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Janet Mock's powerful directorial debut shows why representation matters.

Her episode of 'Pose' sidestepped the tired trans tropes we've come to expect.

Janet Mock's powerful directorial debut shows why representation matters.

If you're not watching FX's "Pose," you're missing out.

The show, an '80s-era drama centered on New York City's ballroom culture and the HIV/AIDs crisis, made a lot of news when it was first announced. To tell a story about transgender people, creator Ryan Murphy did something novel: He hired trans actors, writers, and directors. Trans actresses MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar, and Angelica Ross landed starring roles. Our Lady J and Janet Mock, who are also trans, serve as writers and producers on the series.

Ryan Murphy poses with Janet Mock, Dominique Jackson, and MJ Rodriguez during VH1 Trailblazer Honors 2018. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for VH1 Trailblazer Honors.


You might be asking yourself what's so remarkable about a collection of trans people telling trans stories. The answer is sadly simple: It's a rare thing to see, even as storylines about trans people seem to be on the rise.

With this week's episode, Janet Mock made history as the first trans woman of color to write and direct an episode of TV.

That's a pretty big accomplishment! Her episode, "Love is the Message," included a scene in which [very mild spoiler] one of the characters comes out as trans to another. It's a scene that's been done many, many times before, but never with as much nuance as Mock's direction and Moore's acting showed here. There's a fine line between sincerity and exploitation involved in this scene, but the combined lived experience involved in its creation steered the narrative back toward the sweet.

"Everything I can’t have in this world is because of what I have down there," says Moore's character, referring to her genitals. "If you really want to know who I am, that is the last place you should look."

The episode's gotten largely positive reviews, as has the show itself.

Janet Mock attends the 2017 Forbes Women's Summit. Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images.

Representation matters, especially for trans people.

Most Americans don't personally know a trans person — at least that they know of. When people don't know a member of a marginalized community, they're less likely to be supportive of that community. Part of what led to so many breakthroughs in gay rights over the past 25 years has to do with the fact that 65% of Americans currently have a close friend or family member who identifies as gay or lesbian. This is precisely what makes the fight for trans rights such a tough battle.

A 2017 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that just 21% of Americans had a close friend or family member who was transgender. To put that in context, that's roughly the same percentage of the population that knew a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person in 1993. The relative unfamiliarity with trans people makes it that much more important that people's exposure to trans people and issues — coming largely from news and entertainment media — is accurate.

Poor representation can reinforce inaccurate stereotypes.

There's a real aversion to letting trans people tell their own stories, such as the recent casting of Scarlett Johansson in the role of Dante "Tex" Gill, a trans man. While Johansson's gotten a lot of backlash for taking the role and for her flippant statement in defense of it ("Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment," read a message from her representative, citing other cisgender [non-trans] actors who've played trans roles), there's one aspect that's not often addressed. When cis men are cast as trans women (as Tambor, Leto, Eddie Redmayne, and Matt Bomer have all done in recent years) or cis women are cast as trans men (as Johansson is doing here or Hilary Swank did in 1999's "Boys Don't Cry"), it buttresses the inaccurate image people have of trans people as simply men pretending to be women and women pretending to be men.

How do we know this is the case? For one, because multiple trans actors have gone on record to say they were passed up for trans roles for not "looking trans enough." If a trans man doesn't "look trans enough" and the answer is to hire a woman to play him, it's because society falsely believes that trans men are women; the same goes for society's belief that trans women are men. When someone says a trans woman doesn't "look trans enough," they're saying that they expect her to be more masculine. When someone says a trans man doesn't "look trans enough," it's because they expect him to look more feminine. To be sure, there absolutely are trans women who err on the masculine side of things and trans men who embrace femininity, but this stereotype is inaccurate, narrow, and holds back progress.

GLAAD's Nick Adams is joined by Alexandra Billings, Laverne Cox, Shadi Petosky, Jill Soloway, and Rhys Ernst at the organization's "Transgender Trends on TV" panel in 2017. Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

Throughout history, a lot of movies and shows have been made about groups without their involvement. They haven't aged especially well.

Go back and watch 1961's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and you'll see what I'm talking about. Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi was little more than an offensive Asian caricature. Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones eating monkey brains is another moment that'll make you cringe. Even Greg Serano's portrayal of Enrique (actually, more the way Reese Witherspoon's Elle Woods interacts with him) in 2001's "Legally Blonde" isn't aging especially well less than two decades later. Adam Sandler and Kevin James's 2007 dud "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" came off as homophobic at the time — and has only gotten worse since.

Daniela Vega starred in "A Fantastic Woman," and was the first trans actress to present an award at the Oscars. Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images.

We already know that movies like "Ace Ventura," "Glen or Glenda," and "The Crying Game" don't stand the test of time. The question is whether creators want to make work they can be proud of 20 years from now. Trans people are everywhere, and there's really no reason not to include them in the creative process. If not for the sake of accuracy, creators should consider the lasting power of their art.

Daniela Vega played the lead in "A Fantastic Woman," the winner of the 2018 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Laverne Cox was twice nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series at the Emmys for her role on "Orange is the New Black." Shadi Petosky created the Emmy-winning Amazon series "Danger & Eggs." There's a lot of trans talent out there both in front of and behind the camera.

Janet Mock's powerful directorial debut is only the latest example of trans people kicking ass in the entertainment world.

Janet Mock attends the Brooklyn Artists Ball 2017. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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