Commentary

Mj Rodriguez’s Emmy nomination is hopefully just the beginning for on-screen trans visibility

Mj Rodriguez at the Primetime Emmy Awards - Arrivals at the Microsoft Theater on September 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, CA.
Photo: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

I was excited and emotional when I saw the news the other day about actress Mj Rodriguez’s Primetime Emmy nomination for her incredible performance on the show Pose. I was excited because I’m a fan of hers and of the show — which sadly concluded last month — but also emotional because of the historic nature of the moment.

With this nomination, Rodriguez became the first openly transgender actress nominated for an Emmy in a leading acting category.

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I became fully aware, especially after interviewing trailblazing actress Candis Cayne for my Duke’s Download interview series earlier this year, of just how monumental this moment really was on several levels.

I talked to Candis about the paucity of trans representation in the media — not just in terms of characters in the storylines, but also the lack of trans actors in major roles, or any kind of roles for that matter.

We talked about when she became the first trans woman in a major role on primetime television (as Carmelita on the show Dirty Sexy Money), then found out that her character was being killed off, and the connection that had to the reality faced by so many transgender and non-binary people, especially trans women.

We also discussed the amazing Netflix documentary Disclosure. Both Cayne and Rodriguez were part of the documentary, which (now ironically) focused on the overall lack of trans representation in media — and the fact that when there was representation, it was, almost without exception, always negative.

I also discussed with Cayne about being “snubbed” by the Oscars despite receiving rave reviews at Sundance and almost universal critical acclaim.

We talked about how there had been progress but clearly, based on some of the headwinds we were facing, that there was still so far to go.

With this Emmy nomination for Rodriguez, I do feel like we have taken a major step forward. This is undoubtedly a huge milestone, but hopefully her nomination will serve as just the beginning of what will be much more representation in film, television and all mediums.

Visibility matters — as a cisgender gay man I know how much it meant to me as a kid to have gay characters and actors on the screen. I can imagine what so many transgender youth felt when they saw Rodriguez’s nomination; inspiration and hope for a better future.

Hopefully, there is more of that on the horizon.

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