We still portray transgender people as flirty and bitchy in films. Time for a retake

By Tran Huong Thuy   March 5, 2018 | 03:24 pm GMT+7
We still portray transgender people as flirty and bitchy in films. Time for a retake
A screen capture from a Vietnam Television's Lunar New Year TV special shows Ms. Dau (R), a transgender character, who is pictured as a man wearing heavy make-up and bright colorful costumes.

It takes bravery to build a main transgender character on screen, but the stereotypes linger.

When it comes to Vietnamese medical milestones or accomplishments, there’s one thing left rarely discussed: transgender legislation.

A law aiming to recognize transgender people given certain medical procedures and certificates has been in the drafting for years, and is expected to be reviewed by legislators in 2019.

Better late than never, the Vietnamese government is slowly opening up to the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community, and that also reflects the changes, sometimes reluctant, in public attitudes.

When I started out in journalism many years ago, my job was to report international news to Vietnamese readers. I came across many stories about the LGBTQ community, but those stories were usually the first to be rejected by my boss, for a simple reason: “Our tradition and culture do not accept this yet.”

Other stories about the gay community in Vietnam started to surface in tabloid papers in the late 1990s, and they quickly became a phenomenon.

One headline really stood out. “The sick wedding.” It was about a couple in southern Vietnam and included a photo of a smiling bride pressing her head against, her bride.

“Sick” was how the media described the LGBTQ community 10 or 20 years ago. They were either disdained or ignored and treated as nonexistent.

So to me, it’s been commendable for major movie and television productions to be brave enough to build main transgender characters, as they have done in recent years.

And the good news is it has not been met with public opposition.

Local audiences have become familiar with Ms. Dau, a mandarin who worked for the Jade Emperor in an annual Lunar New Year TV special aired on Vietnam Television. The show tries to depict the character as transgender, having her played by a male actor who wears a lot of make-up and brightly colored costumes.

The Vietnamese movie “Fool for Love” (2009) won so much love for its transgender sidekick character Hoi that the production team decided to make a spin-off focusing on her. The rom-com “Let Hoi Decide” (2014) has raked in millions of dollars and is one of the most successful movies in Vietnamese history.

Viewers have accepted “Ms. Dau” and “Sister Hoi” with an openness and friendliness that could not be found a couple decades ago.

These characters themselves are a victory for the LGBTQ community in Vietnam.

However, the victory is not complete. Representating a community with great diversity, the characters on screen were built using a lot of prejudice and stereotypes.

Producers have framed the entire transgender community into a person too colorfully dressed, flirty and bitchy. Such a bad image.

Ms. Dau is a transgender woman, but calling her “neither a man nor a woman,” and saying that she looks “disgusting,” is just not okay.

[The show this year, aired on February 15, received a complaint from the social studies institute iSEE which said it “had gone too far.” The letter was reported by Vietnamese newspapers and has received a positive public response, with people saying they felt embarrassed watching the show.]

The producers may argue that their work was for mere entertainment purposes, but at a time when the public is becoming more tolerant, and the government is weighing a legal decision that could change the lives of so many transgender people, the media should realize it has a bigger role to play.

*Tran Huong Thuy is a journalist working in Vietntam. The opinions expressed are her own.

*Editor's note: The article was translated from the original in Vietnamese. The part in square brackets was added by VnExpress International for greater clarity.

 
 
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