Trans TV Characters Could Influence Viewers

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Fictional television is more impactful than news coverage, new research shows.

According to new research from USC Annenberg, viewing transgender characters on fictional TV shows could influence a shift in policy issues and views of trans people.

“Watching TV shows with nuanced transgender characters can break down ideological biases in a way that news stories may not. This is especially true when the stories inspire hope or when viewers can relate to the characters,” said Hollywood, Health & Society Senior Research Associate Erica Rosenthal. HH&S collaborated on the study.

Researchers surveyed 488 active viewers of the USA Network show “Royal Pains.” Of them, 391 saw an episode that featured trans teen Anna, who had an 11-minute subplot dealing with “the medical profession’s historical treatment of transgender individuals as mentally ill, parental rights regarding adolescent transitions and the risks of hormone replacement therapy,” according to USC Annenberg.

“We found that ‘Royal Pains’ viewers who saw Anna’s story had more supportive attitudes toward transgender people and policies, and we found a cumulative effect of exposure to transgender entertainment narratives,” they wrote. “The more portrayals viewers saw, the more supportive their attitudes.”

They also noticed that exposure to the same issues via news coverage or through the rise of Caitlyn Jenner had no similar effect — meaning the fictional stories were more influential.

Research also revealed that more exposure to shows featuring transgender characters led to “more positive attitudes toward trans people than those who saw just one.”

“We’ve got to tell these stories better because lives are on the line,” said trans actress Laverne Cox at a GLAAD-sponsored panel. “Trans people are being murdered, are being denied health care, access to bathrooms and employment and housing because of all of these…misconceptions that people have about who we really are.”


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