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Transgender Characters on TV: How the Roles Have Grown & Why It’s Important

A look at how roles for transgender talent has grown on television and why there needs to be more.


Over the past couple of years there have been some historical moments for the transgender community on television. Little by little, transgender representation on TV is growing with shows like Amazon’s “Transparent,” Laverne Cox becoming a household name thanks to her role on “Orange Is The New Black” and most recently become the first transgender actor to play a transgender series regular character on broadcast television in her new CBS show “Doubt.”

While more transgender people are getting a voice on screen, Nick Adams, GLAAD’s director of programs and transgender media tells Variety, “We still have a long way to go.”

According to a GLAAD report on the 2015-16 television season, it found that out of the 271 regular and recurring LGBT characters in scripted broadcast, cable and streaming programs, only seven were counted as transgender, and only one a transgender man.

Though, as Variety’s Seth Kelley writes, “However, little glimmers of positive transgender visibility on television exist.”

READ MORE: Laverne Cox Toplining New CBS Series ‘Doubt,’ Marking a First for Transgender Actresses on TV

Reality shows like “I Am Cait,” which centered on Caitlyn Jenner and her transition, and “I Am Jazz” about transgender teen Jazz Jennings, help people get an inside look at their experience and normalize their lives in comparison to how sometimes they are dramatically depicted on scripted TV.

“It is a delicate line to want to try and create a character that’s real, and allow it to be human, flawed and all those things,” says “Faking It” showrunner Carter Covington about trying to incorporate transgender stories and performers into its series. “But also know that there is such little representation that every move this character makes will get much more scrutiny, and be extrapolated much more than the other characters on the show.”

With that in mind, he enlisted the help of GLAAD to help read scripts and guide the storylines to make sure he was helping in a positive way.

READ MORE: More Queer Women Are Being Killed Off On Television Series Than Ever Before — Study

“The hope is that eventually transgender roles won’t have to be scrutinized — that there will be so many fully formed characters that being transgender will become a non-issue,” adds Kelley. 

Any role, when fully developed and not stereotyped, helps the transgender community feel like it’s a part of the conversation and represented. Having transgender talent behind the scenes is also something that “Transparent” showrunner Jill Soloway is working on such as casting Our Lady J to write for two seasons and having people in the hair and makeup department, as well as wardrobe. “Our director’s assistant this year is trans. There are people in the camera department. This season we have two new trans actors,” Our Lady J tells the site. “I did feel a lot of responsibility, and I still do, to connect with the community, and to make sure that I’m representing the community well.”

So every action is a step forward and how Adams says, “Giving transgender actors even small roles in scripted programming gives them the opportunity they need to be able to take on bigger roles.” 

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