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The series Euphoria and the representation of trans characters

The series Euphoria and the representation of trans characters

Researchers from UPF and the UB analysed the representation of LGBTQ+ characters in the television series Euphoria. The results show that the series presents trans characters very differently from the traditional manner, with a human approach that moves away from the fetishistic gaze.

25.02.2022

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The narrative of film and television series has represented LGBTQ+ people (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans) in various ways. It has gone from complete invisibility (where there was no representation of these groups, or they were intentionally censored or omitted), to an imperfect representation (where only negative, simplistic or ridiculing stereotypes or representations were shown), until today, when finally it is possible to see narratives with fairer representations that treat LGBTQ+ people more multidimensionally.

The series Euphoria, by the American chain HBO, recounts the daily life of a group of high school students, and portrays, quite realistically, the vicissitudes of the students in matters of love, friendship, drugs, social networks, sex, etc. The American version is a loose adaptation of the Israeli original with the same name (set in the 1990s), but with which it shares the description of the troubled life of a group of teenagers.

The main characters of Euphoria are, among others, Rue Bennett, a teenager with drug addiction problems played by Zendaya; Fezco, a drug dealer; Nate, an athlete with anger issues; and Kat, a young woman who campaigns for body positivity.

But researchers from the UPF Faculty of Communication, Rafael Ventura and Eduard Balleste, together with Maria José Massanet, a researcher at the Faculty of Information and Audiovisual Media at the University of Barcelona (UB), have focused on studying how the character of Jules Vaughn, a trans teenager who has a very intense relationship with the main character, Rue, is represented. Jules is played by trans actress and model Hunter Schafer.

“We wanted to analyse Jules to explore the representation of trans characters in fiction”, states Raphael Ventura, a researcher and member of the Critical Communication (CritiCC) research group. “The interesting thing about Jules is that she is a character that can serve as a role model and an aspiration not only for the trans audience but also for cisgender people”.

“The series normalizes and makes the trans character normal-everyday, it depicts Jules as a multidimensional teenager”

For this, the researchers made several viewings of the series in which they analysed aspects such as the context, aesthetics, narrative, content and its meaning.

The results, published in the journal Social Inclusion, show that the series Euphoria represents trans characters in a way that is far from traditional. In the series there is:

  1. a narrative that goes beyond the “trans phenomenon”, it is not limited to solely presenting her “coming out” or her “transition”, but also explores other facets of her reality, presenting complex and multidimensional stories.
  2. a representation of the trans character as a subject of value and love, a far cry from her reification as an object of fetishistic desire.
  3. the character exists in spaces that are not violent, controversial or negative, but has a presence in spaces of comfort and freedom.

“The series normalizes and makes the trans character normal-everyday, it depicts Jules as a multidimensional teenager”, Ventura continues. “She does not deny that she is trans nor render her problems invisible, but she is also a girl with a life beyond. In other words, the character of Jules is not defined by her trans identity, but rather as a teenager who also happens to be trans. This twist is a very important part of the narrative”.

The study is part of LGBTIQ+ Screens, a research project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation on LGBTIQ+ representation in television series broadcast on pay platforms in Spain. The project also “seeks to find out the extent to which these representations contribute to reducing homophobic, lesbophobic, biphobic or transphobic prejudices among different audiences”. Also participating are the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the University of Salamanca, the Open University of Catalonia, the University of Murcia and the University Centre of Barra Mansa, in Brazil (UBM).

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