The transitioning culture of daytime television

Posted Friday, March 20, 2015 4:53:14 PM
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Daytime has made significant strides in its efforts to be inclusive. While gay and lesbian characters have become more common in the past decade, there have been just three instances of storylines involving transgender characters in the history of daytime television. Here's a look at how daytime has addressed trans issues from A(zure) to Z(arf).

On March 18, The Bold and the Beautiful dropped one of the biggest bombshells in recent soap history and in the process has created a groundbreaking story that has generated a lot of discussion. While a weeklong buildup to the reveal of Maya's secret had many fans believing Maya was actually her younger "sister" Nicole's mother, that wasn't the case: Maya was once Nicole's brother, Myron.

The jaw-dropping revelation had viewers taking to social media to proclaim, "Maya is a man!" But she's not: Maya is a transgender woman.

The term transgender is applied when a person's gender identity -- their own internal sense of themselves as a man or a woman -- does not match the sex the doctors put on their birth certificate. Gender identity is different than sexual orientation. Gender identity is about how you see yourself as a person, while sexual orientation is about who you're attracted to. As some transgender people have put it, "Sexual orientation is who you want to go to bed with, while gender identity is who you want to go to bed as."

Transgender people may be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or asexual. A transgender woman, like Maya, who is attracted to men, is a heterosexual woman. Men who fall in love with transgender women are heterosexual, not gay. They see a transgender woman such as Maya as a woman like any other woman.

While B&B's story is not the first time a transgender character has been featured in a story -- it's been done twice before -- the dynamic of the story this time around is significantly different.

"My first reaction was surprise, because 10 or 20 years ago, this is not a story we would be telling, and not in a way that's truthful and not sensational," actress Karla Mosley (Maya Avant) told USA Today. "My second reaction was, 'Thank you.' It's a gift it's a privilege. It's a real opportunity to educate our viewers here and all over the world."

In 2006, All My Children became the first daytime soap to address the coming out of a trans character. The storyline chronicled the mononymic glam-rocker Zarf's desire to live life as a woman named Zoe. The show followed the early steps of Zoe's own realization that she was transgender, her first steps toward transition, and how it affected her friends in Pine Valley.

The well-intentioned story became somewhat convoluted by adding in a romance with Bianca Montgomery, the lesbian daughter of the iconic Erica Kane. Rather than educating viewers about the full spectrum of human emotions involved, the plot was reduced to questions from viewers about labels on sexual orientation. "Does that make him a lesbian? Is Bianca straight now?" asked one AMC viewers on the Soap Central message boards. Dozens of other posts echoed what was a seemingly innocent question but demonstrated that the opportunity for education had clearly missed the mark.

Somewhat interestingly, daytime's very first story involving a transgender person also involved a fashion model. In 1995, ABC's The City introduced Azure C, a beautiful, high-profile fashion model whose "secret" was exposed on the cover of a tabloid -- "Azure C's a He." At the time, the storyline was too hot for the daytime soap's audience to handle, and the storyline was hurriedly wrapped up.

But how realistic is it to have a trans woman in the modeling industry in 2015?

23-year-old Australian-raised transgender supermodel Andreja Pejic has appeared in campaigns for Paul Smith, John Galliano, and Jean Paul Gaultier and has walked the runway around the world.

Pejic is not alone: In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, several transgender women worked as models, including April Ashley, Tracy Africa Norman, Caroline Cossey (a.k.a. Tula), Teri Toye, Connie Fleming, and Roberta Close. Most of them did not disclose they were transgender.

Today, there are several out trans models, including Lea T, Isis King, Geena Rocero, and Carmen Carrera. There may be more who have chosen not to disclose that they are transgender. High-end retailer Barneys New York last year launched an advertising campaign featuring transgender models. Lea T recently signed on as a brand spokesperson for Redken hair care products.

Showing that even the liberal fashion industry has a way to go, prior to her medical transition in 2014, clients were able to pay Pejic the significantly lower rate paid to male models. Pejic has since been signed with the women-only Society Management, and her fees are now likely to rise.

It is unclear yet how involved The Bold and the Beautiful will be with its storytelling, but the show's head writer, Bradley Bell, has called Maya's storyline "a love story."

"It is about people respecting other people's differences and their uniqueness," he explained. "In the end, we all want to be loved, and in order to love someone else, you first have to love yourself. If you are a transgender, gay, straight, it doesn't matter. It's about finding love in life. This is a love story."

And while there will undoubtedly be soapy twists involved in Maya's tale, that could easily be the most important part of the story: it's an inclusionary tale. By treating a trans character the same as a heterosexual male or a lesbian female, viewers hopefully receive the takeaway that we're all a lot more alike than we are different.

If you'd like to learn more, please visit glaad.org/transgender, or consider reading Janet Mock's book "Redefining Realness," a real-life account that is similar to Maya's fictional story.

A special thank you to Nick Adams of GLAAD for assistance with this story.

What do you think of our list of B&B's bold choices? Can you think of any bold on-screen or behind-the-scenes moments we're missing? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, on our message boards, or by submitting Feedback.

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