Representation is a big damn deal. While some may be quick to dismiss the impact of seeing marginalized people onscreen, the reality is that diverse representation in film and television serves two distinct and important purposes. First, it allows members of that community to see themselves onscreen in a positive light. The power of seeing your experience reflected back to you makes you feel less alone and less isolated.
Secondly, it exposes the audience to cultures, sexualities, and identities that they may not have encountered before. It’s easy to demonize a group of people when you never see them or hear them (or only see them portrayed in a negative light). But being confronted with authentic, sensitive portrayals ignites empathy and relatability. It opens up the conversation and expands the culture.
2018 was a banner year for trans representation on television. According to the GLAAD Media Institute’s “Where We Are on TV” report, last year saw a record 26 recurring or regular trans characters on television. It’s the highest number ever, but still makes up only 6 percent of all LGBTQ characters on scripted broadcast, cable, and streaming programs.
Here are five of our favorite trans characters on television:
1. Nia Nal/Dreamer, Supergirl
Season four of Supergirl saw the addition of new cast member Natalie Maines, who plays CatCo reporter Nia Nal. As the season has progressed, we’ve seen Nia come to terms with her powers and embrace her identity as Dreamer, with some coaching from Brainy and Kara. Maines brings sweetness and vulnerability to the role of the nascent hero, with a standout performance in episode 11, “Blood Memory.” The episode ably weaves Nia’s coming out to Kara with her coming out to her family about her powers in a poignant episode. In a season with a hate-mongering, alt-right villain, Maines is a breath of fresh, optimistic air.
2. The Women of Pose
This year’s bump in the number of trans characters on television is thanks in no small part to FX’s Pose. The game-changing series features a cast of trans women of color and follows their lives as they compete in the ballroom culture of the 1980s. Actresses Dominique Jackson, Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Angelica Ross and more breathe life into characters that we rarely get to see on the screen. These ladies bring humor, pathos, and gravity to the ensemble, making Pose one of the best series of 2018.
While everyone is tremendous, a special shout-out must be given to Rodriguez’s Blanca. Blanca’s journey from member of House Abundance to the loving mama of House Evangalista is a tour de force of tough love and vulnerability. Folks will look back at Rodriguez’s work and wonder how the hell she didn’t garner an award nomination. There’s always season two.
3. Casey Parker, Grey’s Anatomy
Alex Blue Davis joined Grey’s Anatomy in season 14 as surgical intern Casey Parker. The character was a former Air Force expert in cyber security, which came in handy when Grey Sloan Memorial was under attack by a hacker. As Parker helps regain control of the system, he reveals to Bailey that he was convicted of hacking the DMV to correct his gender on his driver’s license. As the first trans doctor on Grey’s Anatomy, Parker’s coming out wasn’t the focus of a “very special” episode. It was personal information that came out at the right time to an empathetic colleague. Dr. Parker is a complex character, but his gender identity isn’t his defining feature, and that’s an important step towards inclusivity.
4. Trevor, Shameless
Oh Shameless, you keep going off the rails and yet we feel compelled to keep watching you. The long-running Showtime series introduced Elliot Fletcher as Trevor, a social worker at the LGBT center who starts a relationship with Ian Gallagher. Fletcher has played trans characters on Faking It and The Fosters, but his soulful portrayal of Trevor and his interactions with the dysfunctional Gallagher family make him a standout. Trevor appeared in seasons 7 and 8, but we have yet to see him recur in season 9.
5. Ruthie, Shrill
Hulu’s new series Shrill is jam-packed with hilarious actors. But newcomer Patti Harrison steals every scene she’s in as Aidy Bryant’s caustic co-worker Ruthie. Whether she’s cursing out total strangers or loudly explaining the definition of a sixty-nine, Ruthie is absurdly inappropriate in all the best ways. Harrison, who rose to fame after a hilarious Tonight Show monologue about Trump’s transgender military ban, is someone to watch.
Special Mention: Trace Lysette, Drunk History
For a show with such a goofy premise (comedians recounting historical events while drunk), Drunk History does a great job of casting trans actors for trans roles. The episode “Love” follows the events of John Wojtowicz’s bank robbery, which inspired the film Dog Day Afternoon. Paul Rust plays Wojtowicz, a man who robbed a bank to get the money to pay for his wife’s gender reassignment surgery, with Trace Lysette as his wife, Elizabeth Eden. Lysette previously appeared as Sylvia Rivera in the Stonewall episode, but her performance in “Love” is surprisingly tender and sweet, given that she and Rust are basically lip syncing Drew Droege’s drunk ramblings.
Who are some of your favorite trans characters and performers? let us know in the comments, and Happy Trans Day of Visibility!
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