Her Story is an Emmy-nominated, complex and touching webseries that puts the spotlight on trans and queer dating. The show, written by Jen Richards and Laura Zak, counts Kerry Washington and Laverne Cox as fans. Its existence is part of a movement to showcase lives beyond the cisgender, heterosexual and white characters that we are raised to see as the norm. While Her Story has a tender queer relationship at its core, it also highlights uncomfortable truths about ignorance and transphobia in cisgender lesbian/feminist communities.
Starring two talented trans actors, Jen Richards and Angelica Ross, and co-written and co-produced by Richards, it pushes back against the history of trans stories being portrayed by cisgender people. One of the stars of the series, Angelica Ross, described the authenticity of the series to The Advocate: ‘Up until this point, most portrayals of trans stories have been from the outside in. Her Story gives audiences a fresh perspective from the inside out.’ Though its total run time is under 60 minutes, it is a nuanced and beautiful creation.
Her Story follows Violet, Paige and Allie, as they navigate love and life. Violet, played by the captivating Richards, is a reserved but determined trans woman. She is wary when Allie approaches her about an article on the dating lives of trans women, but as the pair get to know each other, sparks fly. Jen Richards is incredibly expressive; her radiant smile lights up the screen, and her moments of vulnerability are moving. Paige (Ross) is a driven attorney at LAMBDA Legal, and Violet’s ‘Olivia Pope’. She is revered by her friends, co-workers and clients, but her history of disappointment and mistreatment in love has put her on guard. Finally, Allie (Her Story co-writer Laura Zak) is a cis, queer writer whose budding relationship with Violet leads to confrontation with some of her friends, whose transphobic attitudes she challenges for the first time.
Her Story’s strength is that it is both entertaining and eye-opening. As a cis person, I can’t speak to what it’s like to be trans, and how well the series holds up as a representation of the trans experience. But I am grateful to its creators for pointing out the holes in my own understanding of the world. Many queer people are aware of the harsh reality facing the trans community, that trans people are targets of harassment, sexual assault, isolation from family members and economic insecurity. A staggering 41 per cent of the trans people surveyed in a 2015 report had attempted suicide. Her Story takes these facts and makes the cis viewer see them as they relate to actual people, which sounds ridiculous but is shamefully often necessary. Like Allie in the show, I came to question my lack of awareness of trans issues, and the lack of action taken to be a true ally. All of this realisation happened organically, simply by absorbing Violet and Paige’s day-to-day lives.
I related to Allie in a number of ways – we’re both writers; we want to tell meaningful stories but are ignorant of certain experience outside our own; our haircuts and fashion sense are freakishly similar. Her growth as a character is significant, and I believe she serves to show cis lesbians the need to address their own prejudices.
The main antagonist of the series is Allie’s friend Lisa, who is a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF). Lisa deliberately misgenders Violet, wants to ban trans women from women’s shelters, and deliberately outs Paige, which is a dangerous and hurtful move. She is brash in all her scenes and seemingly has no redeeming features. (I wish she did, so I knew why Allie is friends with her.) Allie’s growing unease with Lisa’s stance demonstrates how confronting bigotry can look in the queer community. Cis feminists and lesbians like to believe that violence against the trans community is something removed from themselves, but micro (and macro) aggressions abound. In Allie’s growth and confrontations with Lisa, there is hope. The show gently but firmly exposes the flaws of cis, white feminism, but gracefully shows how individual actions can push back against them.
The series was nominated in the newly-created Emmy category of Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama. Her Story’s Emmy nomination is testament to its strength as a piece of media. Not only is it beautifully written and produced, it is meaningful. Its popularity is also a sign of how grateful the LGBTQI community is for authentic, positive forms of representation. While the recent production of LGBTQI shows like Her Story, Transparent and Orange Is the New Black has been labelled a trend, hopefully they represent more than that. Shows like Her Story suggest we are moving towards an era of accessible, quality content that explores the full spectrum of human experience.