“Her Story” Delivers on the Authentic, Quality Trans Representation it Promised

I first wrote about the new webseries Her Story a few months ago after I had the chance to interview several of the show’s stars and creators. Back then, I said that Her Story was “poised to be one of the most authentic onscreen depictions of trans women ever.” Now that I’ve seen it, I feel confident in saying that it’s not only one of the most authentic onscreen depictions ever, but also one of my favorites.

To quickly sum up Her Story, it’s a webseries of episodes following two trans women, Paige and Violet, who are friends and who each enter into new relationships. We get insights into their lives, their passions, their friendship with each other and their feelings about dating. The series stars Angelica Ross as Paige, Jen Richards as Violet, Laura Zak as Allie and Christian Ochoa as Jake. Richards and Zak also co-wrote the series together.

When I first heard about the show Transparent, I had pretty much no interest in it, I didn’t want to see another portrayal of a trans woman written by a cis woman with the trans woman played by a man. Then, I watched a preview for it and saw Sarah Pfefferman ask her titular trans parent, “So, you’re going to start dressing like a woman?” and Maura responds laughing, “No, no, all my life I’ve been dressing like a man.” That line sold me on the show, because I thought, whoa, I guess they do get it, that’s better than any dialogue about being trans I’ve ever heard in a movie or TV show. This show is like 55 minutes of that line.

Half of my notes were just me writing down something that Paige or Violet said and adding “Jeez, I feel that.” When Violet looks on Craigslist first for “m4t” (men looking for trans) and finds dozens and dozens of fetishizing results and then for “w4t” (women looking for trans) and finds zero results I thought “I’ve been there.” When Violet is asked by a random stranger if she’s trans I thought “I’ve definitely been there,” and then when that same random person asked if she could interview Violet for an article about trans women I thought “been there too.” When Violet asks Paige “do you think me liking a woman makes me less of one?” I remembered how one of the reasons I didn’t come out for so long was that I was afraid that I couldn’t be a trans woman and like girls. When Violet told Allie that she had been “noting how much bigger my hands are and wondering if people have been clocking my voice,” I thought back to all the times I’m been out in public with cis women friends and felt self conscious the whole time.

Laura Zak and Angelica Ross on set.

Laura Zak and Angelica Ross on set.

This is one of the best results of the unique place this show is coming from. It’s precisely because the show is written and directed by trans women, starring trans women and featuring trans women on the crew that it’s able to be so authentic and so acutely focused on its trans characters. While watching this show there were two things that I noticed right away, the show is actually about the trans women it says its about and the those trans women seem very much like real trans women. So often I’ll watch a movie or show that’s labeled a “trans movie” and it seems like it’s mostly about the cis people who know the one trans person in the movie. Or the depiction will just ring so false that you wish they hadn’t even had a trans character to begin with. This show does the exact opposite.

Her Story doesn’t hide away from showing that there are definitely members of the cis queer community who aren’t exactly open to the idea of trans women being lesbians. Allie is shown to be a proud member of a circle of queer women friends, she’s active in the LGBTQ community and even writes for a queer newspaper. But she also has a complete lack of trans women in her life until she meets and befriends Violet. She’s shown to be ignorant about how to be friends with trans people and equally ignorant about how serious it is to out a trans woman. But she’s also shown as being willing to learn, and willing to change and willing to grow. The show doesn’t focus on her journey to become a good friend to trans women, though; that’s a side plot in a story that’s clearly about Violet and Paige.

Laura Zak's Allie and Jen Richards' Violet.

Laura Zak’s Allie and Jen Richards’ Violet.

As a queer trans woman, I absolutely loved seeing the relationship between Laura Zak’s character Allie and Jen Richard’s character Violet. It’s so rare that I get to see relationships like this portrayed in media. The two of them have a super adorable, super nerdy dynamic that’s full of chemistry. While I’ve definitely met my share of Lisas (Allie’s cis queer friend who doesn’t consider trans women to be “real” women) while being a part of the queer community, I’ve also made some of the best, deepest, most loving and supportive friendships I’ve ever had.

While I love, love, love Allie and Violet together, I was enraptured by Angelica Ross. Ross played Paige, a lawyer for Lambda Legal who is fighting a case on behalf of a trans woman who was kicked out of a women’s shelter and who meets a new guy named James (played by Christian Ochoa), whom she starts dating. Ross lights up the screen every time she’s on it. Her performance is hilarious, heartfelt and full of some of my favorite lines (and line deliveries) in a long time.

Angelica Ross working on set.

Angelica Ross working on set.

One of the best parts of the series comes when Paige confronts Allie’s transmisogynistic friend Lisa, played by Caroline Whitney Smith. Lisa’s done something that she clearly thinks was standing up for women like herself, but is really putting trans women in danger. The way Lisa sees it, Paige, and other trans women, might identify as women, but they’re “biologically male” and for her, “that is a difference” that matters a whole lot. Lisa represents a pretty big part of the queer women’s community. She’s proud to identify as a queer woman, and she’s proud to fight for those who she considers her sisters, but she also definitely does not consider trans women as belonging in that group.

I loved the specific way that Paige called Lisa out; it wasn’t “if you insult me” or “if you disrespect trans women,” it was “if you do anything to put the lives of trans women at risk” which is exactly what it is in real life. Every time I see someone talk about how transmisogynistic jokes or misgendering or outing trans people isn’t that big of a deal and that trans people should stop being so sensitive, I think about how we’re not being sensitive — we’re literally worried about our safety, and the safety of our sisters. Transmisogyny isn’t just a joke we can brush off. It’s a real thing that really affects the lives and safety of trans women.

Director Sydney Freeland.

Director Sydney Freeland.

I also want to say that even aside from being a great show about trans women, this is just a great show. It’s beautifully shot (director Sydney Freeland, who also did Drunktown’s Finest, does a wonderful job here; she has a real vision for capturing her characters in the best way), the jokes are funny, the emotions are real, the characters make you root for them and the story and characters move and grow in a very satisfying way. Also, I want to make sure to give a shoutout to the stylists and hair and make up people — I love the style on this show, everyone looks great. Derya Derman, Ginger Diercks, Olivera Markovic and Erica Volltrauer did a great job with the costumes and wardrobe and Jessica Eisenman, Shannon Schotter and Rikki Techner did a great job with the makeup. I was jealous of the way pretty much everyone looked in every scene.

Honestly, my biggest issue with the series was one scene where Allie is sleeping with her face resting on a white pillow and when she wakes up, her eye makeup is perfect and hasn’t smeared on the white pillow ruining it. Girl, tell me what kind of eyeliner you’re using, because that is not how things turn out when I go to bed without washing my face.

In a way, the premise behind Her Story is speculative fiction. It asks what would it look like if we lived in a world where a TV show about trans women not only starred trans actors, but also was written, directed and created by trans women. This isn’t just a new frontier, this is a bright and wonderful one. This is the kind of trans TV show that we’ve been waiting for. I can’t wait to see what Richards, Ross, Zak and Freeland do next. Whatever it is, it’s sure to be great.

Jen Richards as Violet.

Jen Richards as Violet.

There’s this one line where Allie’s talking about how she became the person she is today, and she says that something “made me realize the power of a true story well told.” That’s the perfect summation of this show, a true story well told that is full of power. In showing two trans women who find love — one with a man, one with a woman — Her Story is helping trans women everywhere to feel like we’re going to be able to find love and happiness, and cis people everywhere feel that there’s no shame in and nothing wrong with loving a trans woman. One of the goals of the creators of Her Story is to be able to turn this into a full series and get picked up so that they can continue to make this great show and make it well. I’m hoping and wishing that Hollywood takes note of this series and that happens. Her Story debuted online today and you can stream all the episodes for free on Youtube.

Mey Rude is a fat, trans, Latina lesbian living in LA. She's a writer, journalist, and a trans consultant and sensitivity reader. You can follow her on twitter, or go to her website if you want to hire her.

Mey has written 574 articles for us.

62 Comments

  1. Thank you soooo much for writing about this show!
    I am really trying hard not to binge watch it because I am enjoying it so much and do not want it to end quickly.
    Can’t remember to last time I reacted so strongly to a show.

  2. I JUST WATCHED THE WHOLE THING AND I HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS, IT’S SO GOOD, I NEED MORE, HOW CAN WE GET THIS FUNDED???

    Seriously. I would never have known about this show without Autostraddle, probably. It’s the first TV show I’ve watched voluntarily on my own in a long long time and the most important and best show too.

  3. Thanks for a wonderful review covering this show, Mey. Noteworthy, yet depressing, was the review on a certain Lesbian oriented website, which comments section was filled with cutting vitriol directed at trans Lesbians, specifically. If anyone has any doubt of the lengths yet to stride in advancing rights and respect for trans women, some of the ugliness regarding the reception of Her Story should cast the problem in relief.

    Her Story itself is indeed gorgeously filmed. And the acting is a breath of grade A pure oxygen. Between these and the writing, a very canny thing is done which we deserve to see more of in Queer cinema: the show manages to be relentlessly topical and yet grounded in the human at the same time. Looking back at some of the films and television of yore, some of them now feel rather bleak, pantomimed, or melodramatic. The gimmicks push topicality into cliche. Yet the issues of moment in Her Story don’t overwhelm the narrative despite their thickness. These are issues of survival to trans women. And we see that import on the actors’ faces. Even Lisa’s giddy schadenfreude came off with a daring honesty, showing a familiar cruelty drenched in a well-meaning sisterhood.

    Paige was best in my eyes. She deserved to steal every scene, and did. The show (so far!) has given her the last word. And what a word! I want so badly for her to win, to see her win, that justice be done though the Heavens fall.

  4. I somehow missed this show before, so I just sat down to watch it tonight. And it was definitely a breath of fresh air to see recognizable trans women. And Jen was fantastic, while Angelica had the presence of an absolute star.

    There’s some good insight there as well — it’s gotten me thinking about the degree to which the fact that I tend to lean straight (I identify as bisexual) is out of a desire to feel validated in my gender. It’s an uncomfortable thing I’d been trying to avoid noticing about until I had this particular mirror held up to me, and I need to do some real thinking about it.

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