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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

ABC's Dirty Sexy Money: First transsexual character on prime time played by transsexual actor

Here's a cultural first. ABC's new prime time show, Dirty, Sexy Money, is the first to have a main character who is transsexual, played by an actor who is transsexual. The show is about an idealistic lawyer who inherits the job of tending to the legal (and sometimes illegal) needs of the absurdly wealthy Darlings of New York City. Although I rarely watch television, I watched the premiere this evening, and I must say, I was enthralled by the show, and Candis Cayne's performance as Carmelita. She's perfect for the role. Her history also demonstrates some important realities about transsexuals in the workplace.

She discusses her history in detail in an interview on televisionwithoutpity.com. She said: "I knew I could never be an actor as a man. It just doesn't work, you know? And so when I was doing drag, I realized I could do that kind of stuff, and then when I was transitioning, I kind of gave up on the whole thing because I didn't think that this time would ever come, you know?"

This sums up the position that many transsexual people face, and I myself had the same feeling about teaching law. I thought that it would be impossible to get a job, and that I'd wind up working as a secretary for the rest of my life. But I was wrong, thankfully.

Candis' character on the show, too, demonstrates the type of situations that transsexuals face in relationships. Her character is wooed by a powerful (and married) man who is the Attorney General of New York State, and is slated to run for the U.S. Senate. She goes to find him at a party, and he is shocked to see her there. He tells her that it is very dangerous to meet him like that, lest he be discovered with her. She dramatically tells him "You can't just tell someone you love them and then disappear for a month." I loved this scene, because it is all too ubiquitous in the life of a transsexual. Been there, done that, and that is all the professor is going to say on that subject. And I loved the next line, after he tells her to book a room at a local hotel and he'll come when he's done there. "Yes you will," she declares in a sexy contralto. This push-me-pull-u dialectic is true-to-life when I think of my experience and those of people I've known.

William Baldwin expressed, unconsciously, another true-to-life dynamic that haunts the lives of transsexuals, even an incredible looker like Cayne, when he said in a recent interview: "I just thought it was different and exciting, and I'm very interested in pursuing that storyline and seeing how people are going to react to it. I'd love to have that character coming in and out of Patrick's life, at least during the first season."

The writing is smart, funny and sexy. That's why she's perfect for the part. Seems well worth staying up past my bedtime to watch. She also gives a wonderful YouTube interview describing her background and history. MSNBC has a good article on her journey, and her relationship with star William Baldwin.

P.S. I got a note from a friend that read as follows: "We too thought the show was entertaining, until we heard the dreaded, ugly words come out of Peter Krauss's mouth; "tranny hooker!" We were shocked and angry that, once again, the TV network writers used a member of our community in a derogatory, dismissive and ugly way, reinforcing a negative stereotype of a sex worker. They even went so far as to technically and audibly lower her voice, so there was no question that "she was a he." I have written GLAAD, in hopes that they too will respond to the network, expressing our community's displeasure and outrage that once again, we are perceived and stereotyped as a negative caricature, and this has to stop."

She's got a point there, and I think it's worth mentioning. However, on the other hand, there are a few mitigating factors. First, letting a transsexual play a transsexual as a recurring character on a prime time TV show demonstrates progressive forward movement in positive transgender media exposure. Second, the "tranny hooker" label was specifically rejected by the text, when William Baldwin's character repeatedly explains that she is not a hooker. The clear impression is given that Peter Krauss's character, who is a supposedly ultra-liberal cause lawyer, is, in fact, more narrow-minded and prejudiced than the supposedly conservative Senator. Frankly, I've noticed the same thing in real life. Some supposedly ultra-liberal left-wingers I know reject transgender identity as some sort of faux-feminist plot, whereas very some conservative right-wingers I know are totally fine with it. As far as lowering her voice, my take on that was that it was important for viewers to understand that Carmelita is a transsexual, and Cayne's appearance is so feminine that a good many might have missed that. -- JTW


Anonymous said...

"Cayne's appearance is so feminine that a good many might have missed that."

That's actually how I found this blog; I was thinking, "damn, that's a hottie, is that really a transexual?" So I googled to find out the name and stumbled upon this.

shelleybear said...

The show almost lost me at that point.
But it was useful, in that it showed just how repulsive the word(s) can be.