Disclaimer: I, in no way, represent every trans person. Every trans person is different and our experiences may differ wildly. I only claim to speak for myself in this article.
CW: Transphobia, and zombies. As always, if I missed anything that should be a content warning, please let me know and I’ll gladly add it to the list.
The fifth and final season of iZombie premiered last night. I’m feeling bittersweet about it. On the one hand, it’s always great to have new episodes of a show I love. On the other hand, I know it’s going away and not coming back.
For those of you who don’t know, iZombie is a show, loosely based on a comic book of the same name, about a woman named Liv Moore. Once upon a time, she was a med student but that all changed when she went to a party and a zombie bit her. In this show, zombies are capable of maintaining their humanity so long as they have a regular supply of brains. For this reason, Liv quits her internship at the hospital and takes a job for the police department as a mortician’s assistant. The good news about this is that it keeps Liv from going what she calls, “full-on zombie mode.” The bad news is that when Liv eats brains, she gains some of the memories of the person who’s brain she ate and since she works at a police morgue, she almost exclusively eats the brains of murder victims. One thing leads to another and Liv ends up using these memories to help solve a new murder every week. So basically, iZombie is the quirkiest procedural crime drama I know of and I love it.
In celebration of the final season, I’m going to talk about how my life as a trans woman is like being a zombie but I’m not talking about just any zombie. I’m specifically talking about how my experiences mirror those of Liv Moore. I’ll try to list these similarities from least to most significant. Let’s get on to the list.
1 ) Trying on Different Personalities
Liv gets more than just memories from the brains she eats. She also takes on the personality traits of the people whose brains she consumes. For one episode, she’ll become a kleptomaniac, who steals every red object she can find. She’ll be as cold and emotionless as the professional hitman who’s brain she ate for the next episode. As you can probably imagine, Liv struggles with her sense of self-identity. There are several episodes throughout the show where this struggle is placed at the forefront.
My transition has been a time of self-discovery. I have been trying on so many different behaviors and aesthetics and I’m no longer entirely sure who I am, anymore. Which of my traits and behaviors are genetic and which ones are learned? Of those that are learned, which ones should I keep? Should I be developing any new habits or behaviors? Basically, transition is often referred to as a second puberty. I’m relearning who I am and what I like. This involves a lot of experimentation when it comes to my voice, mannerisms, the way I dress, etc. Liv’s identity crisis reflects this part of my life better than anything else I’ve ever seen in film/television.
2 ) The Fear of Coming Out
Liv is understandably terrified of coming out as a zombie to her family and friends. Zombies are not popular with the general public. This makes it hard for Liz to have an open and honest relationship with anyone. She feels that, in order to not lose anyone, she has to keep a safe distance from everyone. The toll this takes on her is noticeable but most people assume that her behavior is a symptom of PTSD, clinical depression, or something else along those lines. She sees their concern which makes keeping her secret even more painful. This is exactly what it was like for me before I came out as a trans woman. Replace, “Liv is,” with, “I was,” and replace, “zombies,” with, “trans people,” and that is exactly what it was like for me before I came out.
3 ) Dog Whistles
Most people don’t recognize Liv as the zombie she is but other zombies do. They just have to take a quick glance and they know. This is accomplished through the use of dog whistles. Dog whistles are coded messages that are typically understood by one group of people but not by people who aren’t a part of that group. Dog whistles can be many things. They can be the way you speak, the words you use, the way you dress, and many other things. Have you ever heard the phrase, “gaydar”? It’s not an actual radar. It’s just the ability to recognize gay dog whistles. In Liv’s case, her bleach blonde hair and pale skin are written off by most people as aesthetic choices. Other zombies know that these aren’t even choices. Dog whistles like these allow zombies to find and communicate with each other without anyone else catching on.
Trans people have dog whistles, too. I don’t want to give too many details about them, however, since there is always the risk that someone with ill intent might read this article and look for trans people to harm based on the dog whistles I mention here. You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that we’re typically pretty good at recognizing each other. We’ll notice subtle details that most non-trans people will simply won’t.
4 ) The Stigma
Zombies are often seen as disgusting monstrosities that are sub-human at best. They are considered undeserving of care or respect of any sort. Liv often comes across people reading books, watching movies, or playing videogames where zombies are gunned down, en masse, without a second thought. When such media does elicit a response, the reaction is usually one of joy or excitement. Most of this prejudice against her community isn’t blatant; it’s casual and for her, that hurts even worse, in a way. It’s painful for her to think that hating zombies is such a normal and natural thing, for so many people, that they don’t even have to put any time or effort into it. Is it really surprising, though? How much positive or even accurate zombie representation is there in popular media? There is very little if any. On top of this, how many people have actually met a zombie? How many people truly know better? When for so many people, the only exposure they’ve had to the idea of zombies is through negative depictions in media, is it really surprising that people think that way?
I think y’all see where I’m going with this. Trans people are depicted almost exclusively negatively in media. We are depicted as insane, confused, pedophiles who want nothing more than to go into women’s’ restrooms so that we can rape people. This is far from the truth but this is the way many people see us. They think we are disgusting monstrosities that are sub-human at best. The way Liz feels when people casually kill zombies in a videogame is how I feel when people make, “It’s Mam,” jokes, insist on using the word, “trap,” or buy into the bullshit Fox News says about my community. With this kind of stigma, is it really surprising that so many of us remain in hiding?
5 ) Taste Buds Gone Crazy
That got heavy so let’s end this list with something a little more light-hearted. Liv is, more or less, dead and so are her taste buds. For this reason, she can’t really taste much but she can taste hot sauce. She goes crazy over hot sauce and other spicy foods. She puts copious amounts of hot sauce in just about everything she eats. The hotter it is, the more she enjoys it. The way Liv is with spicy food is the way many trans women are with salty food. This is a side effect of a commonly used testosterone-blocking medication called Spironolactone. Some popular snacks for trans women include potato chips, Cheez-Its, and pickles (and boy do I love putting pickles in my mouth) but my personal favorite is french fries; the saltier, the better.
I don’t think the creators of iZombie intentionally wrote Live Moore as a stand-in for a trans woman. I believe all the similarities are merely coincidences. That being said, accidental representation is still representation. I identify with and Liv Moore more than any other fictional character I’ve ever come across. For that, I’m eternally thankful. iZombie will always hold a special place in my heart and I’ll be sad to see it go after the current season. Representation matters. Thanks for reading.
- Thomas, Rob, and Ruggiero-Wright, Diane. iZombie. Warner Brothers, 2015.