and the reality of trans lives.

The movie asks the viewer to challenge the way they see trans people portrayed in the media and their own biases that come into play.

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 Some of the brains and fantastic talent behind the Disclosure joined Cerise Howard, writer and co-founding member of Tilde: Melbourne Trans & Gender Diverse Film Festival, for a Q&A on Saturday.

And the main takeaway for me personally was to challenge the storyline you see.

Director Sam Feder said there is a straightforward way to see whether or not the portrayal was at worst harmful or at best problematic.

“One easy trick when you are watching the show is to see if anything happens to that person that is not to do with them being trans,” he said.

While there have been many presentations of trans people I did not consider harmful because they were not the villain, I retrospectively realised their whole storyline was about being trans.

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 One of my favourite portrayals of a trans woman was Nomi Marks and thinking harder about it, I realised it was because she was a fully realised character.

You watched her thrive in a healthy, loving relationship. You watched her overcome challenges that were not related to being trans. You watched her find a second family and fight for them. You saw her get a happy ending.

And, to top it off Nomi is played by trans woman Jamie Clayton.

That is rare for trans characters. Even more unusual for trans characters of colour.

Despite thinking of myself as an ally, this morning proved that I can always learn and listen as to how I can better help the people around me in the fight for equality.

Another powerful message came from actress Alexandra Gray.

“I have to speak on behalf of girls who look like me… because we [black and trans women] get murdered a lot,” she said.

 Her comments were made in the context of how trans people need to have agency in the media and film industries to ensure accurate representations that do not perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

“It’s a matter of trans people having power,” said actress Jen Richards. “Trans people were not part of that equation, so it’s a matter of our agency and power in the system.”

But these are just two points – heavily summarised – in a list of complex issues that the documentary tackles.

Because even though you think you might know it all – there is always something to learn and we could all be better allies to our trans community. 

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