In the last five years, trans representation in the media has improved by leaps and bounds. However, more progress is necessary.
According to GLAAD’s 2017-18 Where We Are on TV report, there were 17 regular and recurring trans characters on television during their 2017-18 research period. This includes characters on broadcast TV, cable, and streaming platforms. Nine of the trans characters were transgender women, four were transgender men, and four were non-binary. Compare that to GLAAD’s 2013-14 Where We Are on TV report, where only two regular or recurring trans characters were reported (not including Laverne Cox’s Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black), and the progress we have made is obvious.
And, while we are losing some of these characters going into the next year—including one of my favorites, Jamie Clayton’s Nomi Marks on Sense8—we are gaining others. For example, FX’s Pose has a number of regular and recurring trans characters. In fact, Pose alone is likely to significantly contribute to the number of regular and recurring trans characters in GLAAD’s next report. The fact that these characters aren’t just trans, but women of color as well, is significant.
In part due to the progress that has been made, many recent conversations about trans representation in the media have focused on the normalization of trans folks in media. And that normalization is slowly happening. For example, Laverne Cox’s Cameron Wirth on CBS’s short-lived Doubt was a lawyer whose trans status was not her sole defining characteristic. In a related move, out trans actors have begun playing characters who are not themselves trans, or whose trans status is never referenced or discussed. Candis Cayne’s Fairy Queen on The Magicians is one recent example of this. This sort of normalization helps to improve the visibility of trans folks in society, and helps to lessen the stigma of being trans.
However, there is also something to be said for characters who don’t just happen to be trans, or happen to be played by trans actors. There is something to be said for characters who are unquestionably better and more interesting because they are trans. Normalization is wonderful and important, but there are some things it cannot do because it often erases differences rather than celebrate or embrace them.
While Pose and a couple other shows are doing a great job of creating this sort of celebratory representation, there is always room for more. With that in mind, I would like to propose the following wishlist of trans characters I would like to see in the media:
- A queer trans woman who actively dates other women (including trans women).
- A trans man who is a loving and devoted father to two children he’s raising on his own.
- A genderfluid person who runs an after-school program for queer kids.
- A teenage trans girl who discovers she has powers when she starts hormone replacement therapy.
- A trans guy who runs an underground Queers and Allies group against the wishes of the local conservative school board that bans LGBTQ school groups.
- A trans woman who is a loving adopted mother to a young trans child.
- A nonbinary person who is the foremost expert on an alien race that doesn’t have a concept of gender.
- A trans woman who struggles with depression but pursues her dreams with the support of a loving spouse and their child.
There are so many opportunities for celebratory representation of trans folks across genres—from drama, to comedy, to action, to science fiction and fantasy. There is no story where a trans character couldn’t appear and have the fact that they are trans be a significant and important aspect of who they are. It’s vitally important that these sorts of celebratory representations exist.
We need trans characters who are undeniably trans. We need trans characters whose transness is an asset to them and to others. We need trans characters who bring something to the table that a character who isn’t trans couldn’t. We need these characters both because they provide absolutely necessary positive representation for trans folks, and because they teach society that trans folks aren’t just something to tolerate, but to celebrate. Because “being just like everyone else,” while helpful in so many ways, can also reinforce the message that being trans in any way that makes you stand out is a bad thing.
It’s not. It’s wonderful. I should know. After all, that last character? She’s me.