It really is amazing how far we have come as a society when it comes to media representation of the LGBT community. While gay and lesbian characters have long been represented on television and film, the shift to include transgender characters has only recently occurred. Up until the early 2010s, there were virtually no trans characters on our television screens or on the big screen. Nowadays, it has become the norm for shows and films to represent the community in some way, casting a necessary spotlight on their struggles and triumphs. Their inclusion has allowed trans folks to realize that they are not alone, and do not have to feel ashamed to be who they are. For some, just seeing a trans character depicted on screen has literally saved their lives. Here is a list of the top 5 transgender characters that have made a positive impact on our society.
Dr. Terry Randolph, General Hospital
The character of Oncologist, Dr. Terry Randolph may not be known by many outside of the daytime soap opera community, but that does not lessen the positive impact she has made. Portrayed by trans actress Cassandra James, she is the first transgender character on ABC’s General Hospital. She was first introduced to viewers of the show on June 29, 2018, as the childhood friend of longtime fan fave, Elizabeth Webber (played by Rebecca Herbst). Elizabeth was initially shocked to see that the boy she knew as a child (as well as her first kiss) is now a beautiful woman – the woman she was meant to be all along – and embraced Terry with open arms almost instantly. Speaking on her thoughts of playing Terry, James posted to Instagram: “Terry, like many trans people, struggled to find love and acceptance from her family. Transition is rarely arbitrary. Personally speaking, it took me several long years of self-discovery and soul-searching before I decided to transition. I’m thankful to be telling Terry’s story and grateful to everyone at #GH who were committed to have a trans woman portray Terry.”
Shameless is the longest-running scripted series in Showtime’s history, and in its 7th season, the show introduced fans to Trevor. Portrayed by trans actor and activist Elliot Fletcher, Trevor would become a love interest for Ian Gallagher (played by Cameron Monaghan), an openly gay man and one of the show’s original characters. As a social worker at the local LGBT center, Trevor was fundamental in educating Ian, and simultaneously, viewers of the show, about the trans community. He was the first trans character on the show that was prominently featured and his inclusion opened eyes and expanded many minds as it pertained to the trans community and their place in our society.
Sophia Burset, Orange is the New Black
Netflix’s Orange is the New Black has been credited by many for being the first show to prominently feature a trans character, played by a trans actress, since the show’s inception. Portrayed by the amazing Laverne Cox, Sophia Burset was initially incarcerated for credit card fraud, which she used to finance her gender confirmation surgery. This is a notable struggle that many trans individuals face. Her relationships with fellow inmates and her family were often depicted as complicated due to her being a transgender woman. Despite all of this, at her core, Sophia is a genuinely good person, as long as you don’t get on her bad side. Sophia’s impact on the show, and with fans, as well as Laverne’s critically acclaimed portrayal of the character, garnered the actress a Primetime Emmy Nomination. She also landed the cover of Time Magazine in June 2014, making her the first trans actress to accomplish both.
Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, Pose
Created by Ryan Murphy, FX’s Pose has the distinction of having the largest cast of transgender actors ever for a scripted television series. One of the show’s characters that is truly making an impact is Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, portrayed by trans actress and singer MJ Rodriguez. Living in New York City during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, Blanca is the epitome of never giving up in the face of adversity. After being diagnosed with HIV, she takes matters, as well as her fate, into her own hands by forming House Evangelista, a self-selected family that prides itself on providing safety, love, and support to those that have been abandoned by their birth family for being themselves. MJ’s portrayal of Blanca has garnered overwhelming praise from critics and has been called the “breakout star” of the series.
Nomi Marks, Sense8
Sense8 may have ended way too soon, but the popular Netflix series will live on in our hearts as one of the most groundbreaking shows ever produced. Created by sisters and trans women, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, along with J. Michael Straczynski, Sense8 featured a racially diverse cast, in addition to the fact that it tackled subjects that are not normally depicted in many science fiction shows and films, such as sexuality and gender identity. One of the show’s breakout characters was Nomi Marks, portrayed by trans actress Jamie Clayton. Try and wrap your head around this one: Nomi Marks is a caucasian trans woman in a same-sex interracial relationship – and ultimately, marriage – with an African American woman. How’s that for inclusivity?
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Top 5 Transgender Characters That Have Made an Impact. Featured image credit: Peter Hapak of TIME. Photograph credits: @cassandrajames_, @elliotfgf, Kwaku Alston, @poseonfx, and Marcio Del Nero