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Twin Peaks: Why LGBTQ Ally Depiction is Crucial

Portraying how easy it is to be an ally heavily benefits the majority audience. The more we encourage it, normalize it, and give people the tools to become one, the sooner we can co-exist peacefully.

Jimmy J
Jimmy J
April 11, 2022
3.5 / 5
INCLUVIE SCORE
5 / 5
MOVIE SCORE

I’m sure no one really needs to be told what Twin Peaks is, but we’ll go through a speedy summary.

Twin Peaks is a mystery-horror drama TV series that premiered on April 8th, 1990, which means it’s thirty-two years old as of – *checks watch* – now. It was created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, the latter of which also directed surrealist works such as Mulholland Drive (2001) and the original Dune (1984)

Twin Peaks centers around the murder of a teenage girl in a small, rural town in Washington and the unnatural circumstances surrounding it. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is called to the tiny town to investigate and ends up neck-deep in drug rings, prostitution, domestic abuse, and supernatural happenings.

The show is known for its dramatic, dissonant shifts between drama, horror, and comedy. It features a stellar jazz soundtrack, amazing characters, and acting, and is deeply ingrained in current pop culture as we know it.

Although today I’ll only be speaking of episodes 18, 19, and 20, because they contain Agent Denise Bryson, Twin Peaks’ trans woman FBI agent.

I will not be covering 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Return (although many people have spoken about it). I will be talking about the original 1990's series portrayal of transgender folk and one awesome LGBTQ ally.

Agent Denise Bryson - Trans representation ahead of its time

David Duchovny portraying Denise Bryson

Agent Denise Bryson (David Duchovny)

Agent Denise Bryson (played by David Duchovny) discovered her identity while working undercover to catch a drug dealer who only dealt with transvestites. Undercover, she wore exclusively female clothing and found it relaxed her. Nothing ever felt more right, and as such, she started going by Denise and didn’t stop wearing women’s clothing even after the mission.

This depiction, including the role being played by a cis male, isn’t perfect. But unfortunately, we don’t have perfect trans representation now, 32 years later.

But it isn’t just the character’s depiction that’s ahead of its time. It’s how the show itself handles the role.

You want an example? I’d be happy to give one.

In the scene where Agent Cooper is receiving some gathered evidence from his admirer, a young woman named Audrey Horne, Agent Bryson walks in on them to discuss the case with Cooper.

Starstruck, the young Audrey gushes that she didn’t know the FBI had female agents. Bryson shrugs and answers: “More or less…”

Audrey is nothing by awe, admiration, and giggles while looking at Bryson until she’s asked to leave so they may discuss the case.

Now: Audrey may not realize that Bryson is trans. But that’s not what I’m concerned with.

What I’m focusing on is that the respect and appreciation that Audrey is shown to have for Bryson is not played as a joke. The admiration she has for a female FBI agent is not displayed as one of those gratingly bad “If only Audrey knew! Hur hur! She’s so silly!” moments.

What does this mean then? It means that the creators showed dignity for trans people. They wrote the scene without mockery. Bryson wasn’t there to be a punchline.

Watch the scene on Youtube in HD right over here.

Dale Cooper - An LGBTQ ally portrayal worthy of the modern era

Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, and Audrey Horne, played by Sherilyn Fenn

Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn)

Yes, I bet you’ve read articles on various takes on Denise Bryson, but have you heard someone gush about a solid LGBTQ ally in Twin Peaks?

Agent Dale Cooper was my favorite character in this show before the episodes with Bryson. But after? He’s a superstar.

Let’s examine his first scene with Bryson in episode 18. Cooper worked with Bryson years ago and hasn’t seen her since she transitioned, he’s only told that “Agent Bryson” is arriving to help him with the case.

And his reaction when Bryson enters is absolutely priceless. It goes like this:

Cooper: "Dennis?"

Bryson: "It's a long story, but I actually prefer Denise if you don't mind."

Cooper: "Okay."

This. Response. If I could have anyone respond this way when telling them pronouns/new name/identity…I'd buy them a cake.

Dale slips immediately into her new name and pronouns, even though she's a past FBI partner and he knows her by her deadname mainly.

Trans term - deadname: the name an individual was given at birth they no longer identify with.

Dale Cooper is friendly, professional, and ends the discussion with a big smile, telling her that she’ll love the food at her hotel.

And let’s get something straight: Cooper isn't portrayed as being "woke" or “liberal”. He's simply portrayed as a human who has respect and dignity for another human. And he shows this throughout the entire series. In all of his interactions.

Another example of being a great LGBTQ ally is later at the hotel they’re both staying at.

While talking about the case, Cooper accidentally deadnames Bryson. She corrects him with “Denise.”. He says sorry. She says it’s okay. They keep talking.

It’s as easy as that, folks. We aren’t unforgiving monsters.

Misgendering and deadnaming are as hard as you make them.

Why representing LGBTQ allies is crucial in media

Denise Bryson, played by David Duchovny, and Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan

Cooper's initial shock seeing his former partner, Agent Bryson, post-transition

Yes, of course – here at Incluvie minority representation is number one. And for good reason.

Minority representation is essential because:

  • It gives people of that community a face and voice
  • It gives minorities visibility to the white cishet majority

But LGBTQ ally representation is important because the majority population has the potential to be an ally. Right now. Only 7.1% of the US population is LGBTQ, which means that 92.9% of US citizens are cisgender, heterosexual individuals.

Portraying how easy it is to be an ally heavily benefits the majority audience. The more we encourage it, normalize it, and give people the tools to become one, the sooner we can co-exist peacefully.

Cooper’s reaction to deadnaming Bryson is actually an excellent lesson to cisgender folks. Apologize, move on, not a big deal.

The amazing public figure Jeffrey Marsh has spoken on this multiple times. They say that when you make a big deal out of deadnaming or misgendering you’re actually putting pressure on the trans person. Whether or not you’re trying, you’re saying “this is a problem that’s happening to us both because of you”.

And that lesson can be taught so smoothly, simply, and quickly, all while you watch a TV show. A TV show that isn’t beating you over the head with its message.

Conclusion

Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan

The world definitely needs more Dales

No, LGBTQ ally representation isn’t a top priority. And it certainly isn’t explicitly “diversity”.

But

That outstandingly huge 92.9% has the potential for love and compassion. It has sway over votes. It has an extremely loud voice to support those in need.

Its opinion is absolutely essential for queer folks’ rights, safety, and happiness.

So forgive me if I fanboy over Agent Cooper’s awesome role as an LGBTQ ally, because he’s out there teaching a valuable lesson.

Plus, it’s one more lesson that I don’t have to teach someone.

Thanks, Dale.

Interested in some more LGBTQ content? Get your queer-on reading A Homosexual Cowboy is Still a Cowboy and Why The Queer Community Loves The Rocky Horror Picture Show.