The best TV shows to watch with transgender characters played by transgender actors

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By Tyla Connor

Last Saturday London celebrated the second Trans+ Pride. Attendees demanded reform of the Gender Recognition Act and an end to violence against Black trans women.

After the government missed its deadline for responding to the GRA’s public consultation in 2018, the rights of transgender youth to access healthcare and surgery being increasingly under threat mean that the prospects for trans rights in the future seem to be getting worse.

Despite all the political turmoil surrounding trans people and negative feelings within the trans community about their future, representation within the media, especially TV shows, can be uplifting and educating for both transgender and cisgender people.

That said, here are eight of the best TV shows which feature transgender actors portraying transgender characters.

  1. Euphoria, Jules Vaughn
Hunter Schafer playing Jules Vaughn in hit HBO show Euphoria Photo by HBO/Kobal/Shutterstock

Transgender model and activist Hunter Schafer’s acting debut is in HBO’s teen drama series Euphoria. She stars as Jules Vaughn a transgender teen who relocates from the city to a suburban high school. Vaughn is a 17-year-old girl who is both the best friend and girlfriend of the show’s protagonist, Rue. Most trans characters in pop culture exist to spend their storylines grappling with their transition but Euphoria focuses on other themes surrounding Schafer’s character, making it a unique representation of trans people in the media.

     2. POSE, Almost all the main characters

Angel Bismark Curiel as Lil Papi and Indya Moore as Angel Evangelista in popular FX show POSE
Photo by Macall Polay/FX/Kobal/Shutterstock

Most of the characters on the show are transgender women playing transgender women during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City. Depicting NYC Ball culture in the late ’80s – early ’90s the show has a reminiscence of Paris is Burning.  POSE has the largest cast of transgender actresses to be starring as series regulars in a scripted show. POSE is a show that does justice to a time when being transgender was even more dangerous than it is today. This show is an amazing way to educate cisgender people on the struggles the black trans community has faced and continues to face.

     3. Sense 8, Nomi Marks

Jamie Clayton playing Nomi Marks in the award-winning Netflix show Sense 8
Photo by Murray Close/Netflix/Kobal/Shutterstock

Created by transgender filmmakers Lana and Lilly Wachowski, Sense 8 is inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community and centres on a group of people who discover they are “Sensates.” Jamie Clayton plays Nomi Marks, a trans hacktivist and political blogger who lives with her wife Amanita. In an interview with Digital Spy (2020), Clayton said, “The world is a largely conservative kind of place. I was hoping that people would watch and learn the difference between gender identity and sexuality and just simple things that so many people still don’t understand. I hope that they learned some stuff.”

     4. The OA, Buck Vu

Ian Alexander playing Buck Vu in the Netflix show The OA
Photo by Jojo Whilden/Netflix/Kobal/Shutterstock

The OA follows a group of six people consisting of four teenage boys, their teacher and a woman who refers to herself as the OA. Buck Vu, played by trans actor and activist Ian Alexander, is a trans teen whose father rejected his identity and in result, re-sorted to illegally purchasing testosterone. This story is a familiar story amongst a lot of trans teenagers. Self-medicating in the trans community has been on the rise due to extremely long NHS waiting times and costly private prescriptions. In an interview with Them Magazine (2019), Alexander expressed gratitude to the show for giving him the ability to reach out to younger trans people.

     5. Orange Is The New Black, Sophia Burset

Laverne Cox playing Sophia Burset in the Netflix show Orange Is The New Black Photo by John Photography/Shutterstock

Laverne Cox is possibly one of the most famous transgender actresses and activists in the media today, she is probably most known for her role as Sophia Burset on Orange Is The New Black. Cox plays the only transgender woman at Litchfield Penitentiary, where she’s doing time for credit card fraud to pay for reassignment surgery. Over the course of seven series, Sophia is faced with transphobia including having her HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) taken away causing her to physically de-transition. Cox’s role as Sophia resulted in her becoming the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.

    6. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Theo Putnam

Lachlan Watson playing Theo Putnam in the well-loved Netflix show The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Photo by Diyah Pera/Netflix/Kobal/Shutterstock

Lachlan Watson plays Theo Putnam, a character who comes out as transmasculine throughout the three series. Bullied for their gender identity, Theo is accepted by their close friends and eventually seeks transition through magical means, something that many trans people can relate to. Watson identifies as non-binary and uses their own experience as a transgender person to play their role. Since the show, they’ve become an important spokesperson for trans and non-binary rights. “I act to defy all physical limitations and expectations of who the world thinks I should be.” Watson said in an interview with Dazed Magazine (2020). 

     7. Grey’s Anatomy, Casey Parker

Alex Blue Davis playing Casey Parker on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy
Photo by Phil Mccarten/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Alex Blue Davis plays an intern on the show who reveals that he is transgender after telling his co-workers, “I’m a proud trans man, Dr Bailey. I like for people to get to know me before they find out my medical history.” This is powerful because it highlights that transgender people on and off-screen are often reduced to just their physical transition when they are so much more than that. Casey Parker’s coming out felt natural and empathetic as the storyline unfolded throughout the episode, and this new information felt like another aspect of his character.

     8. Supergirl, Nia Nal

Nicole Maines playing Nia Nal on CW’s sensational show Supergirl Photo by Rob Latour/Shutterstock

Nicole Maines plays the first transgender superhero on TV. After the creator of the show Greg Berlanti addressed the lack of transgender representation throughout shows on the CW network, a casting call was made to bring on a transgender actress. The fourth season of Supergirl showcased Nia as a political speech writer in Washington DC who goes on to serve as a protégé of Supergirl. Nia’s superhero name is Dream girl, her superpowers include prescience and astral projection. The character is the first of her kind on television. This is an amazing thing for transgender people as they finally have a superhero who represents them.

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