Trans representation has always been a tricky subject. With growing trans visibility, it’s sad so many portrayals rely on tropes that are patronizing, condescending, and downright eww, eww, and eww. But while outside portrayals of the trans community remain outdated and stale, trans artists, musicians, and actors have been stepping forward with fresh takes on trans people and lives.
Enter the Switch, a ‘magical-surrealist transgender comedy’ that promises to be the first show to cast all trans characters with trans people. Last week, they launched a Kickstarter, and creator Amy Fox was recently interviewed by Bustle. The pilot is running for free on Youtube.
It centers around Sü, played by Julie Vu. Sü is a Vancouver centered software developer. Or was, because she’s coincidentally laid off the day she comes out. Making matters worse, her landlord decides to sublet her apartment and double her rent. Construction workers come in, and her (and all her stuff) go out.
But just when you think you know where it’s going, the story turns. Sü ends up crashing with her “ex” Chris (Fox), an extreme eco-terrorist, in his condemned studio. Things are further complicated by trans* hacker Zoey, Chris’ boss/landlord Toni, and Sü’s hippie/electrologist friend Sam, who may or may not be a demon. Sam also knows Toni and Chris somehow.
What emerges is a series feels less like a ‘transgender comedy’ and more like a distinctive TV show that just has a bunch of trans casting. And while aspects of transition are covered, they occupy a more background role. For instance, Sam and Sü discussing living plans over black market electrolysis, or a shot of mail-order hormones.
It also means there’s zero exposition on trans issues. The audience is either expected to know it already or be able to brush it aside. But, while something like that might make it seem inaccessible, it also means that the show can focus on the characters themselves. So, sure, I don’t know if Toni is trans, but I’m really more interested in how Toni and Sam know each other. It has something for trans and non trans audiences. The latter can enjoy the Odd Couple relationship between Sü and Chris, and the former can snicker at the blink and you miss it Silence of the Lambs reference.
The most obvious influence is The Guild, with the cast of colorful characters and the ostensible subject working more as a springboard for character development. Sü even uses a web journal as a framing device, and there’s an accompanying music video by Kieran Strange, called “Tear Down the Wall.” “Tear Down the Wall” is also the name of an associated website, which details in part the cast and crew’s LGBTQ activist work, both in Vancouver and elsewhere.
Of course, I’m not entirely without criticism. Sü’s coming out speech raised an eyebrow. Zoey’s character feels more undercooked than mysterious. I’m now regretting my love of the no trans exposition, because I basically have no pronoun reference for anyone but Sü (it’s she, by the way).
And I wonder if there isn’t a Girls-style critique to be made: a show so rooted in gentrification and housing as a plot device not talking about Chinese-Canadian segregation in the city. Especially since some Chinese-Canadian communities have been a noticeable presence in the fight against LGBTQ rights in Vancouver.
But that’s a conversation for another article, with people way more qualified than me. And most of this criticism can be summed up as ‘more’ (more character/issues/stuff). And if I’m asking for more, it means I like what I’ve gotten so far. And I wouldn’t be typing and retyping all this if I didn’t think the Switch had something unique to offer, both as a magical realist transgender comedy, and as a comedy.
Julie Vu is a welcome addition to the trans women of color who’ve been gaining prominence in the past few years. Amy Fox shines as Chris. And altogether, the show does something wholly unique. It shows trans people existing outside of a trans-specific context. These characters feel like living breathing people. I’ve lived with people like Chris, dated people like Zoey. I’ve felt Sü’s dilemma about going back into the closet and living as a man.
I’ll be honest, I thought it would be decades before I saw something like this. The fact that it’s here, and it’s funny, and it’s less than a few thousand dollars from getting fully actualized. It’s good to know that. “Switch up” metaphor here.