The 9 Best Transgender Characters on TV
Trans issues are finally getting a chance in the spotlight with reality shows like I Am Cait and I Am Jazz, but scripted TV has also been showcasing positive portrayals of trans-identified characters — though they’re few and far between, unfortunately. Here are some of our favorites of late:
Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor), Transparent
Maura Pfefferman, the fulcrum of the exquisite Amazon dramedy Transparent, won us over from the very beginning after daughter Sarah asks, “Are you saying that you’re gonna start dressing up like a lady all the time?”
“No, honey,” Maura replies between happy tears. “All my life — my whole life — I’ve been dressing up like a man. This is me.”
This “Mapa” shows us it’s never too late to be ourselves, and we’re all undergoing some sort of transition.
Cole (Tom Phelan), The Fosters
ABC Family’s The Fosters features a whole host of identities, including that of Cole, a trans teen played by trans actor Tom Phelan, with Cole persevering amid transphobia and ignorance of all sorts. “I think the audience should just take away that transgender people exist, we're here, and we are not going away,” Tom tells GLAAD. “And I really would love for people to kind of take away a sense that they need to educate themselves on these issues and be more respectful of the community.”
Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox), Orange Is the New Black
At first glance, Sophia seems like yet another example of the trans-character-as-criminal trope. But OITNB proves Sophia, like the other Litchfield inmates, is defined not by her crimes but rather by her humanity. (And special points to Netflix for showing an admirable trans character of color — played by a trans actress, no less.)
Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton), Sense8
In the Wachowskis’ reality-adjacent world in Sense8, non-straight characters and non-cisgender characters aren’t just included but normalized, so it’s no surprise that the show portrays Nomi as a hero, while dealing with her transgender identity as an important but not a defining attribute.
Unique Adams (Alex Newell) and Sheldon Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones), Glee
Glee featured not one but two central trans characters: Unique Adams (Alex Newell) and Sheldon Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones). Since Unique’s introduction in Season 3, she defied categorization and gender norms, while endorsing individuality above all. And Sheldon’s Season 6 coming-out (ratings play though it may have been) culminated with a choir of of 200 or so trans-identified singers performing “I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray.
Maya Avant (Karla Mosley), The Bold and the Beautiful
Maya Avant brought the trans experience to daytime TV in a positive light when she came out on The Bold and the Beautiful. “My first reaction was surprise, because 10 or 20 years ago, this is not a story we would be telling, and not in a way that’s truthful and not sensational,” actress Karla Mosley told USA Today. “My second reaction was, ‘Thank you.’ It’s a gift. It’s a privilege. It’s a real opportunity to educate our viewers here and all over the world.”
Rosalind Warren (Benjamin Patterson), Grey’s Anatomy
Though Rosalind herself did not get much airtime on Grey's Anatomy, the story of Ben Warren’s (Jason George) trans sister was valuable and productive in the evolution of the characters around her. “This isn’t about you, Ben,” Dr. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) tells a struggling Ben. “It’s her song, so get off the stage.”
Tony Sawicki (Tatiana Maslany), Orphan Black
How dare we expect all the Leda clones to be female? Tony made a brief but memorable appearance on this sci-fi drama, not batting an eye when confronted with his fellow clones, cuttingly sizing up Allison as a “douche,” and even hitting on Felix. “Pushing buttons, testing boundaries,” he says to Fe. “What you’re doing here is more complicated than sex or gender.” All TV shows should be so progressive.