This September, television network Oxygen and executive producer Whoopi Goldberg introduced the few transgender models that are represented by Slay Model Management, the world’s first exclusively transgender modeling agency, in “Strut.” Unlike the scripted characters that transgender actors have played in the past, such as Laverne Cox in “Orange is the New Black,” “Strut” follows the real lives of five models working to change what it means to be transgender in the modeling industry.
There’s something about reality television that the American people cannot seem to distance themselves from, even when the show’s premise is about the serious challenges and discrimination that transgender professionals face. The reality show element will not fail to bring audiences over the top drama and enough scripted conversations to make one feel like they’ve seen this all before on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” but the show makes it clear that the melodramatic attitudes stem from the overall cattiness of the modeling industry and the very real struggles that transgender people face.
Generally, a short part of the episode is used to actually follow the models to the jobs they take or get rejected from. But when that seemingly required portion of the show is taken care of, the rest of the episode consists of the models trying to date each other, disputes between colleagues or the touching moments of the show in which the models deal with their unsupportive families.
This drama doesn’t necessarily make for a bad show. It is reality TV, after all. But the petty actions do often distract from the real struggles the cast faces as transgender models in an industry based on how people’s bodies look. In one moment of episode two, a physical altercation broke out at one of the agency’s parties in which a drink was thrown into the face of the assistant to the agency director. Model Isis King (formerly on America’s Next Top Model) left the event, so appalled that these supposed professionals would be representing the agency in the childish way they did. The altercation certainly made for attention grabbing commercials, but like King expressed, is not the ideal way to present transgender people in the media.
The creators of the show do try to balance out the drama though, showing conversations between the models and their parents. These moments are the most relatable to transgender audiences or anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum that may not have accepting families. The conversations turn deep, sometimes ending in tears, and other times ending in hugs. These instances are the most moving of the entire show and are obviously significant to the models.
Overall, “Strut” has the potential to be a trailblazer and positively influence the lives of young transgender adults. But primetime reality television doesn’t hook viewers without a little spectacle to gape at. Because of this unfortunate style of television, half of the episodes’ run time have the potential to take away from the ultimate message that these brave men and women are challenging stereotypes regarding the fashion industry and transgender adults.