On screen, there’s no denying that Bella Ramsey is a superstar. The 19-year-old’s performance as Ellie in HBO’s The Last of Us was no small part of the show’s smash success; their complex portrayal of rage, grief, and the loss of innocence garnered rave reviews. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Ramsey is part of a trans revolution in entertainment, bringing nonbinary representation to the forefront of Hollywood.
Ramsey’s TV career began nearly a decade ago with their supporting role as Lyanna Marmont on Game of Thrones. More recently, they’ve acted in period TV drama Becoming Elizabeth and in Lena Dunham’s 2022 comedy Catherine Called Birdy. But it’s The Last of Us that made Ramsey a household name, and its premiere in January of this year coincided with Ramsey opening up about their gender identity.
The digital education course has been three years in the making.
In an interview with the New York Times, Ramsey shared that they’re not particularly concerned with gender, and that when it comes to pronouns, they “couldn’t care less” — though when asked to choose their gender on a form, they’ll choose nonbinary if it’s an option.
“I guess my gender has always been very fluid,” they said. “Someone would call me ‘she’ or ‘her’ and I wouldn’t think about it, but I knew that if someone called me ‘he’ it was a bit exciting.”
Later, Ramsey elaborated on their feelings toward their own gender, telling GQ that they don’t mind playing feminine roles, but they resent being boxed into womanhood.
“This is what bothers me more than pronouns: being called a ‘young woman’ or a ‘powerful young woman,’ ‘young lady,’ but I’m just not [that],” they said. “Catherine Called Birdy, I was in dresses. Young Elizabeth, I was in a corset. And I felt super powerful in that. Playing these more feminine characters is a chance to be something so opposite to myself, and it’s really fun.”
Ramsey also shared that they wore a chest binder for “90 percent” of shooting The Last of Us (a choice they admitted “probably isn’t healthy, like please bind safely”), and that their co-star Pedro Pascal was “super supportive.” The two shared plenty of conversations on set about gender and sexuality, and according to Ramsey, “they weren’t always deep: they could be funny and humorous, the whole spectrum. We were just very honest and open with each other.”
And now that they’re an Emmy contender for their work on The Last of Us, Ramsey is speaking out against gendered categories for awards shows. After thinking it over and discussing it with showrunner Craig Mazin, they decided to submit their performance to the leading actress category, but they told Vanity Fair that they were “uncomfortable” identifying with either of the Emmy’s gendered acting awards.
“I don’t want the limitations in terms of the language in the categories to be a reason that nonbinary actors like me can’t be celebrated,” Ramsey said. “And it can open up a conversation about how it feels — as long as I’m aware of the fact that it’s not ideal, but also that finding alternatives is really complex.”
Ramsey is just one of the many prominent nonbinary and gender-nonconforming actors changing the landscape of TV, including Yellowjackets’ Liv Hewson, The Crown’s Emma Corrin and Hacks’ Carl Clemons-Hopkins. By being proudly visible in their nonbinary identity, Ramsey is helping to keep the debate around degendering awards alive.
“For [nonbinary and nonconforming people] to have a say and be part of those discussions and those conversations, that’s really important,” Ramsey said. “I just hope there’s more space for nonbinary people to be recognized within [future] categories.”
In the meantime, Ramsey’s continuing to earn their queer icon status. On this year’s Trans Day of Visibility, they sent love to the trans community, including their younger self.
“Happy TDOV to this little dude!” Ramsey tweeted, referring to a picture of themself as a child. “I didn’t know the word non-binary in this picture. But I knew what it meant. Inherently. Because I always was, and always will be. Lotsa love to all of my trans, enby and gender funky friends.”