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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wow wow this is so exciting. I’ve got this deadline for work but I’m certainly not going home too late because I’m gonna watch all of these tonight :D
I’ll report back when I’m done. Thanks Mey for the wonderful article. I’m so excited to watch this now.
Thank you. I admit to some significant reticence to watching or reading anything trans related, sort of a non-transphobia phobia. I’ve lived a slice of it (in the context that each of our experiences is unique) and the sum package for me comes with a dose of PTSD.
Yet I can’t help but read summary critiques of such productions even if my insides would rip in two if I watched the shows. I’m pleased to see progress, displeased when there are manifestations of old stereotypes.
One other point. The lesbian community embraced me. It held me up through a rather ugly time a whole lot of which originated with me. I think back on old cyber communities and the friendships each produced and how they held me up as best they could, and… there is nostalgia and love. There is regret and guilt.
The FB behemoth eviscerated places like the lesbian boards on iVillage (hell, all of iVillage) and the wonder that was Technodyke. I believed such precious space lost forever to FB and progress, but finding Autostraddle put a smile on my face. Yes, some out there do not welcome transwomen, but I’m a veteran of inclusive places.
Thank you again.
Just put off my morning plans to watch all 6 episodes. Well worth it! This was great, in a lot of ways. It was moving, I learned a lot, and I really love the characters. I want more!
Thanks for writing about this, Mey.
Cool! I know what I’ll be watching for the rest of my sick day!
I remember when you first wrote about this show how excited you were about it, I’m so glad to see it’s lived up to your expectations! Definitely will be watching!
MEY!!! I watched the first episode and I loved it so much I immediately grabbed for my phone like I was going to text you and tell you how much I loved it (??) Technology and brain wires crossed. LOL! (Maybe my brain thinks you live inside my phone bc I’m always reading AS on my phone? Or maybe I just wish we were friends IRL and in that real life scenario we text all the time? Maybe both??)
Lou, I also put off all my morning plans to watch it! :D On to episode 3!
Jajaja! Well, I’m glad you loved it and I’m glad that even though we don’t text, we still have a way to share our excitement and love for the show!
Well, that was excellent. Just all-around excellent. Super great quality, great script, great directing, great acting, chemistry off the frickin’ charts between Allie and Violet… not to mention Angelica Ross owning every scene she was in. That made my morning.
Yes – all of this! The only problem is that 6 episodes were not enough – really hope that backing happens to continue and grow the show.
So excited to watch this as soon as I get home from work today!!!
This looks so good! I already have a TV crush on everyone in the trailer.
This series is SO good! Great write up Mey! I second this “I can’t wait to see what Richards, Ross, Zak and Freeland do next. Whatever it is, it’s sure to be great.” <3
CANNOT OVERSTATE ALL-CAPS LEVEL OF EXCITEMENT FOR THIS WITH ALL THESE EXCLAMATION POINTS 100% NECESSARY!!!!!!!
So, it’s official! I now have a crush on Paige. A really, really, really huge one x3
I need to watch this right now! :D
(incoherent noises of glee)
I feel like I’ve been waiting for this forever! Already through the first few. The accuracy and believably is so biting and sharp that some scenes make me super-anxious, like I was actually there. I think I need to borrow a Xanax to finish this. I have to! I must!
I’ve seen a few episodes I’ve been either on the verge of tears or laughing uncontrollably or both during each one. this show really is amazing and it’s the closest to authentic representation this queer trans woman has ever seen.
I just want to say a huge, huge, huge thank you to all the autostraddle commenters for being awesome and like, i know that it’s not asking much, but I’m just really thankful that you’re not a bunch of transmisogynists and terfs.
You’re reading it too? It makes me so so sad and angry and impotent feeling. I was raised on that site as a baby queer!
And thanks for all of your awesome writing here and always. I can’t wait to see the series after work!
Well, I devoured this entire series in one sitting and it was as perfect as you say, Mey! (As all your recommendations always are.) So much heart and so much fun. I even got a good snort-gurgle-sob-laugh in at one point.
Wow, this show just single-handedly changed my whole view on trans-issues and transgender people in general.
Now, I know this sounds like I’m kind of ignorant (and to be honest, I probably was and possibly still am in certain aspects), but I guess I never really saw beyond my own nose.
Which is kind of crazy, I mean I’m gay and I heavily, heavily relay on open-mindedness and acceptance.
I’m sorry and I’m trying to be a better person now.
But seriously, go and watch this show!
I think this is good! your reaction is probably what the people who made the show were hoping would happen!
I’d love to like hear how and in what ways it changed you views. That’s really awesome.
I just finished watching all the episodes. It’s so good! <3 <3 <3
This sounds awesome and I can’t wait to watch it :)
I just finished watching it all in one go and I want it to be like 100 more episodes. It was SO wonderful. I’m crying a bit and I can’t tell if it’s a happy cry or a sad cry, but it just really moved me.
Thanks for writing about it and letting us know it’s finally here!
I loved Her Story so much!! Great new series and a wonderful review Mey. A few my favorite things about the show:
-its focus on destigmatizing loving a trans person
-it features both a white trans woman and a black trans woman! and their friendship is the best!
-it addresses intimate partner violence without showing a graphic scene of violence, and without making its lead into a stereotype or trope about women who experience abuse
-it addresses transphobia within queer communities
-it addresses internalized transphobia and how that operates in micro ways every day
-it starts to open up a conversation about addiction in the community, which is so widespread, and I love that both main characters are in recovery, as opposed to in the throws of active addiction
-it shows a cis partner going through a process of fucking up and making mistakes and growing from that — so real
-Angelica Ross acting her heart out
-it’s a web series with a high production value! so rare
-it does NOT address surgery–like there was no conversation about hormones or medical procedures at all! so refreshing.
ugh probably more things too–I have to watch it all again!!
OH MY GOD ITS SO GOOD
For all of the many amazing reasons stated above and even the quality is go good that as soon as I turn it on I forget it’s a web series and get surprised that it’s over so fast
Mey, I just missed yoga because I had no choice but to sit in front of the heater and watch every episode. I blame your witchcrafty writing! :) Also, omg what a great show!
I WANT MORE
We can hear your cries all the way up here, on the ridge. That said, we’re all crying for more together!
I watched the entire thing last night. OMG I AM DYING OF CUTE also I want to throw Lisa off a cliff omg shut up already woman
OH MY GOD with a million exclamation points!!!
I am totally not regretting putting off work to watch all 6 episodes because this show. Is. Just. So. Good!! I need more episodes!! AHHHH!!!!!!
This show. God, I want to show it to the whole world. It is so well-written/acted/directed, and handles so many issues so, so well. I cried straight through the last two episodes. Just…please make more shows like this. Heck, please make more of THIS show!
This is so so good thank you Mey for sharing this! And also thank you for like everything you write ever, I am in love with your words and your ideas
(I am a little emotional right now sorry)
But yeah I had like 4000 things to do yesterday but instead I sat on my floor in my underwear and watched it all while the world burned around men
holy shit I genuinely mean to type “around ME” but I feel like my typo is more accurate?
Hehe best typo ever
That was so much better than any other trans related shows or movies I’ve seen. Thank you for sharing it! It especially means a lot to me to see a trans woman/cis woman romance that isn’t just a horrible disaster ending in tragedy…
I want to throw money at these people so they will make more. Is that possible? ;)
They do have a donate button on their site!
I’ve seen so many attempts at “representing” trans women that have ranged from surreal to deeply hateful that I honestly haven’t been able to bring myself to watch this despite the glowing reviews from everyone and their dog.
I’m happy people are getting something out of it but I don’t know when or if I’ll be able to push through the apprehension and watch for myself.
I feel you. Honestly, I loved this, but it was a hard watch at times, simply because I was so scared for the women in it, as it echoed with some very negative experiences in my life.
However, in the end, it shows that the creators behind this are trans: they are not trying to push your buttons, just put the audience in your shoes (which can be pretty scary in itself!). It touches on a lot of upsetting things, but I felt the series was unfailingly kind, at all points aware of trans viewers. And the two lead women are just so wonderful: Paige is my hero, she is vulnerable but *so* strong (ugh, my keyboard is blurring atm).
You shouldn’t have to feel this way, and it is completely okay.
Meeeeyyyyyyyy, I love this shooooowwwwww!
My dogs are really annoyed with me right now because I watched the whole thing before taking them for their morning walk, but I couldn’t stop!
omg I just realized this comment makes it sound like I made my dogs wait to relieve themselves in the morning, and I want you guys to know that they go out into the back yard first thing in the morning, and THEN we walk the neighborhood a little while later.
I promise I love and care for my puppies!!!
Watched it all last night — that was great. And I mean great all on its own. Outside of the representation, the story that needs to be told, all of things it means to be (which are all there and make me cheer!), it’s also just a damn good little web series from a scripted entertainment perspective. How refreshing!
I binge watched every episode and it definitely is the best web series I’ve seen so far. I agree-Angelica Ross steals every scene. She purrs her lines with more charisma and vulnerability than any recent actress I can remember. The guy playing her love interest is also crazy hot
Wow, I’ve finished the whole thing… and OMG that was powerful, it took me a while to get thru the whole thing cuz it just felt so real.. I couldn’t watch them back to back, had to calm down in between.
And I wanna say Thank you to the Users and moderators of this site. If you don’t know why, it doesn’t matter, but just thank you.
I know I keep coming back to this but I just want to say that the writing was really on-point from a storytelling perspective. Like there was plenty of kind of Education 101 but it was so much more organically integrated into the story than a lot of professional tv shows and movies I’ve seen, and all of the points where it could become the Tragic Trans Tale were totally avoided WITHOUT avoiding certain realities for the characters, and I totally shipped the two main characters so hard by the end, and DOES ANYONE ELSE WANT TO JUST THROW CONTINUAL PIES IN THAT STUPID MEAN FRIEND’S FACE, to put it kindly, and it was refreshing to see the story stay tightly on the trans characters instead of making them kind of ancillary in their own story, and I will go away now because I am talking too much.
oh, SO MANY PIES i wanted to throw and it was SO SATISFYING when Angelica Ross dressed her down like a boss. totally agree about the storytelling!
This show kind of felt like what I wanted The L Word to be?? I knew it would be obviously groundbreaking and necessary no matter what but I wasn’t expecting such high production value and such strong, subtle writing/directing/acting. This needs to be a tv show like yesterday
Time travel goals: kill Hitler, get Ryan Murphy on another career path, introduce Her Story to television audiences 25 years ago
Just finished watching all of it. It’s fantastic, simply fantastic – the writing, acting and filming are all excellent and you can tell there’s so much love going into every scene. (brb I’m busy being in love with Angelica Ross.) I hope it gets another season. I’m so happy that this was made and that Mey got to share it with us.
Firstly, I haven’t had time to watch the series yet.
But reading about Allie’s character, I really hope we get into the history and reasoning of her feelings without demonizing her character. It’d be a great opportunity to hear this voice and have a dialogue with it. I’ve seen a ton of negativity online surrounding this (from both sides), but there’s no decent conversation at the moment that’s supporting it.
Looking forward to watching.
This happens! Not so much her backstory, but you see her growing through her feelings with compassion and empathy from various sources (asides from Lisa, but she’s an ass :P)
I just watched the series in one sitting, I’d been looking forward to it since your first article about it Mey and I loved it. Thank you so much for writing (amazingly) about it! I will definitely be watching it again and waiting for MORE Paige and Violet!!
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.
I inhaled it in one sitting. Exciting and marvelous. I desperately need more! Thanks for the great review, Mey!
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.
Mey, thank you so much for putting this on my radar. I immediately watched all the episodes. I need more!!!!!
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.
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.