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Originally published November 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 11, 2007 at 2:05 AM

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On TV, being gay is so passé; now transexuals are in

Gay people on TV are old hat. By now, Entertainment Weekly reports, 61 percent of college freshmen, who grew up with "Will & Grace,"...

The Hartford Courant

Gay people on TV are old hat.

By now, Entertainment Weekly reports, 61 percent of college freshmen, who grew up with "Will & Grace," approve of gay marriage. The finding in the national poll is up 10 percentage points from a decade ago.

A turn around the dial will bring you gay story lines in daytime soap operas, same-sex dating on MTV shows such as "Next" and "A Shot of Love with Tila Tequila," and prominent gay characters in ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" and several cable shows — FX's "Nip/Tuck," HBO's "The Wire" and Showtime's "The L Word."

Suspected of being gay is no longer the guaranteed laugh it was on TV anymore, even on macho shows like "Two and a Half Men." And straight characters such as George on "Grey's Anatomy" or Barney on "How I Met Your Mother" can be credible, though they are played by gay men.

No, to add shock to TV shows in 2007, writers have turned to transsexuals.

On prime-time dramas

How surprising was it last season on "Ugly Betty" when Alex, the long-lost brother of Mode magazine editor-in-chief Daniel Mead, returned as Alexis, who was not only a woman but a woman who looks like Rebecca Romijn (exactly like her, as it turned out)?

A story line over the summer on "Entourage" involved Johnny Drama trying to get in good with the mayor of Beverly Hills by hooking him up with what appeared to be a beautiful woman at a trendy bar. Her pre-op secret was revealed in one of those skirt flash shots the paparazzi so love. But the mayor (Stephen Tobolowsky) decided he liked his exotic new acquaintance anyway.

Another politician on a TV series who decided to stick with his transsexual is William Baldwin's Patrick Darling on ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money." Though a married New York state attorney general running for U.S. Senate, he is determined to continue his illicit relationship with Carmelita, despite entreaties from his family lawyer.

Carmelita, a sultry blonde with a very low voice, is notable because she might be broadcast TV's first recurring transsexual character who actually is played by a transsexual. She is played by Candis Cayne, whose previous credits include "Wigstock: The Movie," "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar" and an episode of "CSI: New York."

A transsexual story line also occurs early on another new ABC series, "Big Shots," in which divorced cosmetics CEO Duncan Collinsworth, played by Dylan McDermott, hooks up with a transsexual prostitute at a rest stop — a tryst that threatens his career when the story gets out.

Even as more daytime talk shows take a more serious look at transsexuals, including an October episode of "Oprah Winfrey," some in the transgender community are not encouraged by TV's tendency to depict transsexual women, especially those of color, as prostitutes. The only transsexual women who so far escape that profession are white.

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Not so big a secret

But on "There's Something About Miriam," an imported BBC series on the Fox Reality cable channel, a group of men vie for the affections of a Mexican woman. According to Fox Reality, the show involves "six eligible men, one beautiful model named Miriam and an enormous secret reveal you never saw coming."

But in this season of transsexuals, of course you saw it coming.

And if you didn't, it was revealed in the premiere (shown, oddly, on Halloween, following the announcement of a winner on "The Search for the Next Elvira").

"I'm not a real woman. I wasn't born as a girl, I was born as a man. I'm a transsexual," Miriam says with about 10 minutes left in the first episode. "I see myself as a girl because I've been living about half my life the way I am living now."

"I see myself as a girl, so basically I like straight guys," Miriam says. The guys won't find out until the final episode.

"Cruelest" idea yet

When "There's Something About Miriam" first aired in the United Kingdom in 2004, it was called "the cruelest reality-show idea yet."

Its participants sued the show for conspiracy to commit sexual assault, defamation, breach of contract and personal injury in the form of psychological and emotional damage.

The cases were settled out of court, and the show since has been shown in Australia and Poland. Still, it is perhaps understandable that the cast refuses to do interviews related to the show's U.S. debut.

Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, has said, "It's just natural that as there are more trans people visible in public, that's going to be reflected in popular culture."

Conservative watchdog groups are against it. Christopher Gildemeister, in the TV Trends column for the Parents Television Council, says ABC has an "apparent fetish for transsexuals" in a season where "bizarre forms of sex are being emphasized to a much greater degree on television than ever before."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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