A Couples Thoughts and Props for ABC’s Nashville and Grey’s Anatomy

Spoiler Alert: this post discusses content from the last few weeks of ABC’s Nashville and Grey’s Anatomy.

If it seems like I watch a lot of ABC programming, I do, and part of why I talk about them so much is that many of these shows do a seemingly better-than-average job of a) casting diverse groups of individuals and including diverse characters and b) taking on important, if difficult, social issues.  I know that I recently talked about Switched at Birth‘s ongoing drunk consent plotline, and I’ve previously mentioned Nashville in reflecting on issues around consent and rape culture as well; but I want to give the show a little attention again to talk about their conversations around domestic violence.  And, since it’s been a while, I want to talk about what happened two weeks ago on Grey’s Anatomy.

I guess I’ll start with Grey’s, because I didn’t post on it right away, and because I am still taken aback by how well I felt the writers handled the episode.  In S11:E12 “The Great Pretender”, Dr. Warren’s brother, Kurt, is hospitalized and Dr. Bailey, looking at his chart, realizes that Kurt is trans, and is transitioning to being female.  Kurt (I’m using this name because the character does not reveal their alternative name until the very end of the episode) confides in her, and Dr. Bailey does just about everything she can to push her husband, Ben Warren, to talk to Kurt about this, and to accept, well, her for who she is.

There are a couple of reasons I think the writers nailed it in this episode.  First, because it can be hard on families, especially when news that a loved one is trans comes as a big shock, and Ben’s reaction to Kurt’s news is reflective of that.  But even more than that, Dr. Bailey’s handling of the situation is wonderful.  She is supportive of her sibling-in-law’s decision to come out, and is firm in pushing her husband to be supportive as well.  At the end of the episode, when confronting Ben about his mishandling of the situation, she is sympathetic but unwilling to acquiesce to Ben’s anger-~-and when Ben continues to misgender Kurt/Roselyn, Bailey finally just corrects Ben’s pronoun use, and leaves.

Miranda Bailey comforts her sibling-in-law going through transition

This isn’t the firs time Grey’s has featured a trans patient; several seasons ago, Mark and Lexie treated a trans woman whose estrogen treatment was causing her to develop breast cancer, prompting them to medically recommend that she cease transition.  I honestly don’t remember how they resolved the problem, but the episode did focus on the importance of gender identity as well as on the experiences of the patient’s wife, and it was well-handled as well.  But this is the first time that the patient in question has been pre-transition and we have gotten to witness the coming out process, the first time it has been someone close to the main characters on the show, and the writers did, in my opinion, an excellent job of defending the idea that being trans is not problematic or weird, and in recognizing that misgendering can be a form of violence and that individuals should take steps to recognize how they are interacting with trans identities and move towards allyship.  So, go Dr. Bailey, you’re still the best.

Nashville is dealing with something completely different, and unlike Grey’s, it doesn’t deal explicitly with social issues very often…but it does, usually, handle them pretty well.  For those who don’t follow the show, the past few weeks have dealt with one of the characters, Sadie Stone, dealing with her abusive ex-husband.  A couple of episodes ago, said ex-husband turned up to threaten Sadie and punch her in the face, causing her to fear for her long-term safety and file a restraining order, which in the lnext episode, he proceeds to violate.  This is, sadly, reflective of the experiences of a number of survivors of domestic abuse, wherein even after they make the decision to leave and successfully execute that plan, their abuser continues to interfere with their life, and may stalk, harass, or threaten them in order to regain control.  In Sadie’s case, her ex sues her for rights to her music, threatening her financial stability by getting an injunction against her upcoming album.

Sadie Stone uses songwriting to cope with her experiences http://www.abc.go.com

The reason I want to recognize this portrayal, however, is this: Sadie goes through periods of fear and depression in confronting her ex-husband, but she is a survivor.  She is pushing through to pursue a very successful music career, and she has flashes of strength where she feels able to confront him, particularly as she feels able to leverage the restraining order to keep him away from her.  She utilizes the legal system, and her label’s ability to settle the lawsuit out of court, to eventually gain some protection, and uses her experiences to write incredible music and empower herself.  This is actually an incredible portrayal of a survivor, because Sadie is neither always strong and confident, nor fundamentally broken.  Her experiences are reflective of the idea that abuse can be traumatizing and difficult to get past, but that happiness and survival and success are possible in spite of that. That’s a message worth getting out to people, and I’m glad to see ABC doing it.

We don’t see enough about these issues, at least not enough that is portrayed in a realistic, meaningful way.  Intimate partner violence is incredibly common, even in the United States, and many individuals will not realize until things are very bad that they are in a dangerous situation, may feel powerless to walk away, or may feel like they can never get their life back after they do.  We need to see pop culture narratives that empower those individuals, narratives that recognize their existence and their humanity, narratives that remind them it isn’t their fault and that tomorrow will come.  And we need that for trans individuals as well: in a culture where too many stories about trans people ends with their deaths, both on screen and in reality, we need stories about acceptance and success and love.  We need better examples of what allyship looks like, and we need better stories about individuals from marginalized groups, stories and examples that give us something to reach for.  And I’m glad that, at least in the last few weeks, we’ve seen at least a little of that.

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~ by Randi Saunders on March 2, 2015.

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