In today’s media, transgender characters are seen on screen more than ever before. Gone are the days of small roles in “Law & Order” featuring transgender characters who have dismal storylines. Now, transgender representation in media has advanced into the world of comedy with shows like “Transparent” and “Orange is the New Black” and films like “Tangerine.”
While there are funny moments for transgender characters, there is still an underlying theme of darkness surrounding these shows as they fight for acceptance, or more often, simply fight to stay alive.
Transgender sitcom “The Switch: Work, Love, Mortal Danger” is another transgender slice of media thrown onto the growing pile but its lighthearted, sitcom format places it in a different lane than the rest.
The Canadian series follows Sü, played by D.C. native Nyla Rose, as she loses her job for coming out as transgender. Sü moves in with her ex Chris (Amy Fox), an oil lobbyist assassin with a good heart and a messy apartment. Her neighbor, Detective Sandra McKay (Andrea Menard), is a cis-gender woman and a lesbian who is the guardian of Zoey, a feisty, transgender genderqueer.
Despite being overqualified, Sü is forced to accept a job in data entry and placed in the “trans corner” of the office with her transgender co-worker, Phil (Chance Kingsmyth).
Rose says “The Switch” stands out from other transgender shows or films because it puts comedy at the forefront of its message.
“Far too many times in media we see the same exact story of a trans person being told the exact same way. With ‘The Switch’ you get many trans stories told differently than you’re used to in a humorous and enjoyable way. Even though our characters are trans and dealing with trans issues they are also dealing with everyday life issues, something anyone can relate to,” Rose says.
“The Switch” includes the challenges transgender people face but with a comedic twist. The series’ take on the issue of trans people being forced into sex work comes as Sü works part-time as a text message dominatrix to make ends meet. In one episode, she discovers one of her clients is her data entry boss and ends up in a text dominatrix competition with Phil to prove who is best at the job.
Fox, who also serves as the show’s creator and writer, says she wanted the series to be relatable for transgender people but also for cis-gender viewers.
“I think it’s really important to show there is a range of people whose stories are worth telling. It also allows trans people to see themselves on the screen. For cis-people watching this, it’s like, ‘Oh, hey this trans person has mostly the same problems I do plus one or two extra,’” Fox says.
For Fox, the importance of sharing that message led her to work on making this series for seven years. While working as a metal worker in British Columbia, Fox was invited to participate in a comedy routine about gender dysphoria. The routine inspired her to create a TV show that featured transgender actors, producers and writers. However, Fox had no experience making film.
She signed up for a film camp and then took courses at a community college in Vancouver. After acquiring the skills, Fox says she immediately set to work making the web series and starting a Kickstarter for funding. The web series grabbed the attention of OutTV and the online show became an actual TV show starring a Native American transgender woman.
The casting is unusual for a field that is more often telling transgender stories but rarely placing transgender actors in the roles. Fox says she and her team made an effort to find talented transgender actors. From working in the transgender acting community, Fox says she feels other projects aren’t trying hard enough to get transgender talent. Matt Bomer’s casting as a transgender woman in the upcoming film, “Anything” is the latest example of a cis-gender takeover.
“Trans people would be like, ‘Oh yeah, I tried out for that. Sorry I wasn’t the best person.’ But most trans actors will say, ‘What? I haven’t heard anything about this.’ There’s something definitely broken about their outreach. (Bomer) is definitely not the best person because I would know from the scuttlebutt in the trans acting community that people would be talking about going out and auditioning for this thing,” Fox says.
A second season for “The Switch” is uncertain. The first season is currently available for streaming on iTunes, Google Play, Revry and Amazon.