BuzzFeed’s Saeed Jones has a great profile of transgender actress Laverne Cox that, in addition to many other things, touches on some of the lessons that she’s learned as a politically active actress in the entertainment industry. Before her massive success on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” Cox was featured on the VH1 reality TV show “TRANSform ME,” a makeover show in which trans women offered cis women advice on being more confident.
Shot in 2009, the show premiered in March 2010 with Jessica Simpson’s show as the lead-in. Cox says the show was intended to be a kind of “gateway drug” to introducing mainstream audiences to trans women and their stories.
“You know, there hadn’t been a show with trans women on VH1 before. We all felt like we were doing something important, the cast and the crew,” Cox says. “And then when the show premiered, we didn’t have any viewers!” What’s worse, she says, is that many viewers didn’t even realize Cox and her cast members were transgender. The show Cox had hoped would lead to a cultural breakthrough regarding trans issues barely made a blip on the radar, and the attention it did get was often critical.
Trans women, in particular, took issue with the show’s premise. As Cox explains, “The critique was — and now, I think it was right — that the premise of the show presupposes that all trans women are hyper-feminine and that trans people exist for the entertainment of cis people.” Like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy before it,TRANSform Me is certainly part of a “magical queer makeover” genre. In addition to RuPaul’s Drag Race, Logo currently is running episodes of RuPaul’s Drag U, which features drag queens giving women “drag makeovers” to help them get in touch with their self-confidence. In all three reality television shows, LGBT people exist for the sole purpose of helping straight people work out their self-esteem issues. It’s like the “magical negro” trope but with glitter.