Friday, February 23, 2007

Black Transgender TV Characters

Back in 2000 when GLAAD was crowing about the TV show Ally McBeal having a transgender character, I pointed out the Edith Stokes character from The Jeffersons was missing from their list. As usual when it comes to matters of people of color GLAAD was silent about that.

And that ain't the only one.

African-American transgender characters are not a new phenomenon. They've been on television for a while and you can probably consider Flip Wilson's Geraldine Jones as the first one. On Thursday nights from 1970 to 1974 I would tune in to The Flip Wilson Show so that I could see the latest antics of the sassy wise-cracking Geraldine. I loved to see her utter her famous line 'what you see is what you get' and professing her love for her boyfriend 'Killer'.

Interestingly enough one of the shows that was on opposite Flip was All In The Family, which had the Beverly LaSalle character on for three episodes.

In 1977 came the 'Just A Friend' episode aired during The Jeffersons fourth season. We get to see George happily anticipating the arrival in New York of his old Navy buddy Eddie Stokes that he hasn't seen in 25 years.

He discovers when he arrives at the hotel that Eddie has transitioned and is now Edith (played by Young and the Restless actress Veronica Redd).

George initially thinks that it's a prank since his former bunkmate has a rep as a practical jokester. But when he comes to the realization that Edith is not joking about this subject he gets uncomfortable, rejects her and storms out of the room.

He returns home and discovers he's in hot water with Louise who doesn't believe his story.  She called the hotel and discovered that the room was registered to Edith Stokes and suspects that George is having an affair. George goes to the desperate measure of having Leroy, one of his employees dress in bad drag trying to impersonate Edie after he fails to locate her.

Edie shows up at George's apartment and Louise is skeptical until Edie validates her identity by reciting a line from the letters that Louise used to write to George during his time in the Navy. They end the episode with George accepting his friend and her playing a practical joke on George that results in him getting dunked with water.

That episode was groundbreaking at the time in terms of the accurate depiction of some of the emotions that transpeople deal with when Edie was explaining her transition. It shouldn't have been a surprise to me since it was a Norman Lear produced show and a spinoff from All In the Family. They were aware of the issues thanks to the Beverly LaSalle episodes. It was just the first time it was done with an African-American character and show cast.

RuPaul from 1996-1998 hosted a talk show on VH-1 and has done cameo roles on a few television shows as well during the 90's.

The CW show All of Us during its first season featured Tyra Banks playing a transwoman in the 'O Brother Where Art Thou?' episode aired on February 24, 2004. It was an episode in which she played Dirk's estranged brother Tyrone.

She shows up at the TV station and revealed that she was now Roni. I didn't like the way that one was handled because the Roni character she played came off as stereotypical and cartoonish.

Barbershop: The Series debuted on Showtime August 14, 2005 and for six episodes Sheryl Lee Ralph played Claire, a woman that Eddie meets in a local bar.

Things progress very quickly and Claire tells him not long after they would up in bed that she is a transwoman.

The delicious part about it was that Eddie was forced to confront the homophobic statements he'd been spouting from his barber chair. Over those episodes you get to watch Claire and Eddie attempt to resolve the unique issues that crop up in that relationship.

While Veronica Redd and Sheryl Lee Ralph have done the best job in my opinion of a realistic portrayal of what we go through, I'm greedy.

I want and need to see a show that's willing to do a realistic African-American transgender character. Additionally I'd like that character to not be a one shot deal, killed off in the first ten seconds and be part of a soap or drama series. Is that too much to ask for? Then again I may have to write that character on my own.

Yo Hollywood, hit me up on my e-mail when you're ready for a realistic transgender character with soul.

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