SyFy Channel’s program Lost Girl has received a lot of attention for its sexually charged plot lines and positive portrayal of lesbian and bisexual characters. Even Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has taken notice of the show, promoting it in The GLAAD Wrap and “What to Watch.”
But the season premiere, “Caged Fae,” broadcast on Jan. 14, sparked outrage amongst the LGBT community.
The episode introduced its villain of the week, a beautiful but sadistic and sexually abusive women’s prison warden and female leader of the amazon women prison guards. The evil warden violates the inmates and secretly impregnates them to sell their babies.
The climax of the plot twists when the warden is discovered to be an anatomically male “trickster”. The show’s heroine Bo “outs” the warden when she notices beard stubble during a kiss. When the men-hating prison guards forcefully grab the warden’s genitals, trans panic violence ensues. The amazon guards scream and attack the warden hand-to-hand and with night sticks, while the warden cries out, “My mother was an amazon! I am one of you!”
The guards beat the warden (off-screen) and leave her for dead. In the show wrap-up, it is revealed that the warden survived, yet still identified as one of the amazon women.
The character of the warden was viewed by many as an egregious false stereotype of trans women as male sexual predators that want into women-only facilities to “trap” and violate women. Furthermore, the violent “justice” that she received bore an unmistakable resemblance to real-life instances of trans panic violence, and evoked images of the murder of Angie Zapata.
Zapata was brutally beaten to death by her new boyfriend in 2008. During the trial, the defendant claimed temporary insanity due to the “trans panic” that occurred when he discovered her genitalia was male. This defense was refuted. The murderer was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. “Caged Fae” was perceived as a shameful exploitation which justified this kind of trans panic violence.
This incident was especially disturbing for its transphobic stereotyping and violence, as well as similarity to the real-life perils that transgender people face. It is worthy of note however, that it was a teachable moment. The show’s producers have publicly taken a stand in support of the entire LGBT community.
Outcry over this episode was heard by many leaders in the transgender community, and a campaign was started to hold Lost Girl producer Prodigy Pictures, SyFy Channel and parent company NBC Universal, accountable. This included appeals to media watchdog GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) to address this incident.
After nearly two days of silence on the issue, GLAAD posted a response on its blog. After speaking with GLAAD, the producers of Lost Girl apologized for the offense, and stated:
“Lost Girl prides itself on being open and accepting of everyone, and are enthusiastic supporters of the GLBT community. We want to encourage a society in which everyone can feel comfortable to express and be who they are without judgment… We strive to create three dimensional characters, who empower all viewers regardless of sexuality or gender.”
GLAAD also took to heart the outrage of the transgender community and the disappointment with their slow response. Their analysis of the episode in the context of a recent defamatory editorial in The Observer was absolutely spot on. This editorial claimed that “transgender women are ‘tricking’ their way into female-only places for perverted or criminal purposes.” It was a poignant backdrop to the Lost Girl controversy.
It must also be acknowledged that alternative media blogs like Bilerico.com and Planetransgender.blogspot.com played an important role in raising immediate awareness of the offensive episode and need for public accountability.
Public pressure from this exposure as well as privately voiced concerns by many influential members of the transgender community resulted in a stunning victory for the fair depiction of transgender persons in the media – at least, that is on SyFy Channel.