The Personal Impact of Representation

This is Taylor Mason, a character from the tv series Billions. Even though I’ve never even seen the show, Taylor is important to me. Let me tell you why.

Screenshot from the tv show Billions featuring Taylor Mason, an androgynous person with very pale skin and shaved head, who is wearing a blue shirt and a dark blue cardigan
Taylor Mason from Billions

I once had this conversation with a game developer who said, paraphrased, “I just don’t understand why we need to make LGBTQ stuff a thing? Like, if it’s a game that’s about war, why should a charater’s sexuality matter at all? Or if they’re trans. Why make a big deal of it?”

There was nothing whiny or disingenuous about the question; he simply didn’t understand. And I struggled to explain, then, why representation matters. I struggled to explain it because at that point, I hadn’t really experienced what it’s like to actually feel represented, and what an impact that can have.

Some time later, an ad showed up in my facebook feed, featuring Taylor Mason. It wasn’t the photo above, but one similar to it. There was nothing about it suggesting the person in the photo was anything but male. I’m so used to everyone on tv being one of two genders that when I first saw it, I thought I was looking at a young man with a rather unusual hair style (considering the setting is wall street). And maybe a week later, another ad showed up, featuring a photo more like this one:

Screenshot from the tv show Billions featuring Taylor Mason, an androgynous person with very pale skin and shaved head, who is wearing a blue checkered shirt, a dark blue blazer, and grey dress pants. They are standing with their hands on their hips, looking determined.
I imagine they’re determined to be taken seriously

That body shape. The hips, the hint of breasts. But there’s not a smidge of femininity about this person! My heart skipped a beat. Could it be they’re trans? I had to find out. A quick google:

Not only is Taylor Mason transgender, they’re non-binary. And, they’re played by an actor who also identifies as non-binary!

Holy fucking hell. There exists a character in a tv show — a tv show that isn’t about LGBTQ issues or people — that shares my hair style, some aspects of my dress sense, and most importantly, who also is non-binary.

Now, I haven’t watched Billions. The series doesn’t interest me at all. So I’ve no idea who Taylor is. Maybe they’re a shitty person, or a shitty representation of non-binary people. Maybe their portrayal is hugely problematic for a number of reasons. I have no idea, and honestly, I don’t care. I’m happy simply knowing that someone decided to include a non-binary character in this series. That they know people like me exist.

Hi, I exist! (Growing my hair out now, but this is pretty much what I’ve looked like this spring.)

It feels incredibly validating, in a way I’ve never quite experienced before. For most of my life I have (somewhat reluctantly) identified as female, and sure, it’s nice to see female characters in roles where you don’t normally see them. But this is a whole different thing. People who’ve watched the show and then learn of my gender identity can think “Oh, like Taylor in Billions!” People who know me and then watch the show can think, “Oh, like Alex!”

Representation tells those of us who diverge from the norm that others are aware we exist. It makes us feel validated, less invisible. Hell, it can even help us realise we exist. In a world where you grow up being told you can either be red or blue, how are you supposed to figure out on your own that you’re a kind of greenish purple?

I can’t help but wonder: If I had watched a show like Billions in my teens — if, say, Ally McBeal (which my family followed religiously) had featured a non-binary character — would I perhaps have discovered and embraced my lack of gender identity much sooner? Instead of having to go this long, meandering and sometimes painful (though sometimes also triumphant) route of first having to claim femininity as my own, only then feeling secure enough to eschew it.

I hope more characters like Taylor start appearing in pop culture. Until then, I’ll do my part by being as visible as I can.

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