Representation Matters

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

By Vasco Vidal

Image via The New York Times

When I was in fourth grade, I realized that I was not a girl but a boy. With the support and love of my family, I started my gender transition. I believed that being able to live as my authentic self would bring me only happiness. Yet, I was wrong; I began to feel sadness too. I was okay with being transgender but I felt ashamed of also being gay. If I had seen someone like me in the media I wouldn't have felt as insecure or ashamed.

We shape our identities through interactions, mainly with people and the media. The way we see ourselves reflected in society becomes a guide to our own understanding of the world and our experiences. The representation of minorities in the media matters, because it helps shape individuals’ identities and self-esteem. From these representations in the media, future leaders choose their role models, catch a glimpse of what their future could look like, and conceive of their hopes and dreams.

However, it is important to highlight that the media representation we crave is not easy to accomplish. New York Times journalist Kwame Anthony Appiah states “resemblance is gratifying but also tricky.” I had seen trans people in the media before, but none of them felt like me. After all, what could a ten-year-old Latino gay trans boy of an upper-middle-class supportive family have in common with the protagonist of the 1999 drama 'Boys Don't Cry'?

Depicting minorities is complicated, since most of the time, outsiders who are oblivious to these realities and experiences are the ones who end up portraying minorities in media and art. Outsiders make portrayals that are not authentic which is negative since many people mold their perception of minorities in these representations that are not real. Even if an insider is in control of these media narratives, it must be considered that individual experiences within minority groups are diverse- factors like social class, race, ethnicity, and family life shape the unique challenges and experiences a person will face throughout their lifetime. Most media representations of minorities lack the sophistication and authenticity they deserve. Nobody learns or benefits from the stereotypical characters replicated over and over again on screen. These redundant narratives are completely ignoring the degrees of privilege and diversity within underrepresented communities. It would be good for people from underrepresented communities to make their own representation, but each time telling different narratives and stories so that outsiders are aware that within these communities there is also great diversity.

It is a challenge to achieve the representation that could have saved me from suffering- representation that would have shown me there is nothing wrong with being trans and gay, that could have given strength to a kid that felt alone in the world, close to giving up. Yet, this representation is possible; shows like Pose have taught us that it can be done.

We have the responsibility to make everyone feel accepted into society. Youth can fulfill that by speaking up, sharing their stories, and using their platforms to give a voice to the voiceless. We are capable of providing strength and hope to those who feel unseen, of building bridges of understanding, and of promoting acceptance among the indifferent.

One by one, we can change the world if we get involved.

Written by writer Vasco Vidal


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