NEW YORK – CBS is taking the plunge into the turbulent waters of sexual transformation this fall — featuring a transsexual as a major character on TV for the first time.
The Education of Max Bickford is a drama that stars Richard Dreyfuss as a college professor whose colleague, Steve, undergoes a sex-change operation to become Erica (played by Helen Shaver).
Gay characters are practically the norm on many prime-time shows — but there has never been a regular transgender character before.
The idea has stirred up concern among members of GLAAD — the national organization that represents gays — that the press might have trouble writing about the character.
The group sent a letter to the media yesterday calling attention to The Education of Max Bickford and including a set of guidelines and the "do's and don'ts" for writing about Erica.
Among the suggestions were:
* Do use female pronouns when referring to Erica.
* Don't use quotation marks around [the words] female, woman, Erica or female pronouns when referring to Helen Shaver’s character.
GLAAD spokesman Scott Seomin said the organization had done a similar mailing two years ago after Hilary Swank was nominated for an Oscar in Boys Don’t Cry.
And as an explanation for the letter, GLAAD officials wrote, "Transgender television characters have appeared primarily on 'very special' episodes of medical, legal, police dramas (usually during sweeps) as pathetic and tragic victims.
"They are typically sex workers, suicidal, homeless and/or dead. . ." it said.
"CBS and the producers of Max Bickford have chosen to include a regular transgender character on this show and this is a significant first for television."
Included with the letter was a mini-glossary and style guide consisting of transgender terms, their meanings as well as words GLAAD describes as "problematic terminology."
Some of those terms are: "she-male, he-she, trannie, tranny" and "gender-bender."
"These words only serve to dehumanize transgender people and should not be used," the letter states.
Among the preferred terms, the letter says, are: "transition" instead of sex change and "intersex person" instead of hermaphrodite.
The glossary also includes the meanings of terms such as sex reassignment surgery (SIS), gender identity disorder (GID) and the meaning of the word transgender.