Warning, L&O: SVU spoilers—in case you somehow have missed it over the last fifteen years.
Note: as a cis-female I in no way presume to fully understand the issues and conversations around the transgendered community. However, as someone who strives to be a LGBT advocate, I do look critically at any portrayal of a non-straight, non-cis person in popular media. I'm mostly looking to hear the thoughts/opinions of those who do have more of a voice in that community, but definitely welcome any/all thoughts/opinions on this topic.
Let me first say, I love L&O: SVU...like, a lot. Is there a marathon on? I'll watch it. Back when it was all on Netflix, I burned through that shit, even though I had seen every episode at least once. I'm normally pretty intolerant to re-watching things, but somehow SVU never seems to get old for me (well...unless I JUST saw that episode and it is one of my lesser favorites). Probably because of the magical combination of tons of episodes, and my swiftly declining memory. Anyway, that said, I admit there are some things that SVU doesn't always handle well. Especially in earlier episodes (just like any popular media, there is an obvious evolution in how certain topics are handled). However, after watching one of the several episodes where they deal with a transgendered character, I found myself impressed with what felt like a pretty positive and knowledgeable portrayal (at least for an NBC show). In both the Episodes "Transition"—where teenage Haley is fighting her father for the right to keep taking estrogen—and "Identity"—where Luke, who has been living his whole life as Lindsay after his parents chose to give him a sex-change operation because of a botched Bris and never told him, always felt "wrong" as a female—the overall message seems to be that of support and understanding for what it means to be transgendered, and why transition is necessary. Of course, in both episodes, there are many characters who don't understand, or are even hostile. Nevertheless, as a viewer I felt the show framed the transgendered character as sympathetic and their particular plight one that should be understood and their transition encouraged.
Of course, I will admit that there are also aspects of SVU's portrayal of transpeople that are problematic—both of the aforementioned transgendered characters (both m to f) are played by men which, as has been mentioned on this site, can reinforce the misconception that transgendered=gay or cross dresser as well as ignoring the lack of inclusivity for minority groups in Hollywood. Furthermore, the only existence of trans people in the world of SVU are as part of a criminal case (and in both of those episodes, the attack they are accused or guilty of was on the victim's penis) so they are definitely not portrayed as normal. However, in a country and industry that is still pretty transphobic, I found it at least semi-refreshing to see a popular network show attempt to explain what it means for someone to be transgendered, and to portray that character sympathetically.
Of course, it may just be from my place of straight/cis privilege that I can feel like any normalizing effort in the media is a positive step forward. As problematic as Will and Grace was, it definitely shifted the the mass perspective/acceptance of gay men (albeit while creating/reinforcing stereotypes).
So, what do you think GT? I'm fully willing to accept that despite my good intentions, I'm missing a part of the conversation, or I'm just not the right person to be even trying to understand and explore the mass-media portrayal of transpeople. Thus, I welcome any and all feedback on how I am missing the point, or perpetuating misconceptions.