Representation of the Czech trans community in film in a modern historical context
The Czech Republic is one of the countries of the European Union that stands on the borderline between the more liberal-minded West and the conservative East. When it comes to the LGBTQI+ community, it has historically been leaning more towards the more conservative mindset that discredits the wellbeing of LGBTQI+ people and overlooks the problems of the trans community. Let's look together at how this attitude, conditioned by the modern historical development of the Czech Republic, is reflected in the cultural space, in our case especially in film, and how trans people are thus represented on Czech screens.
MODERN HISTORICAL CONTEXT
The Czech trans community was and still is overlooked by the political scene when it comes to solving its problems. It is rather disadvantaged by law and only socially tolerated rather than actually respected. The majority discourse revolves only around the biological aspect of transgender identity and physical transition, which in the Czech Republic is conditional on an expert opinion, then hormone treatment and a real-life test for one year, on the basis of which it is possible to proceed to gender-affirming surgery during which, however, the person needs to sterilised according to the law. Only on the basis of this process is an official gender change possible. Although the first surgeries occurred already in the 1970s, it is only in the last decade that trans issues have begun to enter mainstream awareness. A slight turn away from a focus on the discourse of physicality to a broader understanding of the trans identity as a whole can be seen in the past few years, mainly due to organisations such as Trans*parent, which organises lectures regarding education about trans and non-binary people. As reported by ILGA-Europe in its Rainbow Index 2023, which maps the situation of the LGBTQI+ community in the prior year, Trans*parent has been accredited by the Ministry of Education as an educational institution, which is a great progress. However, despite educational efforts, the trans community is still subjected to hate speech in public space, for example in June 2022, at that time still president, Miloš Zeman, in a TV news programme, said that trans people «disgust him» and compared gender affirmation surgery to self-harm.
The conclusion of the 2022 Rainbow Index was that there is serious concern that the Czech Republic is following in the footsteps of neighbouring more conservative Eastern European countries (such as Poland) in relation to the LGBTQI+ community in general.
The trans community in Czech film does not have much of a history, it was only in the past decade that the community got more screen space, mostly in the form of documentaries. To exemplify, in 2022, Česká televize (Czech Television) released the documentary V jiném těle, which attempts to bring the stories of trans people closer to today's audience.
However, as Jiří Procházka explains in his commentary for Deník Referendum in 2022 "V jiném těle. Nevkus a bezohlednost České televize vůči trans lidem", the documentary series was heavily criticised by both activists and the participants themselves, because the directing team itself in many cases contributed to the discrimination of trans people, for example:
The frequent direction of the discourse of the participants only towards their physical transformation and the complete objectification of the body, which can be seen, for example, in the discourse of Markéta, whose trajectory in the documentary largely revolves around her gender-affirming procedures.
Gender misrepresentation. The crew used incorrect pronouns several times to address participants or used their deadname in the credits.
It should be added that Česká televize also had a special called Queer, a programme about LGBTQI+ culture which aired between 2013 and 2022. The programme was filmed by members of the community, but it was broadcast at midnight, in contrast to the documentary already mentioned above, which was filmed by a heteronormative crew and had a broadcasting schedule already in the afternoon broadcasting time, so naturally, it attracted more viewers.
Another example is the character of Dáša in MOST!, a satirical series depicting the life of citizens of the Czech town of Most, released in 2019. Dáša is played by Erika Stárková, a cisgender actress. The character is dubbed by a male actor, Jan Cina, and appears in the series as a rather controversial element. On several occasions, Dáša is subjected to jokes about her transition and called by her deadname.
In 2022, Česká televize released a documentary miniseries called Kronika orgasmu, which deals with the history of sexuality in the former Czechoslovakia, i.e. the second half of the 20th century and the period of communism, therefore before the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The third episode focuses on the transgender community, even though more so in the biological sense. It addresses the first surgeries in the 1970s and presents the story of a man who went through transition in 1978. The episode portrays the trans community with respect and also features various activists and educators.
Otherwise, the Czech trans collective remains unrepresented in mainstream fiction with trans men and other non-binary identities completely excluded from the discourse. There is still major progress yet to happen when it comes to trans rights in general, let alone in film.