The Canadian supernatural drama Lost Girl, which recently returned for a third season on Showcase in Canada and Syfy in the US, has consistently had positive portrayals of bisexual and lesbian cis (meaning non-trans) women. Its main character, Bo, is a bisexual succubus who is part of a wider community of supernatural beings known as Fae, and the show has handled her sexual and romantic relationships with both men and women very well, even groundbreaking at times.
However, the first episode of the third season, “Caged Fae,” demonstrates that there’s a difference between being cis women-friendly and trans women-friendly, with a story that was the most blatantly transphobic one I’ve seen on television recently.
The episode, written by showrunner Emily Andras, revolves around Bo going undercover in a Fae women’s prison run by Amazons to investigate the disappearance of her female lover’s mentor, who was the prison doctor. The Amazon warden is eventually revealed to be male-bodied but female-identified, half-Lidérc (a being from Hungarian folklore) and half-Amazon, and to have been impregnating prisoners without their consent (i.e. raping them). When the warden’s physical status is revealed, she’s sexually assaulted (violently groping someone’s genitals is sexual assault) and then dragged off by an angry mob of Amazons to face retribution, and the warden is subsequently referred to by male pronouns.
After the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation criticized the episode’s portrayal of a trans woman, Lost Girl‘s producers issued a weak apology saying they were sorry for any offense but they were simply following the established mythology of the Lidérc and the character shouldn’t be read as a trans woman (despite her dialogue in episode clearly demonstrating her to be female-identified–“I’m one of you!” she screams to the Amazons as they drag her away). The thing is, the three varieties of Lidérc in Hungarian folklore aren’t very similar to what we see in the episode, especially not the idea that they go around raping women to impregnate them.
Some have tried to defend the characterization by arguing that the “I’m one of you!” line merely shows that the warden identifies with the Amazonian half of her heritage, but since Amazons are all women, that actually supports reading the character as male-born but female-identified, i.e. as a trans woman.
Is there anything out there similar to the episode’s transphobic narrative? Why, yes, there is. So-called “radical feminism,” a small feminist tendency noted for its transphobia, routinely claims that trans women are men who want to disguise themselves as women in order to gain access to women’s spaces and rape women. Whether this narrative similarity was deliberate or merely a coincidence born from ignorance, it’s still problematic.
Lost Girl has been a show I’ve loved since the first episode. I love the characters, the mythology, Bo’s romantic entanglements, Kenzi’s adorableness, and the positive portrayal of bisexuality (as a bisexual, I appreciate that). When this episode was over, I felt numb, like I had just been emotionally assaulted. That’s not how I want to feel when I sit down for an hour’s entertainment with a favorite television show, but as a trans woman, that’s how it made me feel.
I’ll continue to watch Lost Girl despite this negative episode. Hopefully, the criticism generated will give the showrunner and other producers food for thought, and we will see positive representations of trans people in the future. A fantasy show like this has opportunities for inclusivity, and subverting the dominant paradigms of gender and sexuality, that other shows don’t. I hope the people who make Lost Girl learn from this and accept that challenge.