1. Transgender representation
  2. Media representation of transgender individuals
  3. Television shows featuring transgender characters

Transgender Representation on Television

This article explores the representation of transgender characters on television, from the early days of the medium to the present.

Transgender Representation on Television

In recent years, there has been a surge of transgender representation on television. From groundbreaking shows like Orange is the New Black and Pose to smaller roles on popular series such as Supergirl, transgender characters are becoming increasingly visible in the media. As transgender rights become a more pressing issue in society, it is important to examine how television is helping to shape public perception and understanding of gender identity. This article takes a closer look at transgender representation on television, exploring the current state of affairs and highlighting some of the most influential characters and storylines. We will analyze the various ways in which television is helping to shape public perception and understanding of gender identity, as well as examine the challenges that transgender people continue to face in society. The first transgender character to appear on United States television was in 1991, when soap opera Another World featured a trans woman named Julia Shearer.

Since then, there have been a handful of other transgender characters in scripted television, including Lauren Adams’s character Ali Pfefferman in Transparent, Laverne Cox’s Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black, and Nico Tortorella’s Josh in Younger. These characters have all been portrayed positively and have helped to normalize transgender identities. Reality television has also featured transgender people since the early 2000s. Transgender contestants were featured on shows such as The Real World, I Want to Work for Diddy, and Big Brother.

These shows have allowed viewers to get an up-close look at the lives of transgender people and helped to foster understanding of their experiences. More recently, documentaries about trans people have become increasingly popular. Shows like I Am Jazz and Becoming Us have explored the lives of trans people and their families in a more intimate and nuanced way than scripted television has been able to do. These documentaries provide an important platform for trans voices. The representation of transgender people on television has come a long way since its beginnings, but there is still work to be done.

Trans people are still underrepresented in both scripted and reality television, and there are few positive depictions of non-binary identities. There is also a need for more nuanced portrayals of trans people in both scripted and reality television, rather than relying on stereotypes or tropes.

Reality Television

Reality Television has also been a platform for transgender representation. The genre of unscripted television has often pushed boundaries and created a forum for social issues to be discussed. In 1994, the MTV series The Real World featured the first transgender character to appear on American television, Pedro Zamora.

Zamora was a Cuban-American AIDS activist and his story was featured on the third season of the show. Zamora's story was an eye-opening experience for many viewers, and his presence on the show served as an important milestone in television history. In 2008, I Want to Work for Diddy featured a transgender contestant, Laverne Cox. Cox made it to the final round of the competition and her presence was widely praised by fans of the show.

Big Brother has featured several trans contestants in recent years, including Audrey Middleton in 2015 and Angela Rummans in 2018. Though Middleton was the first transgender houseguest in Big Brother history, Rummans' presence in the house marked an important shift in how transgender people were represented. Rummans was portrayed as being confident and strong, which was a positive example for viewers. Overall, reality television has provided a platform for transgender people to tell their stories and share their experiences with a wide audience.


Documentary television has been a powerful medium for telling the stories of transgender individuals. One of the earliest examples was the 1992 documentary Tongues Untied, which focused on Black gay and bisexual men, including a number of transgender people.

More recently, shows like I Am Jazz and Becoming Us have featured transgender protagonists, providing viewers with a more intimate look at the lives of trans people. In I Am Jazz, viewers follow Jazz Jennings as she navigates her transition and her life as a trans teen. The show has drawn praise for its realistic and positive portrayal of trans issues. Similarly, Becoming Us follows several trans teenagers and their families as they navigate their transitions and find acceptance. The show gives viewers an intimate look at the real-life struggles and victories of trans youth. These shows provide a valuable service by giving viewers an up-close look at the lives of transgender people.

They help to humanize and destigmatize trans identities, giving viewers a better understanding of what it means to be trans.

Scripted Television

Scripted television has taken a leading role in representing transgender characters on screens. One of the first scripted series to feature a transgender character was the daytime soap opera Another World, which aired in the United States from 1964 to 1999. The character, Rachel Cory, was portrayed by actress Victoria Wyndham from 1979 to 1986. Rachel Cory was a trans woman who transitioned in her late twenties. More recently, Transparent has been praised for its accurate and sensitive portrayal of Maura Pfefferman, a trans woman. The show was released in 2014 and follows the story of Maura as she transitions in her late sixties.

Transparent has won numerous awards, including two Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy. In 2013, Netflix released the show Orange is the New Black, which featured a recurring trans character, Sophia Burset, played by Laverne Cox. The show follows the story of Sophia, a trans woman who is incarcerated after committing credit card fraud to pay for her transition-related medical costs. The show has won many awards and has been praised for its accurate and positive representation of a trans character.


, a comedy-drama television series created by Darren Star, premiered on TV Land in 2015. In its sixth season, which aired in 2019-2020, Younger featured the transgender character Tracee, played by trans actor Nico Tortorella. Tracee was the first ever trans character portrayed on the show and was well-received by viewers.

Looking Ahead

The presence of transgender characters on television has come a long way in a short amount of time.

While trans characters have been featured on reality television since the early 2000s, scripted television has only more recently begun to feature trans characters, and often in a negative light. Moving forward, it is essential for the television industry to continue to strive for positive, realistic, and diverse depictions of transgender people. Positive representation of transgender people on television is crucial for the visibility and acceptance of trans individuals in society. Representation can help to normalize trans identities and break down stereotypes that exist in the public consciousness.

Positive representations can also help to challenge negative attitudes and provide inspiration to trans viewers. In addition to positive representation, it is also important for television shows to include non-binary characters and stories. Non-binary identities are often overlooked when it comes to media representation, despite the fact that they are an integral part of the trans community. Representation of non-binary identities will help to create a more inclusive environment for trans individuals.

In conclusion, it is clear that there is still a long way to go in terms of positive transgender representation on television. It is essential that the industry continues to strive for greater visibility and acceptance of transgender people and their stories. By continuing to feature positive transgender characters and stories, television can help to create a more accepting and inclusive society. Television has come a long way in terms of representing transgender people, but there is still work to be done. More positive depictions of trans characters, as well as greater representation of non-binary identities, are essential for achieving an accurate reflection of the transgender experience.

Despite progress in recent years, the television industry still has a long way to go in order to create a fully inclusive and accurate representation of the transgender community.

Jamie Jourdain
Jamie Jourdain

Jamie Jourdain is an acclaimed author and passionate advocate for transgender rights. With a Ph.D. in Gender Studies from the University of Oxford, Jamie combines academic rigour with a deeply personal approach to their writing. Their journey as a transgender individual informs their work, fueling their dedication to promoting understanding and respect for the transgender community. Jamie's published works, praised for their depth, empathy, and educational value, have become go-to resources for those seeking to comprehend and champion the importance of transgender rights. When not writing, Jamie travels the world, speaking at conferences and collaborating with LGBTQ+ organizations to fight for a more inclusive future