We Need More Trans Representation in Media So More—and More Authentic—Trans Stories Can Be Told
Jaclyn Moore is an executive producer of the recently released Peacock series Queer as Folk, and a trans woman, writer, journalist, and former showrunner of Dear White People. Letting her résumé speak for itself, it's clear she is very busy in the world of media and entertainment. As a trans writer myself, I was excited to connect with her to chat about her career—specifically as it pertains to how her gender and sexual identity plays into how she feels (and has felt) in various work situations.
Below, we explore trans representation in media, what it means to be one of very few people like you in a room at work, how that informs how we tell stories, what questions we ask, and—maybe most importantly—what it feels like to be part of our own trans community’s story.
Hannah Schneider: We have a bit in common and also some contrast—I'm a trans butch lesbian health reporter and a writer, and I know that you're a trans writer, but I think we have had very different writing experiences in terms of subject matter. I am familiar with the experience of being one of the only trans writers in a room—are you? If so, I'm curious about how that influences your work.
Jaclyn Moore: I'm still often the only trans writer in the room. There are not, unfortunately, that many of us. There are fewer of us who get to do these things [such as work in media and the entertainment industry], and that's why it's such a responsibility. Or, at least, I feel such a responsibility to try to not pull the ladder up behind us, and instead try to fortify it, try to put in some stairs, and an escalator, and a ramp, and make it as easy and accessible, and more possible for there to be more of us.
I'm very lucky I have gotten to do what I've always wanted to do, which is to tell stories that matter to me. I've always told stories that mattered to me, or I've always tried to. Since transitioning, I feel like I've been able to tell stories that I was scared to admit mattered a lot to me because before I came out, I was scared they would give me away. I've known this about myself for much, much longer than I have been out, as is I think usually the case.
HS: I know that I'm planning to ask a lot of questions about being trans, but I have other questions about you, too.
JM: Oh, it's okay. I get why, as a community, sometimes we're like, "That's not what defines us," but it's going to be in the first line of my obituary—it's how the world perceives me. Being trans is a big part of who I am, whether I like it or not, and I do like it. I think it's a wonderful thing.
I think there's something very profound about people who experience the world from multiple perspectives of lived experience. I think that's one of the magic tricks. There's a level of empathy among trans folks because, in a lot of ways, our lived experiences are, I feel, like a Joni Mitchell song: I feel like I've seen gender from both sides now.
HS: My reporting as a health writer juxtaposed to being fat and trans gives me a lot of privileged insight into questions that other people aren't asking. One question I have for you is how do you think your lived experience gives you unique strengths as a producer and writer?
JM: I think a big part of being a good writer is being empathetic; being able to put yourself in many different sets of shoes and to write obviously your own lived experience, but also to be able to capture the lived experience of people who are not you. That doesn't mean that you go out and tell any story you want to tell, but I think a good writer can bring humanity to a whole host of different people. And I think that's true of a lot of lived experiences, right?
I was a sex worker for a long time. I think that is also an experience that has helped me so much in my writing; so much of that job is putting yourself in another person's shoes, reading the room, feeling their energy, and trying to show up for what people want and what they need.
In a lot of ways, I think those skills translate very directly into telling stories because you need to be able to capture a whole lot of different perspectives. That's where the drama comes from—where different perspectives meet.
HS: That is so true. The way that empathy develops in a person has so much versatility. So, for your career, what does a producer do? I feel like I get a different definition every time I talk to a producer.
JM: What a producer does varies because there are a lot of different kinds of producers, and a lot of them have the same title. So it's confusing. There'll be 10 executive producers on a show, or more than that sometimes in a movie, in a TV show, and they all do different things. They can be the line producer who manages the budget. They can be a creative producer who helped develop the project in its early days. My job as an executive producer on TV shows is to help make the script come to screen. So that means working with directors, working with costume departments, working with makeup departments, working with production design, and getting us all on the same vision; that's a lot of what a showrunner does, too, so that you're telling a story that is cohesive, and then all those things are working together.
But that's just one version of being a producer; I think that version of what I do, I think, again, benefits from being able to see things from multiple perspectives and be able to put myself in other people's shoes.
HS: Absolutely. And also, so much of gender is following a script of what to do.
JM: That is such a very insightful and profound saying. For everyone, gender is performative. No matter what version of the gender you're performing. When I was pretending to be a boy, I was performing a version of masculinity, and now I am performing a version of femininity, but so are cis women. People who are nonbinary and agender are performing whatever version of gender presentation feels true to them.
HS: I definitely relate to that. For me, femininity was always about "am I doing a good enough performance enough of this?" and masculinity is just, still a script but a script that I am happy to have now.
A little left turn here, but I was looking at your IMDB page and saw that you're from Cleveland, Ohio. I am from Indiana—would you identify as a Midwesterner?
JM: Yeah, I would. I have a complicated relationship with the Midwest and the Rust Belt. I don't feel like it's an easy place for trans people to exist, but the irony is that I feel like there's a lot in common between the Rust Belt experience and the trans experience. There's an innate resilience to both of those things; the Rust Belt has seen better days and yet is still there.
HS: That's so true. You couldn't exist in my family without my grandmother of the Great Depression era reminding you that there is a history that came before you—that you're part of a story that started a long time ago. As I move through the world as a butch lesbian, I feel similarly: I feel I am part of a story that is so much older than I am, and I should respect that history.
JM: Yeah, that makes perfect sense to me. I often think of our brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and they/thems of yore in the queer community, and the ways in which our stories rhyme with theirs or the ways that we need to take inspiration from them. Because the truth is, being trans in 2022 in America is a really f**ked thing.
There's a huge segment of our country, and I would say the Western world, that is actively trying to redefine trans people as threats, predators, and groomers. It can feel overwhelming. I personally take comfort in the ways in which our queer elders overcame so many seemingly insurmountable things in the past, like the HIV/AIDS crisis.
HS: Yes, remembering that so much happened before us and so much was paved by trans women of color and queer elders reminds me that we are resilient. That actually brings me to one of my last questions, which is: What is it like to collaborate with other queer people when developing a show like Queer as Folk, which is focused on telling queer stories?
JM: Being in a room where it's a bunch of queer people, and considering what stories we're telling, I think it's our job to be like, "No, I want to tell a story about a messy, fucked up, trans woman, who's still lovely and worthy of love, and is complicated and complex." That's because a room that I'm in is the only room that's going to be able to do that.
It's my job to allow, at least in my opinion, our characters the dignity of being messy in the way that straight and cis characters are constantly allowed to be messy and still worthy of narrative, worthy of being in the center of the frame. Our industry has begun to allow a lot of different kinds of people to be messy, and still be worthy of being at the center of the frame. And I feel like queer people, and trans people especially, are often not given that same dignity. We are often relegated to being best friends or being saintly and beyond reproach.
I'm not throwing shade at anything that has done that, but it is because, on some level, it's work that's trying to argue our basic humanity. I think our humanity is self-evident, and I would like to tell interesting, messy, complicated stories, because queer and trans people are. We are messy, just like everybody else.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Want more Love Out Loud? Here's a discussion about queer representation in yoga between Nicole Cardoza and Jessamyn Stanley. And a here, Ladies Get Paid cofounders Claire Wasserman and Ashley Louise discuss (and celebrate!) their marriage.
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