RyePRIDE takes on queer and trans portrayal in pop culture

(Jessica Maxwell/Ryersonian Staff)

(Jessica Maxwell/Ryersonian Staff)

Melody McMullan says that Ryerson’s Queer and Trans Histories Week is an opportunity for students to educate themselves about important curent issues.

“It’s 2016. You can’t just not know about this stuff. It’s part of learning how to be a better person and be a more well-rounded person,” said McMullan, who is the president of Fanatics Domain. “For people who identify with the community or who are questioning, it’s a good affirmation to learn about.”

RyePRIDE and the Ryerson fandom club, Fanatics Domain, collaborated to host Queer and Trans Representation in Pop Culture as part of Ryerson’s Queer and Trans Histories Week, which ran from Jan. 25 to Jan. 29. The week is meant to encourage discussions of the history and importance of the trans and queer communities at Ryerson.

Hosted by RyePRIDE, the Ryerson Students’ Union and the RU Trans Collective, it featured several different activities each day. Events included discussion groups, art presentations, zine making, a mix and mingle, and a karaoke night aimed at discovery and learning about the trans and queer community.
The trivia night, held Jan. 26, featured fictional and non-fictional people in the media who represent the trans and queer communities.

In her opening speech, Daniella Enxuga, RyePRIDE co-ordinator, spoke about the communities’ correlation with popular culture, emphasizing the representation and misrepresentation of queer and trans communities.

Enxuga’s presentation explored how people who identify with these groups are not seeing themselves in the media the way they would like to.

“Often when that happens, they are misrepresented in dangerous ways, which often encourage uneducated and, as a result, dangerous behaviours in queer youth,” said Enxuga. “If queer and trans people are able to reclaim their stories, it is actually possible to save lives.”

McMullan said that Ryerson’s Queer & Trans Histories Week is important for understanding not only trans and queer history, but to look at its relevance in years to come.

“By looking at the media we put out into the world for historical posterity, we learn a lot about what is going on in our society,” she said. “While it is cool to finally start seeing queer representation in the media, we know that if in 1,000 years they only saw the content we were producing right now, it wouldn’t be a real representation of life today.”

However, there has been a significant increase in representation, including trans actress Laverne Cox, who plays a trans character on Orange is the New Black. Also, the critically acclaimed TV show Transparent depicts a father’s transition from male to female.

Kristin Smith, an assistant professor in the social work program at Ryerson, recognizes the changes in the media in recent years.

“We have had the pleasure to see numerous respectful and empowering newspapers and magazine articles in mainstream press, highlighting some amazing achievements of members of trans communities,” Smith said.

Despite recent progress, the disadvantages for those who don’t fit the white cis demographic still prevail.

“Increasingly, radicalized or indigenous trans and/or queer women still bear the hardships of marginalization and discrimination in almost all areas of life,” Smith said.

“Pop culture feeds a desire to fit in with dominant norms by encouraging us to disparage others.”

Leah Smith and Elena Hudgins Lyle, both second-year media production students who attended the trivia night, found it a great way to share their support within Ryerson.

“Not only is it educational, but it’s inclusive and respects the community,” said Smith. “We have the heart of a lot of queer history here, and if we don’t acknowledge it, who will?”

Lyle adds, “I hope people can learn that our own queer community on campus is diverse and worthy of their support.”

This article was published in the print edition of the Ryersonian on Feb. 3, 2016.

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