There is no group of people more ubiquitously tied to our current decade’s politics than trans people. TIME’s Transgender Tipping Point in 2014 was just that: the catalyzing moment that brought trans people into the mainstream consciousness in a way we hadn’t been for nearly forty years. Competing efforts to legislate us into and out of existence sprang up in its wake across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and beyond, alongside a massive wave of media portrayals on dramas, comedies, documentaries, and, yes, talk shows. These news stories, feature films, and guest appearances were sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but almost exclusively written and directed by and for non-trans people. Is there any narrative quite so moulded and packaged for non-trans people than our TV talk show appearances? From the earliest glimpse of Christine Jorgensen stepping a well-turned heel onto the tarmac at La Guardia airport in 1952 following her world-shaking sex change, to chants of “Jerry! Jerry!” as trans people are exposed and humiliated for applause on ‘90s trash TV, the media has taken it upon itself to tell the non-trans world how it should feel about us.
While some might write off this legacy of freakshow coverage for its politically incorrect and occasionally violent nature, Framing Agnes aims to show us how this may be one of the few arenas where our lives and our histories have been well-documented and linked to the contemporary times in which we find ourselves living, dying, and sometimes thriving. Whether it’s the CBC interviewing trans woman Dianna Boileau for an unaired docuseries about women’s issues in the 1970s, or the “world’s first pregnant man” shocking audiences on Oprah in 2008, talk show appearances of trans people have a lot to say about the zeitgeist at any particular moment. Are we evidence of the sexual revolution’s victory? Or a disconcerting development of the tech era? Are we a fundamental threat to heterosexuality? Or glamorous entertainers giving thrills to bored housewives
Examining and upending these narratives, as Framing Agnes aims to do, will illuminate not only how media narratives about trans people have changed over time, but also how the concerns of an era are read onto the bodies of some of the most marginalized in society without their consent. While Canada moves to affirm non-binary identities legally, America bans transgender troops, and the UK systematically loses its mind in a panic over our bodies, Framing Agnes—and its new telling of trans history—couldn’t come at a better or more urgent time.
— MORGAN M. PAGE