Week 8 briefly covered the topic of identity – and I wanted to take this post one step further and talk about gender identity, specifically within popular culture.
Gender identity, sexuality and the like have always been underrepresented in popular culture. It seems that any homosexual or transgendered characters introduced into movies, television shows, books etc., has been as the ‘gimmick’ character. For example, their role is to exist as a homosexual character, rather than an average character who happens to be gay – David Gauntlett studies sexuality and gender in popular culture in his book Media, Gender and Identity, and notes such an example of this in 1980s US soap Dynasty, with regular gay character Steven Carrington, whose main story followed his struggle for acceptance of his sexuality in his family (Gauntlett, 2008).
The LGBT community has recently been praising the CBS series Elementary. A modern reincarnation of the classic Sherlock Holmes series, set in New York, Elementary has been working against stereotypes in popular culture. For starters they introduced main character John Watson as Joan, played by Lucy Liu. This is particularly notable for the shuffling of gender stereotypes and also the introduction of a POC (person of colour) in what would have otherwise been a predominantly white cast of actors.
But what fans are raving about most at the moment is the inclusion of a transgender character – played by Candis Cayne, famous trans* actress. The original incarnation of Mrs Hudson in Sherlock Holmes was as his landlord, and despite being undescribed has usually been depicted as an older, grandmotherly figure. For this reason the introduction of Miss Hudson in Elementary has stirred up audiences. Most importantly Cayne’s character is not the gimmick or the comic relief. She is simply a normal character who happens to be trans*, ‘yes, they make it known that she was once a man but it is quickly breezed over it’ (Morabito, 2013). Miss Hudson is an expert in Ancient Greek who essentially makes a living as a kept woman and muse for various wealthy men. ‘As a trans person, I found literally nothing offensive about the way the character was written, treated and portrayed. I mean, the feminist in me is a bit wary of the whole “kept woman” trope, particularly applied to trans women, but even that is handled in a way that makes sure to empower her’ (ladycorvus, 2013).
This is incredibly important in the acceptance of the LGBT community, as so much of what society believes and thinks can be influenced and shaped by popular culture and mass media. The LGBT community is so underrepresented that everything helps towards breaking down the walls of inequality.
Hopefully Elementary can inspire other works of popular culture to follow in their stead, and perhaps lead to a better representation acceptance of the LGBT community in the future.
Gauntlett, D. 2008, Media, Gender and Identity, Routledge, London.
Morabito, S. 2013, ‘Elementary: Miss Hudson The New Transexual Voice On American TV’, I Have No Clever Witticism, The definition of nerd,
Elementary’s Ms. Hudson, 2013, Lost, But Seeking, Tumblr,