ITV’s new series “Butterfly” gives a voice to transgender characters

“Tell our stories with the creativity, dignity, humour and depth that makes us real people. Let us help you tell those stories or better yet, help us tell them ourselves and then put us in them… You’ll be making the world a little bit safer for an intensely maligned, under-represented, and vulnerable population.”

GLAAD and Screen Crush’s video collaboration last year called out the desperate need for representation of transgender people in media to improve. The project, #ProudtoBe: Why Hollywood Needs Trans Actors, called out the persistent problem of casting cis people in transgender roles in film and TV and featured trans actors such as Alexandra Billings, D’Lo, Elliot Fletcher, Ian Harvie and Rain Valdez. More than ever before, the representation of transgender people in the media is growing. However, the standard of this representation is also being challenged when it misses the mark.

While trans women and girls have been more represented in television and film than trans men and boys, this representation has often been set in a negative frame. ITV have purported they want to change this using a new TV show starting this October, Butterfly. The show follows a family as their child Max (Callum Booth-Ford) reveals she is, in fact, a girl called Maxine. The divorced parents, Vicky (Anna Friel) and Stephen (Emmett J. Scanlan) clash due to their opinions on whether they should support their youngest child and if yes, how to best support them. The information so far does suggest they will deal with the issues raised in a sensitive way.

Times have changed quickly for trans people and now kids are growing up and realising at a young age that they aren’t necessarily cis-gendered and are vocal about it.  Whereas in previous decades, the information that could explain how they felt and the social encouragement for self-acceptance was simply not present in society. This is a positive thing and ensures young people can learn about themselves quicker, more freely and with less struggle. It is, however, a very popular talking point in the media and outside thereof in personal lives. This is particularly true for parents as it’s such a new thing and there isn’t exactly a large variety of information on how to properly support children who reveal non-traditional sexuality. With misconceptions like the idea trans kids are medically transitioned using hormones and surgery persisting, writer Tony Marchant has insisted this is why Butterfly matters, “it demonstrates that doesn’t happen.” In reality, children simply take hormone blockers which “pause” puberty and help cease gender dysphoria until they are early adults and ready to transition.

A positive sign and testimony to Butterfly is the fact that Susie Green, mother to trans girl Jack, whose stories inspired the show, was a consultant on the show. Writer Tony Marchant had met with Mermaids, Green’s charity, and knew the story had to be told and told well. Interestingly, the complicated antagonist of Stephen (Max’s father), was something that came from Marchant’s observation that it was almost all mothers present at the Mermaids support meetings, not fathers.

Marchant hopes that families going through similar experiences benefit from it and that it can give them “some sense of, this is what we need to do, this is O.K.” All in all, although Maxine isn’t behind the screen representation as a trans child actor herself, the character and show are worth giving a chance. Butterfly truly is a show exploring issues and relationships so important in 2018.

Image: Alan Liefting via Wikimedia Commons

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