Actor Elliot Page recently joined Oprah as a guest on The Oprah Conversation, marking his first on-camera interview since announcing he was trans on social media last December. During his chat with Oprah, Page opened up about the "joy" and "euphoria" of finally feeling like himself.
Oprah said she had to do a lot of "homework" before her discussion with Page—which included talking to Nick Adams, GLAAD's director of transgender representation, and watching the Laverne Cox-produced Netflix documentary, Disclosure, about trans representation in the media. "I was more nervous about this interview than anything. I wanted to get it right," Oprah told Adams over Zoom following the interview.
According to a study from GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), 80 percent of Americans don't know a trans person, and base their understanding of trans people solely off of media representation. "We learn about what it means to be trans from film and TV if we don't have anyone trans in our life—and that includes trans people," Adams told Oprah.
Page shared with Oprah that he had known he was a boy since he was a toddler. Adams, who transitioned in 1997, had a similar experience. "I always knew that I wasn't girl—I just didn't know that that meant that I could be a man," he said. "This is why I'm so passionate about media representation. I never saw anyone who told me I could be something other than a girl."
As the organization's director of trans representation, Adams works with writers to create authentic, well-rounded, and accurate depictions of trans characters. For many of the years he was in this role, Adams said, the media wasn't interested in changing its approach to trans characters. “You either see nothing or what you see is really sick, twisted, and distorted," he said.
Then came Netflix's prison-set dramedy Orange Is the New Black in 2013, which Adams said was a turning point for trans representation. Laverne Cox, who is a trans woman, played Sophia Burset, a charismatic inmate who is also trans.
"All of Hollywood seemed to wake up: We can write a trans character that’s not a flat, 1-D stereotype and cast a trans woman to play her? Now I'm busy 24/7 with requests for people to do better," Adams said of Orange Is the New Black's influence, as well as Cox's activism.
In recent years, there has been a shift in terms of how trans people are depicted on-screen. Oprah has been part of that shift, which she acknowledged at the end of the interview with Adams. The start of the documentary Disclosure displays the altering mindset using two Oprah interviews. The tone of Oprah's questions change from chatty while interviewing a trans supermodel in the '90s, to inquisitive while interviewing Janet Mock in 2015.
"No one is born knowing all there is to know about everything. Learning all the time is all we can ask of people," Adams said. Oprah added: "You can see that I wanted to do better. I wanted to help everybody else do better."
On that note, Oprah asked Adams about the actions readers can take to "do better" as well. Adams pointed to GLAAD's resources, and he suggested watching Oprah's interview with Page, too.
"When people who are well known like Chaz Bono or Elliot Page decide to disclose that they're transgender, people feel like they already know [them]. It's good for them to use the platform of mainstream media to talk about their lives and draw attention to social issues [like] all the bills that are happening that are targeting trans youth. The fact that Elliot is able to do that can make a big difference in society," Adams said.
While Page's candid interview may go down in history as a ground-breaking moment for trans awareness and education, Adams said he looks forward a time when disclosing one's trans identity won't require such explanation.
"I long for the day where someone can say they're trans and someone says, 'OK, thanks for telling me. What else is interesting about you?' I look forward to the day where people are so accustomed to it, because they have trans family members, coworkers, friends that it's not so shocking or surprising, or doesn't require the cover of Time magazine or an Oprah interview," he said. "I want us to get there."
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