I wish I saw this post 14 hours ago, before her conversation with a Time Reporter, but I'd still like to try and answer. After all, what else am I gonna do with my Gender Studies degree aside from correcting angry feminists?
Mainstream Hollywood has been killing off/criminalizing "others" before it was cool. "Others" in reference to people who don't fit the norms of the "white, white collar, suburban family".
This is pop culture gender studies 101. To name a few, Jack Twist from "Brokeback Mountain", the old dude from American Beauty, the villain from the latest Bond film, "Skyfall", and yada yada yada.
Orange is the New Black tries to give each character a back story aside from their criminal stereotypes and humanizes them. This creates a plethora of extremely interesting and watch-worthy characters. Including Nicky the lesbian, Morello the bi-curious bride-to-be, "gay is the new black" chic, Park Slope dwelling Piper, cancer patient mama Rosa, credit-card swiping trans Sophia, and international drug dealing Alex, to name a few.
If you notice, none of these women are your White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestants, and they are all criminals. Even though the writers and directors portray these women has humans with great back stories. But when it comes down to it, these women are still criminals. Which I think the writers do a good job of reminding people, especially near the end of season 1.
These answers will be lengthy, so I'll try to insert pretty pictures to go with it.
1. Do you think the portrayal of transgender people in TV/film/media has been accurate or fair. Why or why not?
In my limited knowledge of transpeople being portrayed in media, I only know of two. First is the character on Nip/Tuck, that seduced a teen. And the other is Sophia on Orange is the New Black.
Let's start with Nip/Tuck.
I don't completely remember the story, but something along the lines of, "Older woman seduces teen. Teen sleeps with older woman, teen finds out older woman was, at one point, old man. Teen beats the shit out of older woman." There's probably a murderous storyline in there somewhere in between, while showcasing that the trans person actually has a really sad story.
2. How do we fix thieving trannies?
The thing about Mainstream Media, is that, no one wants to watch successful, undramatic people of any variety. When was the last time you voluntarily watched a show about rich white collar business people live their lives making a ton of money and not kill anyone?
Do these shows exist? Probably not.
So how do we accurately portray marginalized people effectively and actually get people to watch? There's only one way.
Write a show like the Jersey Shore, and stick a tranny in it and be the moral guidance/voice of reason. Would this happen? I don't know. Would anyone watch it? Probably not.
3. What do I think about Cis characters playing trans characters?
A little clarification, Cis- are people who identify their biological sex with their gender identity. While a trans person, does not identify their biological sex with their gender identity.
A comment I read earlier, "We don't have murderers play serial killers, so why not?" (I'm looking at you, Michael C. Hall.)
As long as the role is portrayed the way the writer/director desires, it does not matter. The issue here is the script, not the actor. Any actor worth their weight in gold, and any direct who's worth their weight in gold, would be able to direct and portray the trans character.
4. Do I think Sophia's success in Orange is progress for our community in terms of representation for recognizing and understanding of trans-characters?
Yes. There's definitely visibility and progress, but c'mon guys. She's still a felon. But I do like that the writers decide to stay away from cliche trans tropes and dialogues, and made the show less PSA-like, and more realistic.
5. How much has popular culture reflected the social progress being made by trans people in reality?
None. Trans people are still being stigmatized and talked about behind their backs. I think we can only take baby steps, now that gays are mostly accepted, next will be trans. But I read a study that parents of transpeople are more likely to accept them than gays. Or I can be completely making that up. Because parents thinks being gay is a choice, but being the opposite sex is not. Though my mom does think I want to be a dude, just because I like girls. Trust me, I'm perfectly fine with my biology, mom.
6. Do you think portrayals of trans characters in pop culture help or hinder the social causes of transgender people?
When I was 15-6, and trying to figure out my sexuality and desire and whether or not should I take Calculus or Stats, I turned to the media. Which I think helped and hindered me in coming to terms with my sexuality. It helped me feel less like a freak. Gay movies told me that it was okay to be gay and one day I'll have a hot girlfriend. But it also created this sugar-coated idea of the world that I'd be accepted everywhere I go.
Some teen watching Orange and probably already knows that he or she wants to transition, and see how the inmates and also Pornstache welcomes transpeople so welcomingly might actually want to come out prematurely. And then become the subject of attack from multiple sides. What if one day, said teen decides that it was just a phase? And now he or she faces the obstacle of going back into the closet. Which I think is actually harder than coming out.
7. How can the transgender community capitalize on Laverne's performance?
Erm. Hire her for other gigs? Hire other trans people for other gigs?
8. How can popular culture influence politics and vice versa in the trans community?
In my opinion, pop culture brings a voice to those without one. In my mind, a little gay girl who's living amid-st churches and corn fields may not have a positive gay role model in her life. But pop culture becomes her gay-fairy-god-mother. Again, it could go either way; she could be positively influenced by queer pop culture, or not. She may grow up (she did. I did.) with others who were suppressed by her corn fields, but as a strong and independent woman, taking on people who are trying to silence her and the like.