With Oxygen gearing up to premiere Strut (Sept. 20 at 9/8c), a show about the first all-trans modeling agency, we are producing a series of articles to bring you the latest on trans news, trends and information. Special agents, inmates, and hackers, oh my! Here's a list of seven trans TV characters who are changing the way we view trans people. Watcht the Strut trailer below and check out our list.
1. Sophia Burset (played by Laverne Cox on Orange Is The New Black)
Orange is the New Black breaks a lot of ground in its depiction of a diverse group of inmates and regularly features the idiosyncratic problems different populations face while making their way through America's prison industrial complex. But Laverne Cox's striking portrayal of Sophia Burset stands out. Burset's specific set of problems — from her inability to access estrogen to the difficulties in maintaining a relationship with her wife — are rarely depicted on television and are really driven home by Cox's passionate acting.
2. Nomi Marks (played by Jamie Clayton on Sense8)
For a long time, science fiction has been dominated by straight white dudes. The Wachowskis have broken the mold by queering up a genre not exactly known for its diversity. Nomi Marks, on the Netflix series Sense8, is a highly skilled hacktivist who is at peace with her identity. "The real violence... the violence that I realized was unforgivable... is the violence that we do to ourselves, when we're too afraid to be who we really are," she wisely says.
3. Maura Pfefferman (played by Jeffrey Tambor on Transparent)
What would it be like to come out as trans later in life? This question is what Jill Soloway's Transparent series explores through its protagonist, Maura Pfefferman. Although some were quick to criticize the fact that yet another trans character is here played by a cis male, Tambor's sensitivity to Maura's situation and the skill with which he plays her have garnered the actor considerable praise.
4. Denise Bryson (played by David Duchovny on Twin Peaks)
Resourceful and courteous, Special Agent Denise Bryson graced the surreal world of Twin Peaks long before trans issues had entered the national conversation. Since prophetic dreams and demonic entities were part of the eponymous town's charm, a transgender law enforcer hardly seemed strange to most of the characters. She notably came to the aid of protagonist Dale Cooper, saving him and Sheriff Truman from imminent danger by using her feminine wiles. Bryson is set to return for the show's reboot in 2017, almost three decades after her debut.
5. Marshmallow (played by David Herman on Bob's Burgers)
You would think that a goofy trans prostitute character on a cartoon comedy series wouldn't be handled with dignity or respect, but Marshmallow is actually a beloved figure in the adorable seaside town's cast of characters on Bob's Burgers. While trans sex workers have a history of being ridiculed on television, Marshmallow is treated by locals with affection and awe. For example: when Linda describes Marshmallow as "tall, dark, and handsome" Bob lovingly corrects her, saying, instead, that she's beautiful.
6. Cole (played by Tom Phelan on The Fosters)
ABC Family's series The Fosters has skirted controversy for depicting very real issues like the challenges of lesbian parenting and the tribulations of multi-ethnic families. The show also broke ground when it introduced Cole, a young trans man (played by an actual trans man) who faces bullying and abuse over his identity. "I think that there are so many different people and every trans person’s experience is going to be different," said Phelan, reflecting on his part. "There’s really no way of knowing if this depiction is accurate because everyone is going to have a different experience. And I think that Cole is one of thousands and thousands of ways to depict a transgender person."
7. The Women of Transcendent
Fuse's reality series Trascendent documents the lives of trans women working at the queer owned and operated AsiaSF restaurant and cabaret. The show depicts open and honest discussions of trans life and the process of transititoning. We chatted with Nya and LA about their experiences of filming just last year: "A lot of people don't understand how hard it can be to just put yourself out there and be completely vulnerable," said Nya. "Not everybody is going to agree with who we are. Not everyone's going to accept us. It can be quite scary."