TelevIsm: Police Women of Memphis depicts trans women with respect

Rachel McCarthy-James
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A black policewoman, Joy Jackson, talks with two casually but snappily dressed black women sitting on a concrete stoop.

I don't have cable. The analysis of the shows you see here and at my blog are from online video almost exclusively. I don't miss 200 channels too much, but I do occasionally miss letting the TV make decisions for me—the feeling of "oh, what's on?", no worry about my (currently 140-item) queue. Since I don't surf, I stay away from most TLC reality shows—I watched an episode of Say Yes to the Dress on Netflix and I was disgusted, mostly by how riveted I was to the tube. And I've completely missed the show Police Women of Memphis.

There's not a whole lot I have to say about PWOM as a show in general. I think that glorifying a very problematic justice system as this show seems to do is probably not fantastic. But, I like that it depicts ladies in positions of authority, being competent. It's also cool that many of these women are of color. And one of the cops on the show is named "Virginia Awkward", which is a pretty kickass name.

PWOM came to my atttention this weekend after I heard of its depiction of an almost radical act. It portrayed women as being worthy of respect, and protection. As not deserving of sexual harassment. This in itself would be worthy of praise. But this depiction is particularly worthy of singling out because the women being protected were trans women. And in a media environment that generally depicts trans women as deceptive, predatory, disgusting, and generally less than human, that's exceptional.

The episode "Rock Your Fusicha Hair" shows officer Joy Johnson actively protecting two trans women from degendering harrassment, telling the harrassers that the women's presentation, gender and identity is none of their business and that they have a right to comfort, safety, and privacy. Officer Jackson goes on to assure the women in question of their right to safety and comfort, and banters with them. She compliments one girl's fuischa hair and generally treats them as sympathetic individuals.

Officer Jackson is not shown to be particularly brave for this act. The intro to the episode highlights not the trans status of the women she protects, but the boys who won't shut up about it. Officer Jackson is not a hero or a savior, but an officer of the law protecting citizens and doing the business of her job. While the trans factor is clearly the hook for the segment and it's clearly supposed to make Officer Jackson look sensitive, the women in this segment are not shown to be freaks, and their protection is not framed as an exceptional act of kindness.

Furthermore, the gender presentation of these women is not questioned, and is often presented without qualification. Officer Jackson at first misgenders them by using the wrong pronoun, which is not good. But through most of the segment, she refers to them as girls and ladies (without any qualifiers!) and uses correct pronouns.

It's also great to see women of color advocating for each other, as black woman are also marginalized by law enforcement and the media.

Police protection is far from an assumed right for trans women. Trans women have to constantly confront oppression, whether it's at work, at school, in the media, or with the law. In covering this episode, Monica of TransGriot contrasted this interaction with an example of police abuse of trans women in Memphis:

With all the notoriety that former Memphis Police Dept officer Bridges McRae brought upon the department with his jailhouse beatdown of the late Duanna Johnson, and the lack of progress toward arresting the perpetrators who murdered Ebony Whitaker and Duanna Johnson, it stands to reason that most trans people in and outside the city of Memphis have a negative view about the MPD... Officer Johnson, you are a good person as well. Thank you for not only the job that you do as an MPD officer, but making the point that we transpeople need to be treated with respect as well.

Trans women are highly marginalized in modern society, particularly by law enforcement and media. Police Women of Memphiss is not exactly representing the reality of police treatment of trans women, but this is one example of how police and media can treat trans women right.

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3 Comments Have Been Posted


I look forward to the day when stories like this are no longer newsworthy.

Not encouraged.

It's going to take a hell of a lot more than a few "nice cops" in the MPD being "nice cops" in front of a camera (as opposed to, you know, beating the shit out of someone in front of a camera) to convince many of us that they aren't a gang of murderers.

Furthermore, focusing on singular acts of "nice cops" being "nice cops" is a diversion from focusing on the macro level brutality of police and the prison-industrial complex.

I agree! The police and

I agree! The police and justice system are extremely fucked up, especially with regard to trans folks and people of color.

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