Trans representations in soap

So So Gay, UK  Posted by: Pete Boon in TV 29 May 2013

Television soap operas in the UK have kept us gripped for over 52
years. With their mix of relationship dramas, family problems,
rivalries, conflicts, affair and even murders, soaps provide an escape
from our own lives. Yet, despite this sensationalistic portrayal,
soaps in the UK (unlike their American counterparts) are grounded in
the realities of day-to-day life.

But how accurately do our soaps represent the people who make up
day-to-day life in modern Britain? As So So Gay explores Trans
Awareness as our theme this month, it is worth considering how much
our soap operas reflect every aspect of our society – including our
trans friends. Last month, when considering LGBT portrayal in comedy,
we noted that the BBC had launched the Trans Comedy Award in order to
encourage more positive representation of the trans community in
comedy. But what about soaps? Do they portray this part of society
accurately enough, or do they need similar encouragement?

The first UK soap to feature a regular trans character is the soap
that we have to thank for the 52 years plus of soaps mentioned in the
opening of this article. Coronation Street was the first UK soap opera
on TV and is by far our longest-running. For years, it has been
considered to be our most traditional and old-fashioned soap.
Therefore, it was a huge surprise to UK viewers when Coronation Street
first introduced Hayley Patterson
<http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ Hayley_cropper> in 1998 – a character
with a secret.

Hayley was initially introduced with relatively little fanfare as a
friend and co-worker of Alma Baldwin at the local supermarket. When
Alma introduced Hayley to the socially awkward Roy Cropper, it was
clear that Hayley had been ear-marked as a love interest for Roy. Both
lacking experience in romantic relationships, they were initially
friends before finally going on a date. So far, so soap. However, no
one could have predicted the secret that Hayley was carrying: she was
a pre-op transsexual woman previously known as Harold.

Introducing Hayley fairly slowly over a few weeks before commencing
her main storyline was a master stroke on Corrie’s part. By the time
the secret was revealed, Hayley was established in the show and
viewers had taken her budding relationship with Roy to their hearts.
The character was initially only meant to stay for a couple of
months, before leaving to complete her surgery – leaving Roy
broken-hearted. However, Julie Hesmondhalgh’ s sympathetic portrayal of
Hayley, and the undeniable chemistry between her and David Nielson as
Roy, meant that the show producers decided to bring Hayley back
permanently <http://web.archive. org/web/20100906 112226/http: //www.pfc. org.uk/node/ 23>
.

Despite the arguably issue-led introduction, this decision allowed
Coronation Street to make Hayley a three-dimensional, grounded
character who has gone on to become more than just a token trans
character. Over the years, we have seen a brilliant balance of
acceptance and rejection of Hayley in her storylines, with her
employer, colleagues, mother-in-law and even Roy himself initially
rejecting her before accepting her for the person she is. When Hayley
has been occasionally referred to in a derogatory way, for example as
a ‘freak’, it has been by a negative character like Les Battersby or
Tracy Barlow and made clear via the other characters that this is
unacceptable.

This approach has been successful in simultaneously raising awareness
of the prejudice against the trans community whilst showing Hayley to
be an integrated member of the community in which she lives, and
having much more to her as a person than just simply being ‘trans’
(something many soaps are guilty of when depicting their gay
storylines).

One example of this is Hayley’s long-term desire to have children.
Viewers have rooted for Hayley and Roy through their unsuccessful
attempts at fostering, their heartbreak over Tracy Barlow deceiving
Roy into thinking he was Amy Barlow’s father, Hayley’s rejection by
her own adult son and their ‘surrogate parent’ relationships with
characters like Fiz and Becky. Combining this need to be a parent and
give love to a child – something many viewers can identify with – with
her touching and honest relationship with Roy gave the viewers further
reasons to love and accept Hayley.

Maybe teen soap Hollyoaks had the success of Hayley in mind when they
decided to introduce their own trans character, Jason Costello
<http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ Jason_Costello> , in August 2010.
However, rather than introduce the character as Jason, the show
introduced Jasmine Costello – one of two twins (along with brother
Seth) and a member of new family the Costellos. Jasmine initially
seemed a sensitive character detached from her fairly outgoing family,
and quickly struck up a friendship with Bart McQueen.

Unbeknownst to her family and Bart, we soon learned that Jasmine
actually identified herself as Jason. Whilst Jason became more
comfortable with himself and found a group of friends (who didn’t know
Jason was trans), Jasmine – the identity that Jason wished to reject –
moved into a relationship with Bart who knew nothing of Jasmine’s true
gender identity.

In true soap style, there were many twists and turns –bully Fern
discovering the secret and blackmailing Jason, Jason being wrongly
blamed when Fern stabbed Bart – before the truth was finally revealed.
From here, there were many dramatic possibilities. After all,
Hollyoaks had made the decision to portray a teenage trans character
prior to their journey to realise their true gender identity, as
opposed to Hayley in Coronation Street who had virtually completed the
transition when we met her. How would the show handle the reactions of
other characters, and even Jason himself?

This was one of the more alarming elements of the storyline. During
times of despair, we saw Jason self-harming – unable to cope with the
situation. Of course, this does happen in real-life, but it wasn’t
needed in a storyline with lots going on in it already, wasn’t fully
explored and could potentially send the wrong message to vulnerable
viewers in a similar situation to Jason. Similarly, we saw Jason jump
in front of a car in a suicide attempt, but this at least was a
turning point as it allowed his mother to accept him and Jason to
accept himself.

Jason’s family were portrayed as trying their best to understand
Jason’s situation despite their initial prejudices. Jason’s mum Heidi
in particular struggled with the news, providing Jason with glamorous
female dresses, still referring to him as Jasmine, and even wishing
him dead in the heat of an argument (which led to the suicide attempt
mentioned above). As a fairly superficial and shallow WAG-type
character, this reaction was suitable for Heidi and of course she came
round after the suicide attempt (although a worrying message that this
is needed to get parental acceptance!) .

Bart’s reaction was much more complex, as was his
friendship/relation ship with Jason. Bart went from outright disgust
and rejection, to acceptance and friendship, to bullying, to
friendship again, then once more to attraction before finally settling
as friends. It seemed as if Bart couldn’t make his mind up how to
react – but was this him or the writers?

The issue of Bart (a young, straight man) potentially being attracted
to Jason’s male identity was a compelling one, and So So Gay would
have loved for Hollyoaks to see this through. Instead the Bart-Jason
relationship seemed to be shelved for a more conventional Bart-Sinead
O’Connor one, as if the writers lost their nerve. Poor Jason was
relegated to seeing Bart realise it was his former identity Jasmine he
truly loved, paving the way for Bart and Sinead.

Once Jason’s mum Heidi was killed by her serial killer father Silas (a
whole other story!), Jason decided to leave Hollyoaks village with his
father for a new life in America, as if Jasmine never existed. Fans
were treated to a touching goodbye scene with Bart, but we couldn’t
help wonder what might have been as Jason left only 16 months after he
arrived.

Much like Hayley’s early time in Coronation Street, much of Jason’s
storyline was issue-led: the issue of coming out as trans, with side
issues of bullying, self-harm and attempted suicide thrown in for good
measure. Although it was reportedly actress Victoria Atkin’s decision
to leave, it would have been good to see Jason embedded and accepted
as a long-term character on the show. What romances would he have? How
would he cope post-op? Would he be happy? These are all questions we
won’t have the answer to, and Hollyoaks’ long-term trans character
will have to wait for now.

Still, at least we have Hayley in Coronation Street, right? Sadly, not
for much longer. This January it was announced that Julie Hesmondhalgh
will leave Coronation Street at the end of this year, after over 15
years playing Hayley. Speculation has been rife as to how Hayley will
be written out without splitting her and Roy, with a tragic death
being the favourite rumour. Whatever the writers and producers decide,
it is sure to be very sad indeed.

Just as sad is the fact that Hayley’s departure will leave no trans
characters in the big four UK soaps. With the temptation to handle the
introduction of such a character in anything but an issue-based way
seemingly too much, it is unlikely that Hollyoaks or Coronation Street
will try this again anything too soon. Over to you then, Emmerdale and
Eastenders.

However, So So Gay advises caution to any soap attempting this. Hayley
was immensely popular and has become a true reflection of what a trans
character can be. We can’t help but feel that one of the secrets to
Hayley’s longevity is the writing team learned to write for her in the
same way as all their other females, with ups and downs, hopes and
dreams. This is part of our frustration with Jason Costello’s abrupt
departure from Hollyoaks, as we never got to see this. So if one of
the other soaps do introduce a trans character, we’d love to see them
happy, settled and without being trans as a huge problem or issue in
their life. Here’s hoping we get to report on this in the not too
distant future.

© Copyright 2013, So So Gay Ltd

http://sosogay. co.uk/2013/ trans-representa tions-in- soap/

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s