As Trans Awareness Week is upon us, we wanted to reflect on the trans actors providing authentic and meaningful representation on our screens.
From Heartstopper and Pose to Euphoria and Grey’s Anatomy, these trailblazers are leading the way when it comes to trans visibility in the media.
Hunter Schafer (Jules Vaughn) – Euphoria
Appearing opposite Zendaya’s Emmy Award-winning Rue, Hunter Schafer’s Jules (her impressive acting debut) quickly became a real fan favourite. Rue and Jules’ sweet but dramatic relationship underscores much of Sam Levinson’s glittering Euphoria and while Jules is a trans woman, this identity is not the basis of her character. Delivering a fantastically grounded performance, Schafer hit new heights in the Jules-focused special F*ck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob. Co-written by Schafer, the episode rests on Jules’ therapy session, unpicking her relationship to gender and from where she craves validation. Needless to say, we can’t wait for more Jules in Euphoria season three.
Yasmin Finney (Elle Argent) – Heartstopper
Yasmin Finney is the moment. From her upcoming Doctor Who role to her intergalactic turn in Yungblud’s short film MARS to being a British Vogue cover star, the 19-year-old actress is on another level. In Heartstopper, Finney plays teenage Elle who has recently moved to an all-girls school after coming out as trans. Coming to terms with the new start, she finds warm comfort in her close friends who huddle her into a hug every time she needs them. Finney’s uplifting performance has been lauded for bringing an eloquent and meaningful depiction of trans youth to the screen.
MJ Rodriguez (Blanca), Indya Moore (Angel), Dominique Jackson (Elektra), Hailee Sahar (Lulu), and Angelica Ross (Candy) – Pose
Pose has been monumental in carving a space for trans actors as main and regular characters on TV. Following the lives of queer dancers and models in the African-American and Latino communities in 80s/90s New York City, Ryan Murphy’s trailblazing Pose was justly praised for highlighting ballroom culture. Including MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, Hailee Sahar, and Angelica Ross Pose featured the largest cast of transgender and non-binary actors ever to appear as series regulars on a scripted show. The series was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the Emmy Awards in 2019 – the same year show star Billy Porter became the first openly gay Black man to be nominated for and win in an Emmy lead acting category, for his performance as Pray Tell.
Zión Moreno (Luna La) – Gossip Girl
Close friend and stylist of Julien (Jordan Alexander), Luna La is the trendsetter of the Gossip Girl revival. Portrayed by Zión Moreno, Luna is the first trans character in both iterations of the show. Luna’s gender identity is barely a discussed topic, making for a refreshing portrayal where the character is able to embark on narratives where topics of transphobia are absent. Depicting a much more LGBTQ+ visible New York than the original show, this Gossip Girl universe is immersed with bi, queer, and trans characters living as their unabashed selves.
Elliot Page (Viktor Hargreeves) – The Umbrella Academy
After winning over everybody’s hearts, Elliot Page’s return to The Umbrella Academy saw a sincerely moving season where his character’s storyline mirrored his own. Coming out as trans in 2020, ahead of series three Page shared that his character would be changing his name to Viktor Hargreeves and transitioning. While it was a collaborative effort, the progressive handling of Viktor’s narrative clearly meant a lot to Page, who shared his pride that the Netflix show honestly captured the inspiring story. Time will tell what’s in store for Viktor in the fourth and final season of the show, but hopefully, it’s a lot more Elliot Page!
Laverne Cox (Sophia Burset) – Orange is the New Black
Laverne Cox made history as Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black, becoming the first openly trans person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in an acting category. In the long-running show, which aired between 2013 and 2019, Cox played Sophia, a woman thrown into a female correctional facility for credit card fraud. She dreams of opening up her own beauty salon as she sharpens her hairdressing skills in the jail’s salon. Following her breakthrough in Orange is the New Black, Cox’s career took off and she has since appeared in Charlie’s Angels, Promising Young Woman, and Inventing Anna.
Alex Blue Davis (Dr. Casey Parker) – Grey’s Anatomy
Alex Blue Davis stepped onto Grey’s Anatomy hospital ward as intern Dr. Casey Parker, the first transgender doctor on the show. The character’s coming out culminated in a scene with Davis delivering the line: “I’m a proud trans man, Dr. Bailey. I like for people to get to know me before they find out my medical history.” The historic moment was even more meaningful with the context being that then-President Trump proposed a ban on trans people serving in the armed forces. Appearing in seasons 14, 15, 16, and 19, Davis’ character exited the show when Dr. Casey’s PTSD from Air Force service worsened.
Jamie Clayton (Nomi Marks) – Sense8
In Netflix’s Sense8, Jamie Clayton portrayed Nomi Marks, a political blogger, and hacktivist based in San Francisco. A proud lesbian and trans woman married to Amanita (Freema Agyeman), Nomi creates quite the impact: she’s on the FBI watchlist and has to escape from her transphobic mother and doctors, but forges her own path with a found family that surround her with love. As Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski’s (both, themselves, trans) first foray into television, the Netflix science fiction series garnered a strong queer fanbase for its outright and visible representation.