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From ambivalence to acceptance: Representations of trans embodiment on American television

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Boasting some of the highest ratings in American cable television history, FX’s six-season dramatic series Nip/Tuck (2003–10) features more trans characters than any other show of its kind. Focusing on its regularly recurring trans woman character, Ava Moore, we argue that Nip/Tuck’s representations of trans embodiment are complex, contradictory and, above all, ambivalent. More specifically, we claim that the show portrays medically-assisted transition not only as a large-scale crisis in the order of things but also as a path to personal prosperity and success. In doing so, we demonstrate that the former is articulated through themes of incest, infertility, fraudulence and monstrosity while the latter is articulated through themes of beauty, intelligence, resilience and social mobility. Having presented our analysis of how Nip/Tuck represents sex reassignment and those who undergo it, we then turn to a critical consideration of how a more recent dramatic series, Orange is the New Black (2013–present), portrays the trans trajectory. Widely understood to represent a kind of ‘transgender tipping point’, Orange is the New Black can be seen as a useful index of how trans people are portrayed in present-day televisual culture. Through our consideration of these portrayals, we think critically about whether popular media representations of sex reassignment have changed since Nip/Tuck and, if so, in what ways.
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Keywords: acceptance; ambivalence; sex reassignment; television; trans embodiment; transgender; transsexual

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Concordia University 2: University of British Columbia

Publication date: October 1, 2018

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