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“Svedburg was shagging a tranny. Wow.”

Where to begin?

The above .gifs are taken from the TV show Wallander (series 1, episode 3, “One Step Behind”) and feature the character Magnus Martinsson.

Wallander is about a Swedish police officer, Kurt Wallander, and how he struggles with diabetes and depression and the statistically unlikely number of serial killers he encounters in his line of work. Magnus Martinsson is a fellow police officer. In the above .gifs, Magnus is discussing their recently-deceased colleague, Svedburg, and Svedburg’s lover/murderer, Louise. Louise is trans*. (In the book series the show is based on, Louise is identified more specifically as a crossdresser, which falls under the trans* umbrella. While Louise’s gender identity is left more ambiguous in the show, other characters, like Magnus, still read Louise as some variety of trans*.)

At the end of the episode there is a stand-off between Louise and Wallander. (You can see it for yourself here.) Louise is holding Wallander’s adult daughter hostage at gunpoint. Wallander questions why Louise is doing this. She gives this answer:

“[Svedburg] loved you. And you didn’t even see him. I was nothing. He hid me away like something filthy and diseased. But then I made him see me. Now you’re going to see me, Wallander. You’re going to see me for the rest of your life.”

It’s at this point Magnus rushes in, pushes Wallander out of the way, and shoots Louise dead. Once this is done, he runs back outside to vomit.

There is something of a tradition of killer trans* people in fiction, from Angela in Sleepaway Camp to Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. Better minds than mine have already written much on the topic. It’s an incredibly gross trope, especially when you consider how much more statistically likely it is for trans women to be murder victims in real life. (And in the rare case that a trans* person does take a life? It’s self-defense, like with CeCe McDonald.) Despite this, the image we see over and over again in the media is that of the deceptive trans woman, out to entrap and destroy poor, defenseless cis people.

Trans* people on other crime dramas generally fare about as well as Louise did on Wallander, with a few notable exceptions. Bones did an acceptable job portraying a trans woman murder victim in the episode The He in the She, problematic title aside. Cold Case did similarly well with a trans man murder victim in the episode Boy Crazy. Of course, in both these examples, the trans* people in question are not killers. At this point in time, I don’t think it’s possible to have a trans* murderer without bringing up a horde of unfortunate implications.

The only positive portrayal of a trans woman on a crime drama (to the best of my knowledge) would be that of Mrs. Hudson on Elementary. She is neither killer nor victim; instead, she is Sherlock Holmes’s landlady. Her trans* status is a non-issue, and unlike most trans* characters, she survives her introductory episode.

While Elementary is a post-Wallander series, the examples set by Bones and Boy Crazy show that it is possible to have a far, far less problematic portrayal of a trans* individual even within the confines of a crime drama. And we are in desperate need of such portrayals. Very few trans* characters make it onto our television screens, and like it or not, TV may be a person’s only source of information on trans* issues. When incorporating a minority into a work of fiction, particularly a minority who is the target of such a disproportionate level of violence and gets very little media representation, it becomes the responsibility of said fiction to be as responsible and accurate as possible in its portrayal.

Wallander fails to live up to this responsibility.

It’s not just making the killer a trans* individual that makes Wallander so problematic. It’s other characters’ reactions to her. Svedburg, according to Louise, “hid [her] away like something filthy and diseased.” To say nothing of Magnus.

Consider this. At the point in the plot where “Svedburg was shagging a tranny. Wow.” is uttered, Magnus already knows that Louise killed Svedburg. However, his shock and disgust are not at the fact that his coworker was dating a murderer––it’s that his coworker was dating a trans* person.

While Louise was, in-show, a serial killer, calling her a tr*nny gives the impression that it’s not her murderous habits that make her a reprehensible human being; it’s the fact that she’s trans*.

And sure, Magnus in-show is a snarky, sarcastic motherflipper, famed for hating his job and annoying the crap out of Wallander… but “Svedburg was shagging a tranny? Wow.” isn’t snark. It’s hatespeech.

Furthermore, it’s completely unprecedented hatespeech. Nowhere else in the show’s narrative are we given any indication that Magnus has a problem with trans* people, nor are we given any explanation as to why his transmisogyny exists.

Now, if this were an intentional character-building moment, it would be justified. But no one calls Magnus out on this. We don’t need a full-blown episode-derailing Trans 101 class, but we could at least get a “dude, not cool” from Wallander or any other character present. As it stands, Magnus’s statement goes unchallenged and is consequently coded as normal and/or acceptable behavior to the audience.

Perhaps the showrunners agree that “tr*nny” is an unacceptable word, and were trying to indicate that Magnus is not a good person, or that he is a good person weighed down with unacceptable prejudices. This optimistic line of thinking is probably not anywhere near the reality of the situation. Remember: after Magnus reveals his transmisogyny, he goes on to shoot Louise dead. While he doesn’t particularly enjoy having to take a life, the fact of the matter is the narrative rewards him by justifying his prejudices and turning his murder of a trans* woman into a heroic (if traumatizing) action. Magnus’s transmisogyny is a-okay, because the trans woman in question was evil, and Magnus’s status as one of the good guys is preserved.

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Having already discussed why this line is Not Okay, I’d like to go a step further and question why it is included in multiple “Best of Magnus” gifsets on Tumblr. Is this really Magnus at his best? Is his random, out-of-nowhere bigotry actually everyone’s favorite aspect of his character?

One has to wonder if the line “Svedburg was a faggot? Wow.” would be met with so much applause.

[Edited 6/7/13 to reflect new information re: the gender identities of Louise and Buffalo Bill.]

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