Trans representation on television has seen some significant improvement in the last decade. Where broadcast and network television featured a grand total of three trans characters in 2013, GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV report for 2023 cited 32.
This number translates to a broader spectrum of trans stories gracing today’s TV screens. And though we still have a long way to go when it comes to telling trans stories (and continuing to do so in a climate of mass cancellations), every step on the road to acceptance is still very much worth celebrating.
Here are four examples of trans representation on TV done well.
The Cast of Pose (2018-2021)
When it premiered back in 2018, FX’s Pose made history with the largest cast of transgender actors appearing as series regulars on a scripted show, namely: MJ Rodriguez (Blanca Evangelista), Indya Moore (Angel Vasquez-Evangelista), Dominique Jackson (Elektra Evangelista), Hailie Sahar (Lulu Evangelista), and Angelica Ross (Candy Johnson-Ferocity).
But more than just the number of trans characters present, the show shines with empathy for how it treats their stories. Set in New York City in the ‘80s, Pose follows queer Afro-American and Latinx communities at the height of ball culture and the AIDS epidemic. More specifically, it focuses on the relationship between two ball houses: Abundance and Evangelista.
As the show’s central characters, Pose’s five trans actresses play fleshed-out characters whose trans identity is never trivialized, whose tragedies are never romanticized, and whose joy is lovingly shared and celebrated.
Where online conversation about trans folk have crumbled into brain-rotting ‘debates’ over which bathroom they should pee in and which mildly progressive brands conservatives want to boycott next, Pose lays out — with much gentleness and empathy — issues about selfhood, intimacy, and belongingness.
By showing us these characters and how they navigate through life, the show invites us to rethink everything we’ve been told about trans people, sexuality, gender, and fashion. It also shows us some triumphant moments, like Angel and Papi’s wedding, and Elektra’s fiercest reads (which means, in drag parlance, critiques).
A big part of this, aside from the show’s stars, are the people we don’t see on screen. Pose counts an impressive 140 LGBTQ+ people working behind the camera as writers, filmmakers, and crew. Among them are trans activists and authors Janet Mock and Our lady J.
Jules Vaughn in Euphoria (2019 – )
The sweet but troubled Jules Vaughn is one of the stars of HBO’s Euphoria, a drama about Gen Z high schoolers as they navigate complicated issues like sexuality, gender, mental health, and addiction.
Jules, who is played by model-turned-actress Hunter Schafer, kickstarts many of the show’s main plotlines as she transfers to East Highland High School and catches the attention of both the main protagonist Rue Bennet (played by Zendaya) and the main antagonist Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi).
And yes, the writing on this show can be a little (or a lot) icky, but Jules shines best in “Fuck Anyone Who’s Not A Sea Blob,” a special episode that was co-written by Schafer herself and really, one of the best-written episodes of the series.
Set during a therapy session, the episode sees Jules discuss her relationships with femininity, men, her mother, and Rue, exploring what womanhood means to her as a trans woman in a world where womanhood is defined by our relationship with men.
Knowing that Schafer infused a few of her own personal experiences into Jules’ story adds to the episode’s emotional depth. It’s the first glimpse the audience ever gets of Jules from her own perspective, her image no longer muddied by the smitten Rue’s rose-tinted glasses. Her story, now, is hers alone to shape and control, and recontextualizes much of what we see throughout Season 1.
By centering on Jules’ journey, “Fuck Anyone Who is Not a Sea Blob” adds welcome depth to her character — a gift that Schafer doesn’t take lightly. “When I think about my community and particularly trans youth, their perception of it matters to me,” she said in a 2022 interview. “It feels really good to feel seen and know that they might feel seen.”
The Trans Queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race
RuPaul Charles and his show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, have a complicated relationship with trans people. Despite being a show about queer art, the early seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race still featured plenty of the transphobia that permeated mainstream culture in the 2010s.
However, thanks to past contestants, both trans and cis, and their determination to call out bigotry, the show has since corrected its more backwards aspects. The multi-awarded host has apologized for his hurtful comments about the transgender community in 2018, and the show changed some of its catchphrases to be more inclusive.
For instance, “Gentleman, start your engines, and may the best woman win!” was switched to “Racers, start your engines and may the best drag queen win!” in Season 13. The show also stopped using the term “She-Mail” to describe RuPaul’s cryptic video messages to racers after Season 3 queen Carmen Carrera used her voice to call out casual transphobia on the show.
This shift allowed Drag Race to stay truer to the core of what drag is: a rebellion against gender roles, and a celebration of liberated gender expression. It’s also a good reminder of how transphobia can, and often, does exist within queer circles, and how it’s always possible to change for the better.
RuPaul’s Drag Race went on to feature openly trans drag queens, a trans man, and even a cisgender woman. Several former drag racers have also come out as transgender after their time on the drag reality TV competition. Many have used the platform to broadcast their stories, shattering any pre-conceived notions of transness and proving to the world that there isn’t just one way to be trans.
Notably, All Stars 6 had the first trans woman winner, Kylie Sonique Love, while Season 13 had the show’s first trans male contestant, Gottmik. Nearly half of the cast of Season 14 identified as transfeminine, with many contestants posting their coming out announcements one after the other as the show’s weekly episodes aired.
Viktor Hargreeves in The Umbrella Academy
Before coming out as a transgender man in late 2020, award-winning actor Elliot Page had already starred in two seasons of The Umbrella Academy, a Netflix series about superpowered siblings navigating the messes created in the wake of their adoptive father’s death.
In the show, Page plays the black sheep of the family. When it was time to work on the show’s third season, The Umbrella Academy’s writers decided to reflect Page’s real-life transition in the show, and have his character reintroduce himself as Viktor.
The scene is brief. Remembering an old flame’s words, “You don’t even know the box you’re in until somebody comes along and lets you out,” Viktor enters a barbershop, asks for a trim, and heads off to a meeting with his siblings.
After his brother Diego addresses him by his old name Vanya, Viktor quietly but determinedly informs him and the rest of his siblings of his new name and identity. They accept the change with little fuss or fanfare — and life, as crazy it is for the Hargreeves siblings, moves on.
It’s this understatedness that makes the scene incredibly moving.
The Umbrella Academy is ultimately a show about family, what defines it, and why people would choose to provide love and support for people they lack blood connections with. The siblings often struggle to reconcile their differences. Yet Viktor, who has long wrestled with the trauma of familial ostracism, receives his siblings’ unconditional support upon coming out — proving that acceptance is something that should be incredibly simple.
Other factors may test their relationship, but this? It’s no big deal. It’s a non-issue. What a dream that is for many trans people, and how easy that is for the rest of us.