The transgender community is finally starting to get the representation it deserves. Over the past few years, trans characters have had more significant roles in popular films and TV series. They’re not only limited to LGBTQ-centric projects, either. Whether we’re watching Jules on Euphoria or Bex in Assassination Nation, we’re loving the fact that these characters are as complex and dynamic as their cisgender counterparts. While there is still quite a ways to go, there are a number of actors who’ve paved the way to acknowledge. Find out the best transgender roles in movie and TV history to date–and expect to see the list continue to grow as time goes on.
Sophia Burset – ‘Orange Is The New Black’
There are plenty of reasons to love Orange is the New Black, but Laverne Cox is definitely high up on the list. Cox plays Sophia Burset, a transgender hairdresser imprisoned for credit card fraud. She committed the crime to pay for gender reassignment surgery, but her son–who disapproves of the transition–ratted her out as an act of retaliation.
Over the course of seven seasons, Sophia remains a beacon of hope who refuses to dwell on her history of suffering. Even better, she is always armed with a sassy joke to keep everyone’s spirits up.
“I did my time. I’m looking forward now, and you and your hair should do the same,” she tells protagonist Piper Chapman after they are both released from prison.
Marina – ‘A Fantastic Woman’
A Fantastic Woman is the heartbreaking tale of Marina (played by Daniela Vega), a transgender woman who is grieving the unexpected loss of her boyfriend Orlando. Her emotional strength is tested at every turn: police question whether she is responsible for Orlando’s death, she is denied access to his funeral, and she loses her home–all while enduring everyday brutality at the hands of transphobic people.
The film earned an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2018, and Vega became the first transgender woman to be a presenter in the history of the ceremony.
“Every single one of us could be Marina,” Vega told Vulture in 2018. “We can all find a part of ourselves in her.”
Jules – ‘Euphoria’
HBO’s provocative teen drama Euphoria focuses on the life of Rue Bennett (Zendaya), but fans haven’t overlooked supporting characters like Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer). Jules, Rue’s best friend, begins to transition at age 13; by the time she arrives as the new kid in town, she is comfortable in her own skin. The beauty of Jules is that her storyline does not portray her as a victim.
“There need to be more roles where trans people aren’t just dealing with being trans; they’re being trans while dealing with other issues,” Schafer told Variety in 2019. “We’re so much more complex than just one identity.”
Blanca, Elektra, Angel, Candy, & Lulu – ‘Pose’
Pose, which follows the drag scene and ballroom culture in New York City, gives everyday viewers a look into the lives of trans people–particularly those of color. Producers rightfully cast a large number of trans actors to provide authentic representation of its characters. There’s Blanca and Elektra, house mothers who serve as mentors for aspiring performers on the scene; Angel, a trans sex worker who aspires to become a professional model; and Candy and Lulu, co-founders of House of Ferocity.
Despite being a niche subject, the series was a hit. It was nominated for multiple Golden Globe Awards and Primetime Emmys during its run.
“More and more showrunners, writers, networks, are taking people who are marginalized and making them the leads,” said co-producer Ryan Murphy. “These people have gone from being sidekicks at best to being captains of their own story. And that’s significant.”
Alexandra & Sin-Dee – ‘Tangerine’
The 2015 film Tangerine follows Alexandra and Sin-Dee, two trans sex workers, during a chaotic and drama-fueled night in Hollywood. The roles are played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, and both actresses became the first trans performers to receive endorsements for Oscar nominations by their film’s producers.
“One thing that has become apparent to us as we look at this stuff, it seems that the TV Academy has embraced what’s happening in the trans movement with Transparent and Orange is the New Black,” co-producer Mark Duplass told Variety. “We feel that the film Academy is a little behind on that front.”
Theo – ‘The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’
Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, based loosely on the old Archie comic, is playfully described as a show about a woke witch. One way it’s been retooled for modern audiences is the addition of Theo Putnam (Lachlan Watson), a transgender boy whose birth name was Susie. Theo identifies as non-binary, which Watson relates to.
“Honestly, it was a little refreshing to be a queer character [and] not be confined to a linear path where ‘Oh, the character gets bullied and does research and oh, now they came out,’” they told Teen Vogue. “It was nice to live in that ambiguous world where Susie can really just be Susie and figure out what they meant without really being pressured to come out and label themselves just yet.”
Bex – ‘Assassination Nation’
Assassination Nation, a modern take on the Salem Witch Trials features Bex, a trans girl who is kidnapped and barely escapes death at the hands of angry teenage boys. The role is played by Hari Nef, the first trans model to be signed to IMG Worldwide. Nef told Vogue in 2015 that her very existence is a political statement.
“I could have hid in Boston and lived at home for three years, gone through my transition, taken voice lessons to make my voice more feminine, gotten gender reassignment surgery, and spent time to complete my transition before I made my debut in fashion or film, but I didn’t want to wait!” she said. “I wanted to be in the world.”
Buck Vu – ‘The OA’
When Ian Alexander was cast as Buck Vu on the Netflix sci-fi series The OA, producers shaped the character to reflect the actor’s own upbringing. Buck, like Alexander, is a Vietnamese-American trans teen whose parents struggle to accept his identity.
“Playing Buck was very personal, but I had to put myself out there,” Alexander told NBC News. “I want to be visible for people like me because during that dark period, I needed someone to inspire me like that.”
Nia Nal (Dreamer) – ‘Supergirl’
Nia Nal, aka Dreamer, made history as the first transgender superhero on television. The role, which debuted in the fourth season of Supergirl, is played by trans actress Nicole Maines.
Executive producer Greg Berlanti said the decision to add Nia Nal–a former D.C. speechwriter-turned-half-alien-superhero–was long overdue.
“We don’t have an active trans character across the shows, you know,” he said at a DC panel in 2018. “And we had a trans actress playing a trans in a show I did that was not a superhero show, eleven years ago. And so I still feel behind the times every day on that issue.”