1:30 pm EDT, June 6, 2019

6 TV shows with transgender characters played by transgender actors

Recently Hypable shared an article about LGBT representation on TV, and I noticed that most of the shows he selected have gay and lesbian characters, but are very sparse in the department of Transgender/Non-binary representation.

Often times when people say “LGBT” they really mean “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual” and very often not even Bisexual, just the former two.

In cases like Glee, when there are transgender characters, they are played by cisgender actors, however gender non-conforming. Then there are shows like The L Word, where lesbian trans women are suspiciously absent, but trans men are integrated with nary a glance at how problematic that is. While any representation at all is often regarded as a move in the right direction, seeing actual transgender people playing transgender characters is a rarity, and something really only seen in the last few years.

When shows get it right, and I mean really get it right, it is often rather shocking to trans people. Personally, as a transgender woman, I don’t expect proper representation at all. When it happens I am pleasantly surprised.

Now, in my roundup, I am going to avoid shows like Law and Order: SVU, where trans women have played transgender characters, but their stories are almost always short and tragic. That said, here are six shows with transgender characters played by transgender actors.

Transgender TV characters played by Transgender actors

1) ‘Orange is the New Black,’ Laverne Cox

Orange is the New Black is at the top of this list because Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Bursett on the show, is the most famous transgender person I can think of aside from (rather unfortunately) Caitlyn Jenner. Cox skyrocketed to fame when she came on screen in the first season, and quickly became a mainstay in the community with her advocacy, sense of humor, acting skills, and, quite frankly, stunning beauty. She has used her platform to further the voice of those who are voiceless, who are ignored in our community, and who only tend to receive recognition when they are literally murdered, if even then.

2) ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,’ Lachlan Watson

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina raises a point that is going to be further illustrated by the next entry: Netflix gets it right. Lachlan Watson plays Theo Putnam (first Susie, before coming out), a character who comes out as transmasculine over the course of the show. Bullied for their presentation, Theo is accepted by their close friends, and eventually seeks transition through magical means, a desire that many trans people can relate to. Without belaboring Theo’s transness too much, the show properly addresses their gender identity without making them a one-dimensional character. Actor Lachlan Watson is non-binary, and does the character a justice that isn’t often seen or expected in the sci-fi/horror genre.

3) ‘The OA,’ Ian Alexander

The third Netflix show on this list, The OA is a show that defies genre. Somewhere between sci-fi, psycho-thriller, and horror, the show lets no character exist in a two dimensional space, and Buck Vu, played by Ian Alexander, is no exception. Unlike Sabrina’s Theo, Buck is out from the beginning of the show, and is grouped with three other boys and a teacher as the titular character fills them in on their story.

Buck is misgendered and deadnamed by his parents several times on the show, but treated equally and with respect by his closest friends. There is a level of tension gleaned in passing between Buck and his parents, which feels true to form. Many trans people, however embraced by close friends, experience less acceptance from their families, and actor Ian Alexander, who is transmasculine himself, plays the character beautifully.

4) ‘POSE,’ almost all of the main characters

POSE is a phenomenon unto itself. Most of the characters on the show are trans women playing trans women during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City. Depicting NYC Ball culture in the late ’80s, early ’90s, we experience house mothers and their children, the precursors to drag mothers and drag daughters as they exist today.

The show boasts five transgender actors played by Mj Rodriguez (Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista), Indya Moore (Angel Evangelista), Dominique Jackson (Elektra Abundance), Hailie Sahar (Lulu Abundance/Ferocity), and Angelica Ross (Candy Abundance/Ferocity). The show is produced by transgender activist Janet Mock, as well as transgender musician and writer, Our Lady J. POSE is a show that not only gets it right, but does justice to a time when being trans was even more dangerous than it is today. When the LGBT community was at enormous risk of contracting HIV/AIDS when it was a death sentence.

The show itself is reminiscent of Paris is Burning, a documentary that was filmed in the NYC ball culture around the time the show takes place. During that documentary one of the main focuses, Venus Xtravaganza, was murdered shortly before its release. POSE is so important, I personally hold it up as a show that I want all of my cisgender friends and family to watch as a form of education, as much as it is a form of entertainment.

5) ‘The Good Doctor,’ Sophie Giannamore

The Good Doctor is a show about a talented autistic surgeon. A show that breaks ground in many arenas, there is no explicitly trans recurring characters, though one episode, titled “She” features Sophie Giannamore as transgender patient Quinn Darby.

In the episode, Quinn comes into the hospital experiencing abdominal pain, and when she undergoes an examination, Freddie Highmore’s character Dr. Shaun Murphy discovers that she has a penis. Confused by her gender presentation, he insists that Quinn must be a boy due to her biology, but another character helps explain that Quinn experiences gender dysphoria.

While it’s been pointed out that introducing a transgender character by their genitalia is extremely problematic, the episode is true to form what many transgender people experience in medical settings. It turns out that Quinn has testicular cancer and osteopenia, a condition potentially caused by her puberty blockers. Family dynamics are a key focus of the episode, with Quinn’s grandmother accusing her parents of child abuse for letting her be on puberty blockers.

This mirrors real life situations, and allowed for a frank discussion about how delaying puberty for young transgender people can be a life-saving precaution. By the end of the episode, Dr. Shaun Murphy has come full circle through intolerance to understanding.

After Supergirl creator Greg Berlanti addressed the lack of transgender representation throughout shows on the CW, a casting call was put forth to bring on a transgender actress. The fourth season of Supergirl made good on the call, and Nia Nal/Dreamgirl, played by Nicole Maines, came onto the scene. Portraying a political speechwriter in Washington, DC at the beginning of her introduction, Nia Nal goes on to serve as a protege of Supergirl where she learns how to be a superhero, as well as a fellow reporter for CatCo, a fictional newspaper on the show. Nia Nal/Dreamgirl’s superpowers are prescience, and astroprojection. The character is the first of her kind on television, making Nicole Maines the first actor to play a transgender superhero on TV.

6) ‘Supergirl,’ Nicole Maines

After Supergirl creator Greg Berlanti addressed the lack of transgender representation throughout shows on the CW, a casting call was put forth to bring on a transgender actress. The fourth season of Supergirl made good on the call, and Nia Nal/Dreamgirl, played by Nicole Maines, came onto the scene. Portraying a political speechwriter in Washington, DC at the beginning of her introduction, Nia Nal goes on to serve as a protege of Supergirl where she learns how to be a superhero, as well as a fellow reporter for CatCo, a fictional newspaper on the show. Nia Nal/Dreamgirl’s superpowers are prescience, and astroprojection. The character is the first of her kind on television, making Nicole Maines the first actor to play a transgender superhero on TV.

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