105 Trans Women On American TV: A History and Analysis

Until about five years ago, it was nearly impossible to find even a mildly positive portrayal of trans women on American television. This widespread defamation has absolutely impacted the national perception of trans women as a group. It certainly had an impact on me growing up — not knowing any out trans women in real life, all I knew about them was what I saw on TV and in the movies. Trans women were pathetic, violent, disposable, or the butt of a joke. They endured misgendering and slurs from their loved ones and laughed along when humiliated. They were violently outed and interrogated about their penises, and this was considered okay. If any cis people in the story had a change of heart by the end of the episode, it was considered a positive portrayal, no matter what they’d already put the trans woman through. Trans women were treated as inhuman, basically. It remains acceptable, even today, to be openly transphobic and transmisogynistic on television.

This legacy of disrespect is what prompted an intense fan backlash when Pretty Little Liars revealed that its six-season villain, the mysterious “A,” was a trans woman named Charlotte, who the characters had previously known as Allison’s friend CeCe. It turned out that Charlotte was actually Allison’s long-lost sister, cast out of her family for being trans and subsequently gone bananas. Charlotte embodied every negative trans stereotype possible: she was deceptive about her trans status to a romantic partner and everybody who knew her, she manipulated and murdered innocent people, she wore disguises, she had mental health problems, she was referred to as “she/he/it,” she devoted her life to malicious and vengeful behavior and, after being outed, immediately turned suicidal. When the show returned in 2016, Charlotte lasted just long enough to embody one final trope: she got murdered.

The bar for positive representation is so low that in 2010, Seth MacFarlane described the following Family Guy storyline as “probably the most sympathetic portrayal of a transsexual character that has ever been on television, dare I say”: a main character’s parent comes out as a trans woman and then sleeps with another character who, when told about his lover’s trans status, vomits for 45 uninterrupted seconds.

So, I set out to do a thorough and comprehensive analysis of trans female representation on American television. Partially I’m motivated by wishing I’d had something definitive to point at when people argued the Charlotte reveal was no big deal, or that Caitlyn Jenner’s existence has summarily ended the misrepresentation conversation. But the deeper I got into the material, the more I just felt like this information needed to be gathered and presented in its entirety, because the repetitive tropes at play here are both truly horrible and rarely discussed. I was also unable to find any singularly comprehensive reference book for this topic, which surprised me.

Methodology:

Using The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV, Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images on Radio and Television as well as Wikipedia, TV Tropes, Wikias, imdb, message boards and recaps, I was able to discover 105 characters who seemed to be, either overtly or subtextually, trans representations. [ETA: The comments on this post are filled with stories of other characters — many that could’ve been included here if I’d found them myself, and some that wouldn’t be but are interesting thoughts anyhow — so read those after you read this!] The majority of these 105 characters were one-episode appearances, and over the course of six weeks, I logged over 50 hours of television watching and reviewing. If I couldn’t find the episode anywhere online or at the library, I used the aforementioned sources to describe the episode. We did not include sci-fi/fantasy/supernatural characters, because that gets a little confusing/tricky, and it was hard to know where to draw the line there.

In some cases, it was difficult to discern who was or wasn’t a trans character because the language we use to talk about trans people (and even how trans people describe themselves) has evolved so rapidly and changed so dramatically over the past five decades, and many early portrayals were categorized as “cross-dressers” or “transvestites.” Some of those roles I left out, but some I included because regardless of terminology, those images contributed significantly to how people perceive trans women and I wanted to include at least a few.

This report is in two pieces, in the first I will discuss broadly what I discovered, and the second is a list of every trans character I looked at and a brief description of their role.

I. Data

By and large, trans women are rarely seen on television, and when they are, the context is either tragic or farcical. Trans women on TV do these things: they die or are dying, they kill other people or are killed, they are your old pal from college who presents as female now, they are in the hospital, they’ve come down to the station for questioning. They always wear dresses and lots of makeup, they usually date men, they’re usually white, and they’re rarely portrayed by actual trans women. They are remarkably understanding when potential partners are disgusted by them, and patient when friends make jokes about them. They speak openly about penises and any surgeries they may or may not have had to anybody at all who wants to know.

When GLAAD looked at ten years of trans male and female representation on television in 2012, they found 54% of the 102 episodes containing trans folks were categorized as containing negative representations, 35% ranged from “problematic” to “good” and 12% were considered groundbreaking, fair or accurate. 40% of the characters played a “victim,” 21% were killers or villains, 20% were sex workers, and hate speech appeared in at least 61% of the episodes.

Representation has definitely improved over the last five years, but it’s still nearly impossible to find a character who’s trans identity is an incidental element of her inclusion on the show. Still, the majority of trans characters are written by and played by cis actors, and were it not for Transparent, Orange is the New Black and Sense8, which not-so-coincidentally employ actual trans people to play parts and sometimes even to write words, the landscape would remain pretty barren. The only one-off episode I watched that really impressed me was the most recent episode on this list, from a show called Royal Pains.

This infographic, compiled for me by the fantastic Heather Hogan, presents an overview of compiled data. However, the characters from Bob’s Burger included in the appendix are not accounted for in the infographic, as they were added after the infographic had gone through so many tiny updates that we no longer had the mental or emotional capacity to proceed.

trans-tv-5

In Part II, I will walk you through the entire history of trans female characters on American television. I used the terminology used in the programs themselves, rather than updated terminology, to accurately reflect what was said at the time.

Thank you to our Trans Editor Mey Rude, who edited and vetted this entire piece and also helped me fill in some of the shows I wasn’t familiar with. LOVE YOU MEY.


II. Appendix

Nurse Betty Ames, Alfred Hitchock Presents “An Unlocked Window,” 1965

Cis male actor
the-alfred-hitchcock-hour-an-unlocked-window
Nurse Stella Crosson is shocked to discover that their new nurse Betty Ames is not a nurse at all! In fact, she is the infamous nurse-killer on the loose! Betty poses as a victim and then tries to attack Stella. They pull off her wig for THE BIG REVEAL. This episode was so popular that they remade it in 1985!


Beverly LaSalle, All in the Family, 1975-1977

Cis gay male actor

beverly-lasalle
Archie is shocked to discover that Beverly, a performer who passed out in his cab, is “really a man.” They pull of her wig for the BIG REVEAL! Archie freaks out and unleashes a torrent of hate speech. Beverly eventually wins the Bunkers over with her winning personality and willingness to participate in jokes made at her own expense. Everybody continues using male pronouns for Beverly. Eventually she is beaten and killed by gay-bashers.


Pat Caddison, Medical Center, “The Fourth Sex (Parts 1 and 2),” (1975)

Cis gay male actor

*Robert Reed, a closeted gay HIV-positive actor best known for playing Mr. Brady, won an Emmy for this role.*

Screenshot 2015-11-16 12.20.51

Pat’s family is shocked when Pat, a surgeon, comes out as a “transsexual” and announces his intent to get surgery in Los Angeles, conducted by her old pal Dr. Gannon. Pat’s family freaks out and feel betrayed. Everybody continues using male pronouns for Pat. Pat delivers a compassionate appeal for understanding. Nobody supports her transition. Doctor’s wife suggests he get psychological help instead of surgery. Attempts suicide. Has surgery. Post-surgery, tells fellow doctors to consider being compassionate towards patients with their “psychological condition.”


Al, Barney Miller “Vigilante” (1975)

Cis male actor

Screenshot 2016-03-15 00.18.12

Al, a teamster held for arrest at the police station for “wearing a disguise,” functions as comic relief for the officers dealing with other crimes. Jokes about wigs! Jokes about girdles! Jokes about penises! Male pronouns! She plays along.


Charlise Parker, Police Woman, “Night of the Full Moon” (1976)

Cis male actor

police-womanPepper is shocked when the murderess she’s been chasing, Charlise, turns out to be “a man dressed as a woman.”


Edie Stoke, The Jeffersons, “Once a Friend” (1977)

Cis female actress.

**GLAAD noted this episode as “one of the first positive portrayals of a transgender woman in entertainment media.”**Screenshot 2015-11-15 23.37.49

George is shocked to learn that his old Navy buddie “Eddie” is a “transsexual” and now goes by “Edie.” George freaks out and makes a lot of jokes. Eventually he comes around. Edie tells George to stop calling her “Eddie” and using male pronouns. He reluctantly agrees. The show ends on a hopeful note!


Niki Gunter, Westside Medical, “The Mermaid” (1977)

Cis female actress

The doctors at a Los Angeles hospital are shocked when East German swimming champion Niki Gunter’s x-rays reveal that she is “transsexual.” Niki delivers a compassionate appeal for understanding — specifically, understanding that she cannot return to East Germany, where the East German government is preventing her from being socialized as a female. She confides in a female doctor about feeling like a “freak” inside and tells a male diver who’s crushing on her that she’s trans, which totally weirds him out. Reluctantly the Germans agree to be nicer to her.


Linda Murkland, All That Glitters (1977)

Played by Linda Gray, cis female actress

**First recurring transgender female character on television.**

all-that-glittersThis short-lived but delightfully subversive sitcom featured a world with reversed gender roles — women took power positions, their husbands were secretaries and stay-at-home Dads. Murkland, who came to the company when they needed a “rugged and strong” image for the company’s new cigarette line, was the first transgender character to be a series regular on network television. The show was cancelled after only six episodes.


Nikki, WKRP in Cincinnati, “Hotel Oceanview” (1980)

Cis female actress

Screenshot 2016-03-15 00.47.31

Herb is shocked when the woman he’s about to make out with says “I used to be a man.” Furthermore, she’s actually his old buddy from high school. But that guy was so athletic! How could she be a woman! Herb feels betrayed. Sick to his stomach, he flees the room.


Margo, Charlie’s Angels, “Angel on the Line” (1981)

Cis male actor

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The Angels are shocked to learn that Margo, a killer they’re tracking down, is “really a man” in a wig! They rip off her wig and she cowers, bald, in a puddle of mud.


Rachel Johnson, The Love Boat, “Gopher’s Roomate” (1982)

Cis female actress

the-love-boat-mackenzie-phillips-photo-sequence-af27b15dd2ae6070c13f15f89e6a69ab

Gopher is shocked to learn that his roommate from college, who used to present as male, is that lady he thought he recognized on the loveboat!


Too Close For Comfort, “For Every Man There’s Two Women” (1982)

Cis male actor

Screenshot 2016-03-28 21.59.25

A man is raped by two women, both of whom are “easily over 200 pounds and terrifying” and one of whom is identified as trans. His sexual assault is played for laughs. The episode never aired in syndication and no footage of the episode is available to the public.


Bob, St. Elsewhere, “Release” (1983)

Cis male actor.

“Well, you may have convinced your wife, but not me, buddy. I know you too well to agree to anything so disgusting.”

Screenshot 2016-03-15 01.01.40Craig is shocked to learn that “Bob,” his athletic friend from college, has come to his hospital for a “sex change.” Craig feels betrayed. Bob delivers a compassionate appeal for understanding, but Craig, sticking to male pronouns, refuses to do the surgery. Craig’s friends urge him to reconsider while making penis jokes. Craig says he will never trust anybody ever again!


Melissa, Gimme a Break!,“Melissa” (1983)

Cis female actress.

“You know when you told me being with Melissa was like being with one of the guys? Well, you were.”

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Nell is shocked to learn that the woman she set Carl up with, Melissa, “used to be a man.” When Melissa tells Nell, in hopes that she’ll break the news to Carl before things get too serious, Nell repeats her birth name “Harvey Wallace” over and over in a trance. But Nell can barely stop laughing when she tells Carl, who freaks out and says he can’t believe he was going out with “a man”! And that he liked her, too!


Charlene, Night Court, “Best of Friends” (1985)

Cis male actor

“I mean, so she has her life to lead, fine, but she doesn’t have to come here and rub YOUR face in it.” 

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Dan is shocked to learn that his athletic lothario college buddy “Chip” is a woman and that her name is Charlene. Dan freaks out, especially about Charlene having her penis removed. She delivers a compassionate appeal for understanding but Dan continues freaking out, feeling sick, using male pronouns, and feeling betrayed. Nor will he attend her wedding! Charlene punches Dan so he’s face-down in the salad bar! Dan’s friends implore him to be nicer to his buddy while making jokes at her expense. Dan eventually comes around, but keeps on joking about penises!


Georgette, Carol & Company, “Reunion” (1990)

Cis female actress.

Laurie is shocked to learn that her old flame the football player — who she considers the “love of her life” — is “now a woman.”  “Sex-change operations are 100 times as common on TV as they are in real life, but it’s a credit to Carol & Company that this one is played tenderly and melancholically, as well as for the usual broad laughs,” wrote The Philadelphia Inquirer. I bet!


Denise Bryson, Twin Peaks (1990)

Played by cis male actor David Duchovny

denise-bryson
When DEA Agent Denise Bryson shows up in Twin Peaks to help out on the case, the fact that she’s no longer presenting as “Dennis” isn’t a big deal to her colleagues.


Susan, L.A. Law, “Speak, Lawyers For Me” (1991)

Cis female actress

“First he’s a guy, now he’s a girl, he or she or it deserves to get fired.”

Screenshot 2016-03-23 22.35.11

The beauty company that employed model Susan Convers is shocked to learn that she is transgender. They freak out and fire her, causing her to take them to court, employing a lawyer who misgenders her and criticizes her dress and appearance. In court, she agrees that she hid her trans status from her friends to avoid them being “repulsed.” She delivers a compassionate appeal for understanding. Eventually the lawyer comes around in order to successfully argue her case, and wins.


Louise, Picket Fences “Pageantry” (1992)

Cis female actress.

“She teaches gym! She goes into the showers! Why haven’t you arrested it? Is she a man or a woman?”

Screenshot 2016-03-23 21.31.39

The citizens of Rome and especially Sheriff Jimmy Brock are shocked to learn that Louise, Rome’s beloved drama teacher, “is a man” who got her job with a phony resume. They’re livid. Jimmy’s wife, Louise’s doctor, implores him to reconsider. In court, Louise’s ex-boyfriend testifies that he was repulsed to learn that he “put his tongue in the mouth of a former man.” On the stand, Louise is forced to share her history of suicidal thoughts and describe her “sex change operation” in precise detail. The judge admits that she makes him “extremely squeamish, if not ill,” but that it is not okay ‘to indulge our own personal distaste at the expense of someone else’s civil rights.” Still, the parents oppose her performing in the pageant. Luckily, Rome’s children are more progressive than their parents and they revolt: they halt their performance to call out everybody for being an asshole to Louise and call her up to play her role. They’re dressed like angels! I cried a little.


Rena, E.R.,“ER Confidential” (1994)

Cis male actor

Screenshot 2016-03-28 10.27.24

The doctors are shocked to discover that their apparently female patient has a penis. Dr. Carter is visibly angry at his patient, ignoring her as she monologues about how friends and strangers are disgusted by her and it takes three hours to put her makeup on. “Maybe they’re right,” she concludes. “Maybe I am disgusting.” Apropos of nothing, she escapes to the hospital roof, tells doctors that she’s too old now to pass as a woman, and then jumps off the roof.


Ginger, Evening Shade, “The Perfect Woman” (1994)

Cis female actress.

Diahann Caroll plays a “transsexual” who Ponder’s friends set him up with. Ossie Davis played Ponder.


Thad, Married…With Children, “Dud Bowl” (1995)

Cis male actor.

Screenshot 2016-03-27 18.05.23

Al and his co-players are shocked when their Dud Bowl quarterback, Thad, shows up presenting as a woman. Thad now speaks with a distinct “gay lisp” and is playful when jokes are made at her expense, even when Al lifts her skirt in front of the boys to inspect her genitals! She’s still a great quarterback, though! And isn’t that really all that matters, in the end.


Vicky, Diagnosis Murder, “All-American Murder” (1995)

Cis female actress

vicky-diagnosis

Mark is shocked to learn that Vicky, the foxy neighbor he likes watching run down the beach, was formerly known as “Victor,” a US Marines recruit who was bullied non-stop for three weeks, causing her to leave the military. Turns out she was killed by her ex-girlfriend when she found out that Vicky had transitioned.


Azure C. Lee, The City (1995-1997)

Cis female actress

First recurring trans character on a soap opera

carlotta

The first recurring transgender character on an American soap, Carlotta Chang played fashion model Azure Lee on the short-lived Morgan Fairchild vehicle The City. Apparently she was “revealed to be a male-to-female transsexual in 1996, much to the shock of her Latino fiancé Bernardo.” The Sun-Sentinal promised the episode would “serve up a shocker.” According to The Lavender Screen, trans activists found the role a sensationalized ratings tool, that of “a flamboyant gay male cross-dressing.”


Annie, Chicago Hope,“Informed Consent” (1995) and “Women on the Verge” (1996)

Cis actress

“If you’d told me you’d been married I could handle that sure. If you had a criminal record? Sure. But you tell me you had a penis? A penis? Forgive me for being just a little bit thrown.”

Screenshot 2016-03-23 10.41.50

Bill is shocked to learn that his girlfriend, Mia, is a trans woman and that she was his best friend / hockey teammate in high school while presenting as male. He freaks out, is horrified he had sex with her. A female doctor tells him to reconsider and explains what it means to be transgender.

Bill: “You really think I could look at her without puking my intestines out?”
Doctor: “Just give this thing a chance.”
Bill: “That’s the problem — I don’t know what this thing is. A freak?  A mutant? You tell me. How could I possibly be with that?”
Doctor: “Funny. I was feeling bad for her, but now I kinda feel sorry for you.”

Ultimately, he can’t get over it and continue their relationship. In a later episode, she’s a patient at the hospital and she’s diagnosed with a tumor and a condition related to her hormones. If she wants to survive, she has to stop taking hormones. She kills herself instead. Bill is devastated.


Crystal Clark, Married With Children, “Calendar Girl” (1996)

Cis female actress

Screenshot 2016-04-05 11.25.06

Bud and Al Bundy are shocked when Crystal, the cover model for their calendar, announces on television that she was “born a man.” Bud, who’d kissed her, and the boys, who’d mooned over her calendar, flee the room to throw up.


Stephanie, Ally McBeal, “Boy To The World” (1997)

Cis queer actor.

“This boy needs help. He is the most fragile person living in the harshest of worlds. He is obviously not well.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 10.33.49 PM

Ally McBeal is shocked to learn that her client, Stephanie, who has been arrested for solicitation, is transgender. Behind her back, everybody misgenders Stephanie and discusses her need for psychological help. Ally hires Stephanie to work at their law firm to save her from doing prison time, but she’s murdered before she has a chance to start her new job.


Simone Dubois, Nash Bridges, “Javelin Catcher” (1998)

Gay male drag queen actor

Screenshot 2016-03-28 23.00.32

RuPaul plays Simone Dubois, a representative of Transsexual Sex Workers, who helps an investigator work undercover in drag for a crime involving a gangster attempting to pick up “transsexual prostitutes.”


Becker, “He Said, He Said” (1999)

From IMBD: “Becker is visited by a friend of an old friend who turns out to be the old friend.”


Inez, NYPD Blue, “A Whole In Juan” (2000)

Cis male actor

Screenshot 2016-03-27 17.13.11

The cops find a dead baby in a trash can, and soon discover that the child’s mother, a “crack whore,” left her baby in the care of a trans prostitute for what she said would be a few hours. A few days later, the Mom hadn’t shown up, so Inez left the baby alone to go to a check-up with the doctor who installed her “feminine equipment.” While she was gone, the baby choked on its own vomit and died.


Haley and Jackie, Law & Order SVU, “Transitions” (2000)

Cis male actor and cis female actor

Screenshot 2016-03-25 17.45.55

Hailey

Jackie

Jackie

The detectives are shocked to learn that Hailey, the “son” of their assault victim is female, and the assault victim is estranged from Hailey and Hailey’s mother for refusing to accept Hailey’s gender. The NYPD Psychologist, perfect human BD Wong, explains to the detectives what it means to be transgender. Although a group of radical hormone-stealing trans activists she runs with aren’t good for it, it turns out that her school counselor did. On the stand, the prosecutor pushes Hailey’s guidance counselor Jackie ’til she reveals that she is trans and shares her own stories of assault, abuse, suicide attempts and misery. The father sees the error of his ways and asks the DA’s office to drop the charges, but they can’t.


Cindy McCauliff, Ally McBeal, “Girls’ Night Out” “Two’s a Crowd” “Without a Net” (2000)

Cis female actress

“I have nothing against transgender people, I really don’t, but no one should ever touch one, much less — [makes noise of disgust]”

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 1.04.00 PM

Fish and Ling are shocked when their client, who is battling a discrimination lawsuit over a mandated physical, tells them, “I’m really a man.” Turns out she’d avoided the physical to avoid her penis being discovered. She’s forced to describe her entire medical transition. Unaware of her trans status, she starts dating Mark, but Fish is OBSESSED and FURIOUS that Mark’s in the dark. When she does tell Mark, he feels betrayed, calls her a man, and is sick to his stomach. He apologizes, they reunite, but ultimately he just can’t date her because Penis. His friends make jokes at her expense.


Louise, Dark Angel, “Out” (2000)

First trans woman to play a trans character on television.

“The part of Kings Road where she lives is very genderfluid. It’s where all the Mister Sisters reside. The lesbian mind can get hella tampered with in that neighborhood.”

Screenshot 2016-03-27 16.04.59Normal’s friends are shocked when they discover that Louise, the girl he’s going on a date with, is a trans woman. They anticipate an entertaining reveal, only to find that Normal’s unconcerned with her trans status. Unfortunately, Louise realizes that she’s a lesbian, and wants Normal to set her up with Original Cindy. Original Cindy declines because she doesn’t want to date a trans woman.


Family Law, “Are You My Father” (2000)

A transgender woman fights for the right to see her child.


Brandi, Just Shoot Me!, “Brandi, You’re a Fine Girl” (2000)

Cis female actress

“He had boobs. Two of ’em, big as yours. And God knows what’s going on downstairs.”

Screenshot 2016-03-27 16.29.08

Finch is shocked to learn that his dear ‘ol buddy Burt is that girl “Brandi” he’s been hitting on at the bar. Finch freaks out, thinks it’s a joke, and screams running from the bar. Finch’s female friend/co-worker tells him to reconsider. Eventually he realizes they can still do dude-bro shit together despite her transition and so they do, and then he realizes he’s got feelings for her. He tries to kiss her several times and she rebuffs him with martial arts several times and says she’s not into him like that, she just wants to be friends.


Cindy McCauliff, Ally McBeal, “Hats Off To Larry” (2001)

Cis female actress

Screenshot 2016-03-18 15.38.40

The lawyers of Cage & Fish, but especially Mark, are shocked to learn that Cindy, Mark’s transgender ex, has a fiancé with whom she’d like to sue for the right to marry despite being, in the eyes of the law, a same-sex couple. Mark can’t believe that anybody would love a woman with a penis. In court, Fish refers to their partnership as a “gay couple,” but Mark interrupts with an inspirational speech about how Cindy is a woman.


Helena Handbasket, Friends (2001 – 2002)

“Don’t you have a little too much penis to be wearing a dress like that?”

Cis female actress.

Screenshot 2016-03-17 22.26.43

Monica encourages Chandler to reunite with and accept his father, who, according to Chandler’s childhood memories, has presented as a woman full-time since her son’s childhood, although he refers to her as a “drag performer” and everybody uses male pronouns. Everybody makes jokes at her expense and she plays along.


Sasha Wilmer, Judging Amy, “Between the Wanting and the Getting” (2001)

Cis male actor

“Maybe Sasha is transgender. Maybe he thinks that his mother or his grandmother or the Powerpuff Girls represent good qualities that he wants in his personality… or maybe he just likes girls’ clothes? At this point we can’t know any more than this child can. It’s just too soon.”

judging-amy-219-2

Amy is shocked to discover that the eight-year-old child who Child Welfare Services say is being neglected by their parents says that she is a girl despite being “born biologically male” and only being eight years old. Her parents allow her to dress and present female, which led to bullying, which led to them pulling her out of school. Amy rules that she can remain with her family but recommends that she dresses as a boy.


Valerie Thomlinson, Gideon’s Crossing, “Freak Show” (2001)

Cis female actress

A husband is shocked when his wife of twenty years, who is dying of cancer, reveals that she is transgender — a revelation she’s forced to make ’cause her estrogen is feeding the cancer and she’s gotta stop taking them to begin cancer treatment. But she tells doctors she’d rather die a young woman than an old man. Her husband leaves her, she tries to kill herself, and then her husband decides he’s gonna try to be her husband again.


Erica, The Education of Max Bickford (2001-2002)

Played by cisgender actress Helen Shaver

**The first TV show to include a transgender character as part of the regular cast.**

DREYFUSS SHAVER

Max is shocked when his best friend Steve comes back into his life as Erica, a transgender woman, but he’s cool with it. Although largely praised as a respectful characterization, her primarily storylines consisted of: “Erica’s boyfriend (Boyd Gaines) accidentally learns that she was once a man,” “Erica’s ex returns to town, unaware that her former husband is now a woman and Max refuses to tell her the truth” and “Erica starts dating a man who tells her all about his past, but she can’t bring herself to tell him that she was once a man.”


Cheryl, Law & Order SVU, “Fallacy” (2002)

Cis queer female actress

“My problem is this he/she and her lies is the reason we have two bodies on our hands.”

Screenshot 2016-03-26 12.25.38

Stabler and Benson are shocked to learn that Cheryl, a victim who allegedly killed her boyfriend’s brother for trying to rape her, is transgender. They refer to her as a man and out her to her boyfriend, who freaks out, feels betrayed, calls her a “freak,” gets sick to his stomach, and then goes ahead and KILLS HIMSELF.

The attorneys are sympathetic to her plight, thanks to the expertise of perfect human BD Wong. It’s clear she’s been assaulted and bullied all her life but because in this case, it wasn’t physical self-defense but fear of being outed that inspired her to attack, she’s sentenced to prison — a men’s prison, of course. On her first night she’s beaten and gang raped.


Sofia Lopez, Nip/Tuck, “Sofia Lopez” and “Sofia Lopez II” (2003)

Cis male actor

“It’d be wonderful if we could look beyond the wrapping for the real person inside. But I work in  a plastic surgeon’s office, I know more than anyone that doesn’t really happen.” 

Screenshot 2016-04-02 23.00.10

Sofia needs a her tracheal shave fixed, and the doctor eventually agrees to do it despite being disgusted by her transsexual status. Later, he’s called to the ER to help a friend of Sofia’s with botched “sex change” surgery, when he learns his prior mentor is performing unsanitary surgery on trans clients while drunk, so he shuts the old doc down. She returns for “SRS,” but after a hook-up with a lesbian nurse, she questions her desire to undergo surgery, claiming a “sexual preference crisis.” It’s never explained why falling for a lesbian would make her hesitate to live as a woman, which literally makes zero sense. Anyhow, she eventually gets the surgery, so.


Lois, Karen Sisco, “Nobody’s Perfect” (2003)

Trans female actress

Screenshot 2016-04-04 17.56.39

The U.S. Marshals are shocked to learn that the fugitive murderer and thief they’re hunting down, Louis DiMarco, is a transgender woman named “Lois” who stole $300k for her surgery.


Morgan, E.R., “Next Of Kin” (2003)

Cis female actress

Pratt: A 12-year-old cross-dresser?
Harkins: All I know is that, anatomically, she’s a he.
Pratt: And you’re sure about that?
Harkins: I’ve seen my fair share of penises.

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Doctors are shocked when they learn that Morgan, a 12-year-old girl who’s just been in a car accident with her father, has a penis! This inspires the doctors to ask her “what’s the deal,” refer to her as his “son” and use male pronouns exclusively. Her father dies, and her mother — estranged from the fam due to her refusal to let Morgan present as female — shows up to chop Morgan’s hair off so she’ll be presentable to her new stepfather and calls her “my little boy.” The one doctor on Morgan’s side shows up too late to stop her from taking Morgan away. This episode is devastatingly depressing.


Julia Smith, Veronica Mars, “Meet John Smith” (2004)

Cis female actress

“So it turns out my Mom is a liar and my Dad is a circus freak.”

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Justin is shocked to discover that his father, who his mother always told him was dead, is a woman named Julia living with her husband in San Diego. He freaks out. Turns out she’s the one who’s been visiting his video store every weekend just to see him for 45 seconds even though he never knew it was her, which Veronica Mars points out is pretty dedicated so maybe he shouldn’t be an asshole. He comes around.


Wendy, Mamosa and Mona, CSI, “C-C-Changes” (2004)

Cis actresses.

“We all get work done. Doesn’t matter if it’s up top or down low, pretty is pretty.”

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Wendy, the murder victim

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Mamosa, Wendy’s best friend

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Mona, the murderess

The detectives are shocked to discover that their murder victim, Wendy, is “a transsexual” and the “Walter” her car is registered to. Over the course of their investigation, the detectives find an underground silicone-injection operation operated by sex workers, a group of cis and trans showgirls bragging about getting work done, a “how to act feminine” class seemingly attended by actual trans female actors, a beautiful dancer named Mamosa who tells Gil it’s hard for trans girls to find love and that everybody thinks they’re psycho and a trans female doctor lying about her identity who performs “sex change” surgery without a license, which led to a girl dying in her care, and then her Trans Ally husband going out to murder Wendy to keep her quiet. “Killed by someone in our own community,” Mamosa laments to Gil. “As if we don’t have enough enemies.”


Theresa, Judging Amy, “Slade’s Chophouse” (2004)

Cis male actor

Bruce is shocked when his old priest friend Father Ted shows up and comes out as Father Teresa, explaining that she’d been saving up her salary for a “sex-change.” Along with the recent priest-abuse scandal, Bruce says this piece of news is shaking his faith. Teresa tells him, “if you can hold on to your faith, you’ve got some hope that it’ll all make sense in the end.” Bruce says he’ll come around eventually.


Daniela, Cold Case, “Daniela” (2004)

Cis female actress

Daniela

Chris’s Dad is shocked to learn that his son Chris’s girlfriend, Daniela, is transgender, and demands Chris not take her to the prom. Daniela kills herself and Chris buries her, then throws away her dress and corsage.


Kiki, Queer As Folk (2004-2005)

Cis gay male actor

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Kiki, “formerly Kenny,” is a waitress at the Liberty Diner who takes over when Deb retries, but she’s not very good at it. After announcing “I’m a tranny on the verge of a nervous breakdown!” Deb saves her from a brutal lunch rush and eventually returns to her position, with Kiki returning to waitress. In the finale, she brings her “tranny support group” to a political rally.


Ava Moore, Nip/Tuck (2003-2006)

Played by cisgender actress Famke Janssen

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Ava was in love with heterosexual surgeon Barrett Moore, and asked him to “transform Avery into Ava” so they could be together, which he did. The two had a child via a surrogate, and the evening before the surgery intended to make her “artificial vagina deep enough to pass as biologically natural,” she kidnapped their 12-year-old son and began a sexual relationship with him, believing he’d be too young to notice the difference in her vagina. We meet Ava when she shows up in Season Two, a life coach hired by Sean to help his wife.  Sean is drawn to Ava, and unable to see that she is a devious and sociopathic sexual predator. She begins a relationship with 17-year-old Matt. She also attempts to have sex with Christian Troy, who calls her vagina “the goddamn Hope Diamond of transsexuals.” Then her husband performs surgery to give her a deeper vagina. She begs her son to run away to France with her, but instead he stabs himself to death and dies in her arms. She leaves him and flees. In later episodes, Matt deals with the “trauma” of having been involved with a transgender woman, which includes trolling bars for a trans woman who, when he realizes she is pre-op, beats her violently, which brings us to….


Cherry Peck, Nip/Tuck (2004)

Cis gay male actor

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Matt is shocked to learn that Cherry Peck, a trans woman he picked up at a bar, has a penis, and results by beating her savagely. She and her friends go to his high school, chase him out, beat him up, and pee on him. She goes to Dr. McNamara, Matt’s father, demanding he fix her face for free. Her and Matt become friends. Matt’s ex-girlfriend’s father kidnaps and tortures them and forces them to perform sex acts for him, but they escape and shoot their captor.


Carmen, It’s Always Sunny (2005)

Played by cis actress Brittany Daniel

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A guy who’s attracted to Carmen is shocked to learn she is transgender, but he maintains his pursuit of her in order to be “first in line” when she gets sexual reassignment surgery. According to the It’s Sunny Wikia, she “displayed an obvious bulge in her pants until she had her penis removed.” The guy hides his ongoing relationship with Carmen from his friends to the point where they suspect he is a serial killer. After her surgery, though, she decides to date a different guy who wasn’t such a jerk.


Ms. Mitchell, ER,“Skin” (2005)

Trans female actress

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Ms. Mitchell’s doctor is shocked to hear that his patient requested a different doctor due to the fact that, as the different doctor tells him, “she is a he and she didn’t feel comfortable telling you that.” She’s diagnosed with testicular cancer but is okay with it ’cause she was “getting rid of the equipment anyway.”


 Stephanie, Without a Trace, “Transitions” (2005)

Cis female actress

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Stephanie’s boyfriend is shocked to learn that Stephanie is trans and responds by freaking out, feeling sick to his stomach, and pushing her onto the floor. She goes missing the next day. We learn that her family shunned/disowned her, she abandoned her wife and kids, and since then she has moved from place to place, changing her appearance to “keep her secret.” Turns out it wasn’t her ex who murdered her — it was her ex-wife’s transphobic and abusive husband!


Zarf/Zoe, All My Children (2006)

Played by cisgender male actor Jeffery Carlson

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Bianca is shocked when Zarf, a glam rock star she’s agreed to go on a date with, shows up for their date in a dress and comes out to her as Zoe, a transgender lesbian. This is really good news because Zarf is a terrible name. She thinks Zoe is mocking her lesbian sexuality, but nope. Also, she’s in love with Bianca. The rest of the town doesn’t take to Zoe all that well, ranging from distrusting her to misgendering her to accusing her of being a serial killer — then the actual serial killer attacks her. GLAAD and trans activists worked with the show to ensure Zoe’s character was treated with respect and accuracy, even including a scene with a trans support group featuring actual trans people. (This might be becoming its own trope at this point? We don’t wanna cast trans actors, but we’ll get about 10 of them together for a support group scene!) Eventually her and Bianca left for Europe at the same time and grew apart.


MILF, Veronica Mars, “Ain’t No Magic Mountain High Enough” (2006)

Cis female actress

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Dickie is shocked when the hot Mom he’s hooking up with in a car outside the carnival — a woman his friends found online to hook him up with — turns out to have a penis. He stumbles from the car, sick to his stomach, spitting all over the street while his friends — who knew she was trans — laugh at him.


Donna, Grey’s Anatomy, “Where the Boys Are” (2006)

Trans female actress

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Meredith Grey is shocked to learn that they have a patient undergoing gender confirmation surgery, but Mark is really politically correct and educated and kind when explaining the situation. The patient’s wife says she’ll miss the penis. It turns out Donna has breast cancer and will need to stop taking her hormones, which’ll make her “become a man again.” She goes ahead with the surgery anyhow.


Alexis Meade, Ugly Betty (2006-2008)

Played by cis female actress Rebecca Romijn

REBECCA ROMIJN

Alexis, the daughter of the founder of MODE magazine, fakes her own death, transitions, and then comes back and takes over half the magazine. Her colleagues misgender her and anti-trans jokes exist in abundance. At one point she connects with a man at a bar only to have him laugh in her face and say he was only flirting with her as a dare. She pushes a pregnant woman down the stairs and goes to jail and then gets off and moves to Europe.


Regina Dunn, Psych, “Who You Gonna Call?” (2006)

Cis male actor

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Shawn and Gus are shocked to learn that the person haunting their client’s home isn’t a ghost — it’s the client’s other two personalities, one of whom is a trans woman named Regina, who was in the process of seeking transition-related medical services when the third violent male personality thwarted her efforts by killing her doctor. Shawn and Gus make vomiting noises discussing the possibility of her “removing her parts.” Robert, dressed as Regina, makes another doctor’s appointment in order to kill yet another doctor and stop the surgery.


Carmelita, Dirty Sexy Money (2007-2009)

Played by trans female actress Candis Cayne

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Patrick Darling is in love with Carmelita, and has nothing but respect for her despite the fact that his friends and family call her a “she-he” and a “tranny hooker” and seem to believe his relationship with her suggests homosexuality despite the fact that he is completely heterosexual. (As he later argues when another gay guy says he must be a little gay to date a transsexual, Carmelita “had female parts.”) Initially Carmelita is portrayed as pathetic — begging him not to leave her, as his family wants him to in order to save his marriage and political career — but eventually she emerges as a strong and powerful woman over the show’s run. Patrick’s wife Ellen discovers the affair and attacks Patrick, only to be killed by him in self-defense. Later, Patrick, against his family’s wishes, insists she accompany him to his inauguration as senator, where she is shot and killed by Ellen’s brother.


Patty, Bones, “The He In The She” (2008)

Cis female actress

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Forensic anthropologists are shocked to discover the skeleton washed ashore contains both male and female indicators, leading them to realize their victim is transgender. The female scientists school the male scientist on how to respectfully talk about trans people. They theorize she was killed when her trans status was revealed, but they turn out to be wrong. In the end, her evangelical son returns to honor her by joining the church where she worked as a pastor.


Lois, ER, “Tandem Repeats” (2008)

Cis female actress

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Lois’s Mom is shocked when she’s called to the emergency room because her child is very sick and the son she expected to see is a daughter. She’s sick mostly due to the black market hormones she’s been taking, and needs a liver transplant that Dad is VERY hesitant to provide.


Joanna, Eli Stone, “Two Ministers” (2008)

Trans female actress

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Alexandra Billings plays a member of a support group attended by a male transgender Reverend who Keith is representing in a lawsuit for wrongful termination. They hope the group will help Keith overcome his intolerance of his client. She talks about how her boyfriend and her family left her.


Alexis Stone, Nip/Tuck, “Alexis Stone” and “Alexis Stone II” (2009)

Trans female actress

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The plastic surgeon who sleeps with Alexis is shocked to hear that she is a “male-to-female transsexual” who would like surgery to “become a gay man.” The character then returns after realizing that they’d like their boobs back to better attract straight men. Although this means she’s not really a transgender character, this characterization embodies so many damaging tropes that I wanted to mention it even if it’s not part of the statistics we tallied in the infographic. Those stereotypes include: that being trans is really about being gay, that people who get surgery often regret it and are wrong to feel they require it, and that it’s a cosmetic choice.


Georgette, The Closer,“Make Over” (2009)

Cis male actor

“Just because Empty Pants here won’t bite the bullet and put on the clothes that he was born to wear doesn’t mean that we can’t have somebody read his testimony in court.”

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Louie and the other detectives are shocked to learn that Detective Andrews, his old buddy and former police partner, is transgender. Everybody freaks out, calls her a man, asks her about her genital surgery, and determine her trans status prevents her from being a reliable witness for their case. She eventually wins people over with her willingness to present male for an interrogation and her ability to gamely handle jokes made on her behalf. The character is a lesbian, which is rare.


Auntie Momma, The Cleveland Show (2009)

“Her real name is Kevin. And she’s been hiding the candy for 36 years.”

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Cleveland is shocked when he sees Auntie Momma in the bathroom and notices that she has a penis. He vomits for about 45 seconds after his father and Auntie Momma have sex. Later, Cleveland tells his Dad that Auntie Momma is a man with a penis, and his Dad vomits for 45 seconds.


Ida Davis, The Family Guy, “Quagmire’s Dad” (2010)

cis male actor

“What are you gonna name it, eh? What are you gonna name your he-she father-mother?”

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Quagmire is shocked when his Dad, who his friends think is “super fucking gay,” comes out as a trans woman. She has surgery and is immediately good-to-go. At dinner, Lois throws out the crumble Ida brought (nothing makes me sadder than people throwing out un-eaten food somebody brought to a group meal!) and the Griffins quiz her about her surgery and how to make a vagina out of a penis. Quagmire tells Dad he just can’t accept her, so she goes for a drink at the Marriot, where she meets Brian and they hit it off. The next day he learns that she’s transgender and vomits for a solid 60 seconds and screams in terror. But! Quagmire apologizes to his Dad and tells her that he loves her. But! Then we cut to Brian scrubbing himself vigorously in the shower.


Allison Webb, Drop Dead Diva, “Queen of Mean” (2010)

Trans female actress

Grieving widow: She was everything to me.
Her Dead Wife’s Mom: You did this to yourself.

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The lawyers are shocked, but react professionally, when Allison reveals that she and her wife married when she “was a man.” Now Allison’s wife has died in a car crash without a will and her parents are challenging her right to her estate now that Allison has transitioned. It has a really sweet ending.


Cha Cha, Glitter and Marbles, Bob’s Burgers, “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?” and “Lobsterfest” (2011)

Cis male actors

BOB'S BURGERS: Bob takes a second job as a late-night cab driver to pay for Tina's thirteenth birthday party in the all-new "Sheesh! Cab, Bob?" episode of BOB'S BURGERS airing Sunday, March 6 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. BOB'S BURGERS ™ and © 2011 TTCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Glitter, Cha Cha and Marbles, with Bob in the front seat.

These are three sex workers that Bob picks up in his taxi when he gets a second job as a late-night cab driver. When we first see them, the camera zooms in on their adam’s apples, hairy faces and hairy arms and the characters repeatedly call them “transvestite hookers.” Other than that, they are largely treated with kindness and respect and treated as women. Glitter makes a joke about living in a “town full of doctors who refuse to cut off your penis” and after Marbles and Mort kiss, Mort looks confused and disturbed and says that he kissed a boy. Cha Cha had an unspeaking cameo in another episode.


Marshmallow, Bob’s Burgers (2011->)

cis male actor

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Another trans sex worker who first appears in the same episode as Glitter, Cha Cha and Marbles, Marshmallow has made several reappearances, being in seven episodes in total. She’s treated with kindness and respect by Bob and the other characters, but her deep voice and appearance embody the “humorous trans woman” trope. She usually only has a cameo, but the show has a running gag where Bob always greets her with “Oh, hey, Marshmallow” and she’s become something of a fan favorite.


Amanda Knott, Harry’s Law, “Send In The Clowns” (2011)

Cis gay male actor

Photo from episode "Send In The Clowns" eps 108

Photo from episode “Send In The Clowns” eps 108

Adam and Jenna are shocked to learn that their client, Amanda, is “anatomically male” and that she’s been fired for having an affair with her cis male boss! Jenna calls her a “he-she” and a “man-woman.” Amanda’s unlawful termination case fails, though, due to the fact that she’s had plenty of offers from other clubs but only wants this job to stay close to the boss, who she has called 20+ times in the last three days begging to get back together. She cries about having a penis.


Geraldine, Necessary Roughness, “Dream On” (2011)

Trans female actress

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Jeanette is shocked, but not upset, when the hot blonde girl she’s talking to at her high school reunion outs herself as Geraldine, who Jeanette knew in high school as Gerald and was hoping to run into at the reunion to reconnect and ride off together into the sunset. They catch up, everything is fun and light, and Geraldine confesses that she was in love with her in high school, loved her “effortless femininity,” and wanted to be her, and then kinda did her best to live that dream, which makes Jeanette feel really good about herself.


Kyla, Hung, “What’s Going On Downstairs?” and “Money on the Floor” (2011)

Trans female actress

“The woman Ray’s on a date with is a man. She’s a man.”

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Ray is shocked to learn that Kyla, the girl who hired him as an escort, “is really a man.” He learns this ’cause his booker is so disturbed to learn this info that she tracks them down at a skating rink and chases him around wildly until she’s able to tell him the truth. He freaks out and ends their date prematurely and backs out on the next date — to her high school reunion — despite having had an amazing time with her. When a competing escort is given the job, Ray wants the gig back … but refuses to dance with her and lays low as she’s outed to her classmates. He just sits there at a table full of guys making trans jokes while she stands alone on the dance floor, crowded with people whispering about her. Forced to leave the dance floor in tears, he finally gets up, tells her she’s beautiful, and asks her to dance.

Real talk: This episode broke my heart and pissed me off in a way I wasn’t expecting. Part of a sex worker’s JOB is to make the client feel sexy and desired, no matter what they look like, how repulsive their personality, even if they smell like a sweaty gym locker. That’s as big a part of the job as the sex itself is, and that’s why we see storylines on TV all the time about people perceived as “undesirable” hiring sex workers and enjoying themselves. Never before have I seen a storyline like this where the sex worker refused to do his job because of something relating to his client’s body. She paid him $1,000 to come to her high school reunion and he refused to even dance with her, or even defend her when the guys at his table realized “who she was.” Sure, he came around in the last 30 seconds, but I’m sorry, no. The message here, that even a trans girl who is as normatively attractive as Jamie Clayton can’t even PAY for it…. Jesus Christ. Disgusting.


Mia, Hit or Miss (2012)

Played by cis female actress Chloe Sevigny

“You look really nice, Mia…. not bad for a cock in a frock.”

mia

The audience is shocked when a figure in a dark hoodie kills someone, goes home, removes her hoodie — she’s a woman! — and then removes all of her clothing — she has a penis! — and gets into the shower. The woman herself, Mia, is shocked about five minutes later to learn that she has a son, sired by her ex who has recently died of cancer. The short-lived Direct TV series is an intersection of these circumstances: Mia’s job as a contract killer, her new duty as a mother to one child and three step-children and her pursuit of a romantic life — which includes, of course, a potential love interest being repulsed when she comes out to him. Luckily, he does eventually have a change of heart.


Sophia Bursett, Orange is the New Black (2012->)

Played by trans female actress Laverne Cox

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Sophia is a hairdresser and former fire-fighter imprisoned for credit card fraud, which she perpetuated largely to fund her surgical transition. Her straight wife struggled to accept her and tried to be a good sport, but her son got angry and embarrassed about it. Once in jail, Sophia’s wife leaves her for a man. For the first two seasons, she’s one of a few characters who rises above the manipulative, reckless and territorial behavior exhibited by other inmates but things take a turn in Season Three, a storyline which leads to her being attacked and beaten by a group of inmates. The prison deals with this conflict by putting her in solitary confinement.


Venus Van Damme, Sons of Anarchy (2012-2014)

Played by cis male actor Walton Goggins

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Venus was raised with an abusive mother who pimped out her child and also made and distributed child pornography. She plays a sex worker who develops a romance with one of the mean guys on this show that I guess is about people shooting each other and riding motorcycles.


Sally, Fugget About It, “The Broadfather” (2013)

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Jimmy is shocked when a woman he meets is like, “Hey, I’m your father!” She tells Jimmy how she killed and stole to protect her secret, then faked her own death and got surgery. She also smashes Jimmy’s face into her breasts, which gives him a hard-on.


Lucette, Mike & Molly, “The First and Last Ride-Along” (2013)

Cis gay male actor

Lucette: I have nothing to hide.
Carl: To hell you don’t! You managed to hide it for three hours and a carriage ride!

mike-and-molly

Molly is shocked when the beautiful woman who sent a milkshake to her husband’s partner (as in; police partner) turns out to be “a he,” according to everybody besides her. Molly asks her questions about penis-tucking while Carl gets defensive about a kiss they shared on New Year’s Eve. What’s better? The show already got in trouble with GLAAD for joking about the NYE kiss six months earlier, described as “the shemale incident of ’08.”


Paula, Two and a Half Men, “Numero Uno Accidente Lawyer” (2013)

Cis female actress

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Alan is shocked to learn that the woman he’s dating, Paula, is transgender. He has a lot of questions about her genitals, mostly ensuring she won’t sprout a penis and become undateable. In her review, Mey Rude wrote that, “This episode was still filled to the brim with insulting “jokes” and problematic lines directed at the expense of not only the character of Paula, but all trans women who might see, or even hear about, the show.”


Ms. Hudson, Elementary, “Snow Angels” (2013)

Trans female actress

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Here we have a trans woman played by a trans actress and her trans status is not the focus of her story or relevant to the plot! What a revelation! As Mey wrote, “she’s just another person in Sherlock’s life.”


Jess, Grey’s Anatomy, “The Face of Change” (2013)

Cis male actor

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Brian’s father is shocked to learn that his child is having top surgery and that his girlfriend, Jess, is also trans. Jess enables Brian and his father to reconcile.


Marlena, Love That Girl, “What He Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Him” (2013)

Cis female actress

“Well listen, MISS MISTER, you better tell him, because if you don’t, I will.”

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Latrell’s gay roommate Fabian is shocked to learn that Marlena, the girl Latrell’s about to go on a date with, is a woman he once knew as “Marvin.” She begs him to keep her secret, so Fabian recruits their friends to follow them on their date to “save” Latrell from unknowingly dating “a man.” At least fifteen penis and balls jokes are made. None of Latrell’s friends are capable of telling him that Marlena is trans, so instead his old flame hooks up with him for the night (after watching The Crying Game) in order to stop him from going back to Marlena.


Unique Adams, Glee (2013-2015)

Played by cis gay male actor Alex Newell

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Unique is a talented singer who joins the McKinley High Glee Club. She’s frequently ridiculed and teased by classmates and teachers, catfishes the boy she has a crush on (who is repulsed when he discovers the true identity of his online girlfriend), is bullied and is subject to a really fucked up bathroom-related storyline. Over the course of the show she eventually bonds with the other girls but is the only female cast member to never get a romantic storyline.


Angelique, Penny Dreadful (2014-2015)

Played by cis gay male actor Johnny Beaucamp

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Dorian is not shocked when Angelique, the prostitute he sought out after meeting her earlier that day, disrobes to reveal her penis. The two enjoy an unpaid fling and seem to really like each other. Dorian throws her a ball so others may “gape at [their] uniqueness.” Then he basically leaves her for another woman. When Angelique discovers one of his secrets, he kills her.


Transparent (2014 ->)

Maura Pfefferman, played by cis male actor Jeffery Tambour

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Maura’s family — her ex-wife, two daughters and one son — is shocked when she comes out to them as transgender and begins presenting as a woman full-time. Maura deals with coming out and handling her selfish and also very queer children as well as a myriad of other issues, thoughts and feelings, over the course of this show that you probably have already seen!

Davina, played by trans actress Alexandra Billings

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Davina becomes Maura’s “trans mentor” and has a boyfriend in jail who gets out and moves back in with her midway through Season Two. She is HIV-positive, a former sex worker, and currently works at the LGBT center.

Shea, played by trans actress Trace Lysette
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Shea is another friend of Maura’s. She is a yoga instructor. In the second season, her role gets even bigger and we get to see that she has a rich, full life where she volunteers at a suicide hotline, sleeps with sexy Marines and hangs out with her trans friends.

Eleanor, played by trans actress Zackary Drucker

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Eleanor leads the support group that Maura joins when she first comes out.

Gittel, played by trans actress Hari Nef

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Gittel is an ancestor of the Pfeffermans who lived in the famous Hirschfeld Institute in Berlin and transitioned against the wishes of her mother. Gittel was arrested by the Nazis for being trans and eventually died in the Holocaust.


Maya Avant, The Bold and The Beautiful (2013->)

Played by cis female actress Karla Mosley

**The first regular transgender character in the history of American daytime television.**

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Maya’s boyfriend Rick is shocked when she comes out to him as a trans woman after he has proposed to her, and he freaks out. They eventually reconcile and do get married. Maya’s character, which came to the show in 2013 (she came out in 2015), has always been ruthless and manipulative, and Rick is pretty shitty as a human too. Other crappy stuff happens: her sister blackmails her and outs her before she tells Rick, her trans status is leaked to the press, her Dad calls her wedding a “freak show,” etc.


Adele, Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, “Fantasyland: A Great Place To Visit” (2015)

Trans female actress

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Lt. Adele Northrup is a former award recipient who gives a speech at the Family Equality Council ball to introduce this year’s winner of the same award. The beginning of her speech is somewhat overpowered by a group of cis straight white women fighting at their table about divorce-related anger.


Avery, Law & Order: SVU, “Transgender Bridge” (2015)

Cis male actor

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When we first see Avery, she’s topless, which is super weird thing for a 15-year-old girl to be on primetime TV. Things only go downhill from there, as she’s bullied and called “he-she,” “tranny” and “freak” while a group of teenage boys pulls at her skirt to try to see what’s under there. One of the boys pushes her off a bridge, and she eventually dies from the wounds. She’s misgendered throughout the rest of the episode, both by the boys and by police officers and detectives.


Sheena, The Mindy Project, “What to Expect When You’re Expanding” (2015)

Trans female actress

via GLAAD

Sheena, the cousin of Mindy’s friend Tamra, comes to visit and helps inspire Mindy to feel better about her body and regain the confidence she’s lost since getting pregnant. Tamra tells Mindy to listen to Sheena because “She had to overcome a lot to be the beautiful woman she is today.” When Mindy replies “Like what? Having too hot a face and body?” Tamra and Sheena exchange a knowing look. This was a pretty great episode.


Jill, How To Get Away With Murder, “Two Birds, One Milestone” (2015)

Trans female actress

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Alexandra Billings, a trans woman, plays a trans female professor who is friends with Annalise and goes to her for help when she kills her abusive husband. Mey called it “…the best Very Special Trans Episode of a show that I’ve ever seen.”


Rosalind, Grey’s Anatomy, “The Great Pretender” (2015)

Cis male actor

GREY'S ANATOMY - "The Great Pretender" - Maggie gets upset when Meredith dodges her questions about DC; Bailey and Ben become concerned about Ben's brother after he is admitted to the hospital, and Dr. Herman starts to warm up to Arizona. Meanwhile, Richard feels manipulated by Catherine, on "Grey's Anatomy," THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Richard Cartwright) BENJAMIN PATTERSON, CHANDRA WILSON

Ben is shocked when his wife Bailey tells him that his brother, Rosalind, is transgender and is taking hormones after 25 years of lying about who she is. Ben freaks out. Bailey implores Ben to stop being an asshole.


Jordan, The Carmichael Show, “Gender” (2015)

Cis male actor

“Transgender? You mean he like to dress up like a little mini RuPaul?”

NBC-Carmichael-104

Jerrod is shocked when Jordan, the mentee he’s been assigned in the Big Brother/Big Sister program, comes out as gay… and then admits that she isn’t actually gay, she was just testing the waters for the real reveal: that she’s trans. Jerrod freaks out, but after a long talk with his family and some reckoning, he comes around. While Jerrod and his family misgender Jordan a bit, Mey said “it was maybe the most slept on piece of trans media of the year.”


Whiterose, Mr. Robot (2015)

Cis gay male actor

whiterose

Whiterose is a legendary computer hacker obsessed with time. When accepting the role, perfect human BD Wong was clear that he did not “want to be a man disguised as a woman trying to get away with something” and playing into the “deceptive” stereotype, that he only would take it if he was assured the character was a trans woman. We’ve only seen a little bit of Whiterose so far, but she will return for Season Two.


Gisele, Blunt Talk (2015)

Trans female actress

Screenshot 2016-03-29 19.49.59

Gisele, a trans sex worker who’s just been released from jail, has a nice catching-up dinner with Captain Picard, during which she says she’s leaving sex work and is in a really awesome relationship.


Nomi Marks, Sense8 (2015)

played by transgender actress Jamie Clayton

Nomi_Sense8_Netflix

Nomi is a political blogger and “hacktivist” living in San Francisco with her girlfriend, Amanita, who is very supportive of her and stands up for her in front of transphobic bullies. Nomi was bullied as a child and still has scars from where she was burnt in a scalding hot shower by a group of boys. Her family is not accepting of her transition, including her mother, who continues to misgender her.


Liz Taylor, American Horror Story: Hotel (2015)

Played by gay male cis actor Dennis O’Hare

American-Horror-Story-Hotel-Denis-OHare-by-Frank-Ockenfels-FX

Once upon a time, Liz Taylor was a married salesman with kids, only letting her real self out in the privacy of hotel rooms. In this particular hotel, Elizabeth walked in on her, announced “you look like a man but smell like a woman” and enabled her to live her true self forever, working there as a bartender and leaving her family. When she’s bullied by other hotel workers, Elizabeth kills them. She falls in love with a male model who worries that being with her makes him gay. Elizabeth kills him too. Liz and Iris decide to kill themselves and then change their mind and decide to kill other people. Etc.


Charlotte, Pretty Little Liars (2012-2016)

Played by cisgender female actress Vanessa Ray

charlotte

In 2015, Charlotte is revealed to be a criminal mastermind who has manipulated, tortured, and been involved in the murders of numerous people, mostly women. In 2016, she is murdered.


Anna, Royal Pains, “Prince of Nucleotides” (2015)

Trans actress

Royal Pains - Season 7

This episode was fantastic. Anna’s experiencing pains and shortness of breath that suggest a blood-clotting problem, exacerbated by the hormones she’s started secretly taking. Her doctor is patient, respectful and caring, and comes to her aid when she’s outed at camp and punched by another camper. He talks to Anna’s parents for her, and although he initially told her he couldn’t start her on HRT with her condition, he comes back in the last scene of the episode to tell her that he’s going to figure out a way to make it work so that she can start HRT without risking her health. This episode is probably the best one on the list.


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2444 articles for us.

143 Comments

  1. Great work! The only thing I was bothered by was the pie charts. Cis men are not automatically hetero, you know? The categories for men shouldn’t be “cis men” and “cis gay men”

    • Yups. If listing one section as Cis/gay, the other side should be listed as cis/hetero. While that seems obvious, the fact that cis men aren’t specified as hetero assumes no need for that label due to it falling into a ‘normal’ or assumed set, which is a mistake.

      And yeah there are no listing for Bi or trans men but that could be due to their being none or the usual bi-erasure. Where you at Alan Cumming!? 🙂

      If cis/gay men then other side should be cis/hetero. Semantic yeah, but important. The un-examined and invisible norm is freakin’ everywhere.

      • hm, yeah we’ll change it. i guess i was looking at it differently like “here is a chunk of cis men who played trans women, and here are the ones who are gay.” which i thought was important to point out b/c i think a lot of casting people think casting a gay man as a trans woman counts as doing good by the trans community.

        none of the men who played trans women were out as bisexual or trans men, so that’s what that’s about.

      • As a very proud bisexual woman, I have just got to say that I have had it up to here with people calling “bisexual erasure” about every single thing they see that doesn’t sit right with them. Riese has been writing on and running this website and a-camp for years and by doing all of those things she’s proving over and over that she is doing the OPPOSITE of erasing queer identities. The fact that this post exists is proof that’s not her jam. Have you seen anything like this about trans women? No of course you haven’t. So you’re not assuming good faith – which is rule number one of this website. You’re diminishing that actual validity of claims of bisexual erasure by this crying wolf crap and making it so other people laugh when they hear it said because they’ve been accused of it every time they breath in a way that somehow bothers you. And you have hijacked a conversation about trans women, the most abused and overlooked members of the LGBT community, to center the discussion on an imaginary problem that you claim exists because you want all problems to fit into the narrative of your own oppression. But hey, man, as long as you come away feeling morally superior and with something else to tag “bisexual erasure” on Tumblr, it’s all good, right?

        Thank you for this, Riese. I’m joining A+ gold today because of this work and because you have to deal with these kinds of untrue accusations when you were out here actually doing something to fix the problem.

        • Yeah, I interpreted those categories as “cis men, not otherwise specified” and “men identified as cis and gay”. Which is how it seems it was intended – that it was important for the figure to highlight cis, gay men as their own category. It’s only bi-erasure if you’re the one assuming no label means hetero rather than just anything other than gay.

    • I remember the commercials for ‘The Last Precinct.’ It featured the main characters doing a quick introduction of themselves. The trans woman character said (and I think this may be the exact quote): “I’m Mel! I used to be a guy!”

      I found bootleg copies of the few episodes of the series a while back. Even more interesting than the trans character was that one of the episodes seems to have been ripped off for the basic premise of the movie ‘Weekend at Bernie’s.’

    • Oo, I remember that! Police Academy wannabe, IIRC. Every time that character appeared on the screen for the first time that episode, a big dumb sign would literally come on saying “Used to be a man”.

  2. I’d like to throw in Soren, from a Star Trek TNG Episode “The Outcast”. She was from an androgynous race, where transgender members of her people existed, taking the identity of male or female. This was strictly illegal.

    She had a romantic relationship with Commander Riker, a series regular. She was portrayed positively, but was effectively lobotomized and had her identity erased at the end of the show. In other words she was murdered.

    The episode aired in 1992.

    “I am female. I was born that way. I have had those feelings, those longings, all of my life. It is not unnatural. I am not sick because I feel this way. I do not need to be helped. I do not need to be cured. What I need, and what all of those who are like me need, is your understanding. And your compassion. We have not injured you in any way. And yet we are scorned and attacked. And all because we are different. What we do is no different from what you do. We talk and laugh. We complain about work. And we wonder about growing old. We talk about our families and we worry about the future. And we cry with each other when things seem hopeless. All of the loving things that you do with each other – that is what we do. And for that we are called misfits, and deviants and criminals. What right do you have to punish us? What right do you have to change us? What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?”

    – Soren,

    It was my first time seeing a trans character on TV. I was pretty young. My parents forbade me from watching the episode in reruns (I did anyway). Despite the depressing ending, she was a wonderfully portrayed character and was shown as a genuine, loving, intelligent woman capable of having a relationship with a cisgender man of a different species. It was her society that was portrayed as evil and intolerant.

    Jonathan Frakes, the actor who played Riker, also lobbied for the role to be given to a male actor and challenged the show’s producers, but they refused. He believed that the show should show the female identity of the character despite the actor being perceived as male by the audience.

    “You see Commander, on this world, everyone wants to be normal.”
    “She is!”

    – Noor and Riker

      • Well, Star Trek is set in a fictional future of our own universe, but it defined gender the same way society did as of the time it aired.

        This guest character’s species purported to have no gender at all. The entire race was supposed to be “androgynous”, but a few people like Soren insisted they had male or female identities and were then shunned and viewed as deviants. They were forced to undergo reparative therapies.

        Sci/fi and fantasy did get included in the cis queer women’s tables and I do think it is important to include. I understand it might get complicated, but then the issue is “complicated” IRL too, particularly according to cisgender people. Basically, if it can be well-reasoned and argued for cisgender queer women in television with sci-fi and fantasy roles, I see no reason why it cannot be well-reasoned and argued for trans women in sci-fi and fantasy roles. Are trans women really that much more complicated to try and figure out?

  3. 2 things: 1. I could write a novel on Ryan Murphys obsession with trans women and degrading any kind of female traits really, he is such a weirdo

    2. That Next of kin episode of ER absolutely killed me, but ER averaged at least one heart wrenching trans episode a season so it was hard to avoid

  4. i also believe Maxine from Wentworth would fit this list as a cis man playing a trans woman role.
    but aside from that, very well done list. thank you for putting it together. its absolutely disgusting the way trans women are treated in media

    • Oh gosh, I vividly remember that episode from when it aired, it was so cringey and I hope something that would be unairable even just this many years later. I was actually looking for it on the list. It may have not been included because Reed’s character supposedly only transitioned to hide from law enforcement? Or it may just have been missed in the huge amounts of a data.

    • There was an earlier episode of NCIS where a sailor kills him self while dressed as a woman. The whole team, except Kate, refuses to use female pronouns until they are schooled by Kate about respecting the fact that the sailor wished in her suicide note that she had made the transition to womanhood.

  5. Thank you for this list. I remember some of these episodes from my youth/20s very well. I wish I could say I knew better as youth, but I thin some of these examples here are why I had internalized transphobia for years.

    Good know how that Royal Pains episodes ends as I wasn’t able to watch the last 10 minutes of it. Only episode of the show I saw and I will agree it was done right.

    It was never specifically stated, but could Lisa the male lesbian from the L Word(who date Alice), be in this list as a trans woman(non-binaru one maybe)? It’s an amab person who uses she pronouns, ids as lesbian, and hanged with Shane and Alice.

  6. this article is super important and was really hard to read from an emotional standpoint, and I’m really glad you guys were able to put it together. Thank you.

    Not sure if you’re putting British shows on the list, but there was a trans woman named April on The IT Crowd who, after sharing her trans status with her boyfriend, was badly beaten by him, apparently for laughs (he was the main character, by the way, and she was only around for an episode). http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/the-it-crowd-tramps-like-usthe-speech-10043

  7. I think the Bold and Beautiful summary is pretty inaccurate. Maya was definitely not at all ruthless or manipulative for the first couple of years on the show, was a lead ingenue, then had several months of some standard soap opera gold-digging and then reversed course back to basic decency. And her love story with Rick has been really great, and all of the reveals were over a year ago and she still remains a lead ingenue on the show like 200 episodes later and is lead model of the main fashion house. She and her husband are having a baby through a surrogate and her being trans is a complete non-issue at this point, and she stands to remain on the show for years to come with typical soap plots.

    It was a mess at first but they did a lot of research and hired a lot of people to help them fix that mess and they did a really nice job (for daytime TV, as “nice” as it gets).

  8. This was great, though mostly depressing, reading.
    I wish Nomi’s description had mentioned that her girlfriend would do anything for her, and her fellow sensates support her. And she gets to have hot sex in three different episodes!

    I know the list is American TV only, but I wonder how many representations we’ve had on Australian TV. Right now I can only think of Maxine from Wentworth (whose role is strangely focussed on her assumed physical strength) and Caroline from the miniseries Molly (who was an addict and died of OD, but it was a true story, and was played by a cis gay man).

    Also, the Mike & Molly actor seems to fall under the trans/genderfluid umbrella: http://www.scpr.org/programs/the-frame/2015/03/30/42173/transgender-actors-are-in-demand-for-tv-s-pilot-se/

    • I think Maxine is sooooo well done! I couldn’t tackle all of Australian television so I had to exclude it forthright, but I feel like I ask Mey if she’s seen Wentworth because Maxine like every week

  9. There was also a storyline about a trans woman teacher in Popular – altho the actor is a cis man it’s one of the more respectful storylines from around 2000/01 (as low as the bar was set) – especially considering it’s a ryan murphy show

    thank you so much for compiling this list – however heartbreaking it was to read, it’s so important

  10. I couldn’t find a good synopsis but the show China Beach had a trans woman character that was in a few episodes, including this one: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0540586/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pld

    If memory serves, the plot showed accepting and understanding viewpoints from the main characters (in addition to transphobia), which would have been pretty progressive back in 1989 when it aired.

    This article is a great piece of research; well done AS.
    I was curious if the 2005 episode of ER was the first known example of a transgender actress portraying a trans character? Pioneer! Also props to ER if they knowingly hired a trans actress for this role (not sure if she was out at that time).

    • oh yes! China Beach was one of the episodes i tried SO HARD to find until i became confused about whether or not it was a thing, and then it got lost between spreadsheets.

      the first trans actress / trans character i could find was 2003, alexandra billings in karen cisco!

      • Thanks for the info!

        For China Beach, it was Season 3, Episode 8, “China Men”. The character, Pei, is a Filipino trans woman who was a singer dating one of the main characters. She spoke no English and everyone agreed she was very beautiful. In the referenced episode, she was involved in a fatal accident (car accident maybe?) and her transgender identity was discovered at the hospital post-mortem by the man (doctor) who was dating her, and his co-workers. I remember they did a good job of portraying how it caused her date / doctor to question what he thought he knew about his sexual attraction in the beginning of the episode; some of the more enlightened characters helped him understand some basics of transgender identity as the story progressed, maybe?

        Pei is played by actress Kayla Blake.

  11. ok i grant that Nomi is awesome and a babe right in ther crosshair of my 10 ton shaghammer.

    But the rest of the filth list is something where replacing all actors and the entire plot with a porn orgy scene where all furniture is latex covered for an objective reason and everyone has nose-strapped dildoes would be so much of an improvement it would massively change my thoughts on people, life and universe in a positive way.

  12. As an aside, Royal Pains is a pretty good show. The acting is good and there’s a great character from India (Divya Katdare, played by Reshma Shetty) who is a very talented physician’s assistant. Her plot line covers what it’s like to be living in two different cultures; she also has amazing style/fashion.

  13. This was an interesting read, and it reminded me of a project I might have to revive. A couple semesters ago a professor who I’m friends with was teaching a class on LGBTQIA+ representation in all forms of media, but knew nothing about video games and asked me for help. Me being me, I got a bit too into the research and basically started an academic paper on the history of queer representation in video games. Maybe I’ll have time after finals to dig out my notes again.

  14. arrgghh this was really hard and sad to go through but really meaningful, thank you.

    I remember there was a trans woman character (played by a cis woman) on this Fox show Raising Hope (it wasn’t around for very long) who was… probably not the best representation, but I remember some positive aspects — like she was kind of included to make fun of the main characters and wasn’t treated as a joke herself… but it’s been a while and I don’t want to check again because I’m probably being over-optimistic, and it was probably terrible.

    • This comment is unconstructive and intentionally mean, but presents maybe an opportunity to explain, in case it’s helpful for anyone: Autostraddle is a website for queer women – lesbian, bi, pan, ace, and of course trans. Many trans women are queer: according to Wikipedia, “A survey of roughly 3000 trans women showed that only 23% of them identified as heterosexual, with 31% as bisexual, 29% as lesbian, 7% as asexual, 7% as queer and 2% as “other”.” Queerness is often concerned with fluidity or ambiguity in gender, and transness is part of the universe of gender fluidity. Transness is a feminist issue, because trans women are women, and also because feminism is about rejecting or questioning traditional ideas about gender being fixed, or it meaning certain things about you if you have a certain body at birth. I often feel like trans people are at a forefront of feminism, really breaking down patriarchial ideas about what it is to be assigned a gender, and what we can do with gender. So coverage of trans issues is coverage of feminist issues relevant to trans women and cis women who don’t find themselves in traditional gender roles – which probably accounts for most of the readers of this website.

      And specifically on the penis issue: speak for yourself!

  15. Thank you so much for putting this together. You know it’s bad, really bad, but then you get the full list and realise how SHITTY it is.

    The Dark Angel one is kind of infuriating, because I clearly remember people (James Cameron himself?) from the show saying “well we thought in the future there would be no more discriminations, people wouldn’t care if you’re straight or gay, so it was natural for us to have someone like Original Cindy”. And then they make her a transphobe ><…

    I've got another possible one to add on the list. I don't know if it completely fills the criteria but I think it's still worth discussing:

    In the Pretender season 1 episode 5, "the Paper Clock", Jarod meets a cab driver called Isaac Dexter who back then would be labelled a "crossdresser" or dragqueen I guess, played by Gerry McIntyre. Masculine pronouns are used, and this bit of dialogue is exchanged: Jarod: "you're a man!"/ Isaac: "Last time I checked".

    Basically, Jarod plays a lawyer defending Isaac, who is being sued for defending himself during a hate crime. Isaac can't pay him but volunteers to drive him around in his cab while jarod's in town. I think the trope here is that the character is used to show how Jarod is willing to accept people as they are ? …

    But the important thing is beyond the story. This was back in 1996 and clearly the writers didn't know the difference between dragqueen, transgender and other gender presentations because they STILL make mistakes about it. About 2 years ago, they started rewriting the series in a set of book. In the first one, they re-use this trope by making it 1000% worse. The character Jarod meets now self-identifies as trans*, is a black prostitute with full stereotypes attached (the way she talks, etc). The worst thing is characters (including Jarod) in the book keep misgendering her, using the wrong pronouns. So does the narrator… and so does the character herself at one point !

    I ended up writing to the authors because I was so pissed, and because that wasn't the only super problematic things about what I'd found in the book (they use psoriasis as a marker of someone being "disgusting" and not worthy of desire, thank you for that you assholes!). I never got a response from them, when they're known in the community for engaging with the fans a lot including in emails. It actually made me look back at my favourite show (who got me into fandom, and helped me through very rough time. It still holds a special place in my heart) and see all the fucked up tropes they used, especially around illness and disability.

  16. Another example: LA Law’s pilot centers around a trans woman storyline, more or less. Robert Knepper guest stars as a trans woman who needs the job (to work as a woman) in order to be allowed to transition. A senior partner whose death is a major part of the episode (who was gay and her boyfriend/ex (not sure?), but supported her transition) gave her a job as a secretary in the firm before dying. Georgia outs the [possibly married] partner (and I think herself) at the funeral. She is not able to go on to work in the firm. Most lawyers are relieved not to have to work with her but I think at least the protagonist is supposed to be “compassionate” to her difficulties.

  17. I can’t remember which one it is, but there’s an episode of Nurse Jackie that does the Token Trans Episode thing. Hormones are endangering her health, blah blah, but everyone is super respectful of her and the hospital works together to find a way to fund an alternative hormone method that won’t kill her.

  18. I have a question. 50 years from now are we going to look at cis people playing trans characters in the same way we now look at white people in black face?

  19. God, that was dreadful.

    Dreadful but absolutely necessary.

    Thank you so much for putting this together. I hope that it gets into the hands of writers and showrunners who will think better of how they treat trans characters in the future.

  20. The pilot episode of Rookie Blue (2010) had a horrible portrayal of a trans woman, including this bit of dialogue:

    Dov: “She’s a chick!”

    Gail: “No, she’s not a chick, she’s a man!”

    Trans woman: “I’m not a man, I’m transgendered.”

  21. Wow, this is really impressive work, Riese (and Mey and Heather). I think this will be a very useful resource for some time to come… thanks, it obviously must have been very exhausting (and kind of depressing) work.

    And I thought I was the only one who remembered David Duchovny appeared as Denise in Twin Peaks…

  22. I’m not sure if this is one you would want to include, but for a while, Jodie Dallas, Billy Crystal’s character on ‘Soap,’ was presented as someone transitioning from male to female – but concurrently referred to as a gay man. The character was only considering the transition in order to marry a man, so I personally would not characterize Jodie as a trans woman (and by the end of the series, it was difficult to remember that the character had been gay.) However, the (non-)transition storyline is important historically as I’m sure it confused many people as to what the transition process involves. The character checked in to a hospital for SRS having apparently never actually taken any hormones (I do recall the character discussing hormones once, but I don’t think any were ever taken) and having only dressed as a woman a handful of times (no RLT whatsoever.)

  23. Brandi, Just Shoot Me!, “Brandi, You’re a Fine Girl” (2000)

    Don’t forget on this one how he was still liking her then his “friend” encouraged him NOT to date her. (Aka the cis woman who told him to be more open minded) And he kept screaming out “i’m a freak I’m a freak I’m a freak.” And she encouraged it and he went “but we were so good together.” Then she said “back when you were still both boys.”

    It utterly fucked me up when I saw it as a teenager.

  24. For the most part, very well written and informative (and, yes, just sad), but I just … I cannot not respond to things said about Charlotte on Pretty Little Liars.

    “It turned out that Charlotte was actually Allison’s long-lost sister, cast out of her family for being trans and subsequently gone bananas.”
    *** And it was incredibly obvious that the “gone bananas” was becos of the being cast out, not becos of the being trans.

    “Charlotte embodied every negative trans stereotype possible: she was deceptive about her trans status to a romantic partner and everybody who knew her,”
    *** If she had had SRS and was fully transitioned, how was it being deceptive? Is the idea that she was supposed to tell everyone, “I was born in a male body, but I fixed it”?

    “She manipulated and murdered innocent people,”
    *** What innocent people did she kill?

    “She wore disguises,”
    *** Along with the majority of the main cast.

    “She had mental health problems,”
    *** Again, being “cast out of [your] family” can do that to a person.

    “She was referred to as “she/he/it,””
    *** By Hannah who (A) says things like that (not that it makes it right, but it was completely in character for Han); (B) is still *really* pissed at Charlotte; (C) didn’t know the proper terminology and was honestly asking.

    “She devoted her life to malicious and vengeful behavior”
    *** Except for all the times she helped the Liars and/or Alison.

    “And, after being outed, immediately turned suicidal.”
    *** Becos she was afraid of being rejected.

    I utterly apologise if this offends anyone; I am NOT trying to attack or cause problems. But I keep reading articles (on *this* site) attacking Charlotte and blaming her for everything bad that happened on PLL (when clearly the TRUE villain was her a*****e father), when Charlotte was just as much a victim as anyone. And I just … I don’t understand it.

    — Yes, I am male. But please, don’t hold it against me; I promise, it wasn’t my fault. —

  25. In 2010 the show “Terriers” (which only had one season) had an episode called ‘Pimp Daddy’ which involved a few trans women characters.
    Cody, a teenager, spends $200 to lose his virginity, but the sex worker (Mikaela) leaves without having sex with him, stealing his money. The main characters of the show are two unlicensed private investigators, one of which (Britt) tries to help Cody get his money back. He finds out that Mikaela is trans, and she left before doing her job because she realized Cody didn’t know she was trans, and she was pre-op. She explains that most of her clientele are after specifically trans women.
    Mikaela then hires Britt to help her find out who killed her friend Crystal (another trans woman sex worker) because the actual police didn’t put any effort into it, since they don’t particularly care about sex workers, much less trans ones.
    It isn’t hard for Britt to figure it out though. The man who killed Crystal had killed himself 6 months prior. They also learn that Crystal’s legal name was ‘Trevor Dale’.
    Mikaela and Britt visit Crystal’s parents, who were unaware of what happened to their daughter, or that she was trans.
    When they go to visit though, Mikaela calls herself ‘Michael’, and presents as male, and tells Crystal’s parents that ‘Trevor’ was a good man and helped other runaways like ‘himself’.

          • But also if you managed to pay attention: Intersectional Feminism, which is actual feminism in pursuit of social justice as a whole. Not bit parts because we’re all connected and if some of us aren’t free then that is not freedom.

            If this is a problem for you I suggest you leave AS to its devices and do something productive with your life than picking on transwomen.

          • Abbi, Autostraddle is a site aimed primarily at women who are attracted to other women. While the site’s focus is on LBQ women, it welcomes and caters to non-binary people as well. It doesn’t matter if you are lesbian or bisexual, trans or cis, there is something here for you.

            Most of the trans-specific content focuses on lesbian/queer trans women, but sometimes other topics will be covered (like this article, or the articles memorializing trans women who have been lost to murder) because they are of interest and importance to the LGBTQ community as a whole, particuarly the LGBTQ women’s community. There are also plenty of articles about food, crafts, cocktails, etc. that have nothing to do with sexuality or gender identity, but are just for fun.

            If you are looking for a space that caters exclusively to cis lesbians, this isn’t it – never has been, and never will be.

    • the weird part is that considering something like one-fourth to one-third of trans women are lesbians or bisexual, lesbian and bisexual trans women are so rarely represented on television

  26. What a thorough analysis of something so rarely explored! I remember doing a media survey like this in college, but we never approached LGBT representation.

    Curious and innocent question: of the 66 times the author wrote “shocked” to find out someone was trans, was that the sole emotive conveyed?

  27. Ummm I don’t know if this belongs, but I feel remiss not mentioning it Law & Order: SVU season 6 episode 12 Identity.
    It’s partially inspired by the life of David Reimer.
    AMAB twins and the circumcision of one was botched leaving the organ of one the twins burned beyond repair. A psychologist recommended they surgically reassign that twin and raise him as a girl which would give this “doctor” the perfect chance to test his theory that gender identity is 100% learned.

    In the episode the biological sex of the kid is determined by saliva in the bite injury of a rapist and a bit of snooping. At first the detectives assume the confession is one sibling trying to protect the other and then further questioning and research etc they learn both the twins are AMAB.
    And the “doctor” is a heinous piece of shit whose gender therapy including putting the clothed twins in sex position to reinforce the assigned gender. Other stuff too but that bit made me dry heave.
    After the gender reveal thing the twins want him persecuted by law for the twisted shit he passed off therapy but it isn’t possible for some reason. So one of the twins kill him and spit on his corpse but they cannot tell which one because they’re identical twins which means identical DNA and the one who was on synthetic hormones has been off them long enough for them to be out of his system.

    Don’t think this quite belongs on the list but I felt a need to mention it.
    Transition to woman after all was not an alignment of gender identity and outward presentation in that case.

  28. Thank you SO much for this! I can’t even imagine the time and effort it took for this. I was hoping that The Education of Max Bickford would be mentioned. I remember liking the show, but couldn’t remember much about it. God, trans storylines for the most part still suck. Ugh!

  29. I don’t know if anyone else has pointed this out, but in that CSI episode, the trans woman dancer Grissom talks to at the bar is most definitely NOT a cis actress. That’s Calpernia bloody Addams. Not my favourite person in the world, but credit where it’s due.

  30. There was a TV adaptation of Tales Of The City, in which trans character Anna Madrigal (played by cis female actress Olympia Dukakis) was not only a cast regular, but the first name on the cast list.

  31. I hadn’t realized how common the “HRT is terrible for you” trope is and how relatively little attention it gets. Lots of people will get their views on HRT from fiction and never question that.

  32. Dead Like Me has an episode that is very trans sensitive. A trans woman, presenting as a man, is at a plastic surgeon’s office to discuss getting some undisclosed feminization surgery. Daisy is there to harvest their soul before they die, and is very compassionate towards them saying that they would make a beautiful woman and that hopefully everything will right itself when they ‘pass over’

  33. Thanks Team Autostraddle for putting this together. Amazing research happening. <3

    Also, can we talk about how terrible and cheesy the titles of these episodes are? I mean "A Whole in Juan"?? "Nobody's Perfect"? "C-C-Changes"? "What's Going on Downstairs"? Terrible.

  34. Does “almost” count? I guess not but some interesting trivia:

    The character”Switch” in the original Matrix movie was supposed to be TG but the studio wouldn’t let Lana do that.

    Total crime because that really would have injected some needed conversation into society in the 90s

    But I love what Lana got to do with Jamie Clayton as Nomi in Sense8 last year though. Jamie is awesome.

    BTW I want to start a conversation about how much I hate how we prefix “trans” to woman. We say “people of color” to be formal and have to divide by skin color because we emphasis “people” first, rightly so. I really really wish there was an equivalent for TG but I cannot find anything that seems to work.

    • I’ve heard a lot of people say/identify as a “woman of trans experience” or a “man of trans experience” for the reason you say above. Idk if that will catch on in a mainstream way but I have heard a lot of people use it interchangeably with trans woman and trans man.

  35. Just mentioning a pair of shows that did not make the list. The sitcom “News Radio” had the stereotypical “Old HS buddy visits, is a woman, OMG! Wait, she’s hot! Oh noes” episode at one point. David Spade played the character whose friend shows up, but do not recall who played the trans woman. I do recall it used pretty much all the usual tropes though.

    Second, I was actually a bit disappointed not to see “The Riches” on this list. IIRC, the representation and portrayal of their young trans* child (10-12 I think?) was overwhelmingly positive. I believe the child was more genderfluid and nonbinary, than transfeminine, but it was never played for laughs, the child was easily and fully accepted by their family, and was, while not the MAIN main character, definitely the one that had me glued to the television week after week. This was, for me, the first representation I EVER saw of a non-cis person in a normal light, as a regular person. It literally opened my eyes and mind; prior to this I never gave the idea of gender a thought, positive or negative. It just was what it was. I think if I’d seen this when I was younger… well, it might have made a difference in my life, that is all I will say.

  36. This list was so painful to read. So much emphasis on the feelings of bigoted cis people. So few good portrayals.

    Even when there aren’t trans characters these tropes can be seen in the way trans women are discussed, many of the jokes/comments about trans women in other TV shows reenforce these same tropes.

    God, can I just take a second to mention Jack Harkness’s horribly transphobic speech? It had the terrible combination of transphobia in a queer show and a time traveler from a time past homophobia being really transphobic. There isn’t really anyone IRL that would be okay for me to complain about that to, so I’m going to complain here. It had so many of these tropes without even having a trans character on screen.

    The first places I saw trans representation on TV were on crime shows, “Bones” and “Cold Case” specifically. “Bones” had a questionable portrayal of a trans woman (the episode is named “The He in the She”, blech), Booth is intolerant, of course. The trans woman had a lover who knew she was trans and okay with it, so at least that’s better. Also, she’s a pastor of a liberal church which her son takes over after her death, which was sweet. There was still a lot of misgendering in the episode. (http://bones.wikia.com/wiki/The_He_in_the_She)

    “Bones” is also the only show I’ve seen with a nonbinary character. The psychologist and and Bones are both respectful, but other characters are obsessed with the nonbinary character’s (Haru’s) genitals and are extremely disrespectful. (Angela, who is otherwise a liberal, queer character is really rude in this episode.)

    Haru is the only dmab nonbinary person I’ve seen on TV, though, and they go by they/them pronouns, which is cool. I think despite other characters rudeness it was good to have seen Haru on TV while I was still figuring out that I’m nonbinary. (http://bones.wikia.com/wiki/The_Girl_in_the_Mask) (http://bones.wikia.com/wiki/Haru_Tanaka)

  37. It says “no information exists” on the actress from Dark Angel, but IMDB says “First transgender actress to portray a transgender character on prime time television.” That’s not much, but it’s more than is said here, and it’s the first place I looked.

  38. Fantastic list! A couple of more that were left off: Beverly Hills 90210 (in Season 5 & 6, I believe) had a recurring trans character (played for laughs, repulses the male characters, and other stereotypes, etc) played by cis female actress Monika Schnarre. And Popular (1999-2001) had a male character who transitioned to female in the course of the show. I believe the storyline involved the parents protesting, and the students rallying around him. That character was played by a cis male actor.
    As someone who has studied with the fabulous Alexandra Billings, it’s nice to see her so well-represented on this list! She is a trailblazer, not to mention an amazing human being.

  39. The Grey’s Anatomy episode was the first time I’d ever seen a trans person on TV. I actually still remember the speech Donna’s wife gives towards the end about why she wants to stay with her. Really great article! It makes me glad to see how the characters and their stories improve further down the list and move gradually away from the awful tropes.

  40. I just remembered an episode that might be of interest from CSI New York.

    “The Lying Game” Season 3, Episode 14 (2007) but I’m not sure if the character is a drag queen or transwoman dragging to earn money for her surgery trope. Her legal name Quentin gets used by the officers as well as male pronouns and a “suprise she’s man moment”

    Either way the episode end with her dead face down in a toilet bowl likely drowned in the men’s restroom of a fancy hotel.
    At first the investigation is going in a “it’s trap” direction until they realise the victim’s years dead sister Sarah was raped and the prime suspect was a congressman that Misty was seen shouting at earlier in the evening at a political dinner thing she got herself into so she could confront him.
    Congressman Slimball jumps to prime suspect and totally did but they don’t have enough proof. Unable to get him for Misty’s murder they manage to get him for rape via his saliva or what on baby that he kissed or something.
    I think it was mentioned that Sarah Conrad wasn’t his only victim, but his earliest and that is why there was DNA to be found.

    The episode’s title is,in my mind, reference to The Crying Game which is movie with a trans “surprise dick” moment cue the revulsion. And is pretty much known for that moment despite there being much more to the story then that moment.
    But phobes be crude.

  41. Great overview! Another great trans woman is Maxime from “Wentworth”, super badass who becomes a strong ally to main character Bea in a women’s prison in Australia.

  42. How about Lieutenant Einhorn or whatever her title was in Ace Ventura? (Disclaimer: the movie is beyond stupid but it was my little brother’s favorite, so I’ve seen it a thousand times.)

    Jim Carrey’s character hooks up with her, only to discover later that she is trans. Carrey then gets freaked out emotional in the shower, scrubs his mouth with all the toothpaste, and goes on to out her trans status to all the cops on her cop team. (Squad? Unit? IDK even tho I watch so much Law & Order.)

    Like, sprays her with a hose and strips her to her undergarments in front of all these cops. Who apparently have all gotten sexy with her, because they all wretch and scratch their tongues in revulsion etc. I don’t remember what happens next & I didn’t fact-check my memory of the storyline! I do remember being upset by the cruelty of it as a child.

  43. Thank you for this wonderful article. It was a very interesting, though sad, read. Fifty years of misgendering, shaming, murdering trans female characters on television. Those recent bathroom laws just go to show how much more work on equality needs to be done.

  44. Oh I just thought of one that was missed because it was super recent (April 2016).

    On “The Magicians” (SyFy) one of the FTB support group (free trader beowulf) is TG. Absolutely no discussion is made about it. Her online alias is “Silver Kitten”. The character is supposed to be one of the most powerful magicians (witches) around outside of the college.

    Played by TG actress Bobbi Charlton. She is in a few episodes with only a couple minutes of screen time and only seconds of speaking but unfortunately will likely never be seen again due to the plot which I won’t spoil (warning: the finale is incredibly violent and may upset some people).

  45. I was presenting as 40 something male, when Twin Peaks came out. I so wanted to move forward with my transition, but was totally afraid to do so. When I first saw DEA agent Denise Bryson (David Duchovny), looking fantastic and totally accepted by her co-workers, I saw the possibility for this to be a life for me, that I so wanted. I maybe don’t see things as others do, but Denise gave me the courage to start looking at some major changes in my life. I am happy to say, that all my dreams came true! Thanks Denise

  46. I remember watching quite a few of those going back to All in the Family… I did not see Jahna Steele mentioned who was a transgender actress who played a trans female character named Candace La Rue on NYPD Blue in 1995. Was Jahna the first openly trans female to play a trans character on network TV? I remember Hill Street Blues in the 1980’s had a story line in which Howard Hunter had a love interest who the other officers remembered working as a trans prostitute and later transitioned. Also, Billy Crystal famously played Jodie Dallas on Soap who was initially introduced as wanting to have “sex change surgery” although Jodie did not transition and was essentially portrayed as a gay man throughout the series. Alexis Arquette is openly trans has had a few television roles. also.

  47. Candis Cayne goes uncredited in many of your citations although her pictures appear. Also, trans actors Van Barnes and Holly Woodlawn had cameos on Transparent. Barnes had a hilarious scene as an online sexpot sought out by Josh.

  48. I read Laura Wright’s comment. I have also seen the episode of NYPD Blue with Jahna Steele. I believe she does not make this list because her character does not actually identify as being transgender. It’s not billed as a trans character or written in the story line as trans. She identified as a gender dysphoric person. That could be someone who doesn’t identity as male or female. Nothing stated her character transitioned. Also she was a stage performer at a gay bar on drag night. Her character seems more of a drag performer which I don’t believe is the same as a transgender male or female. That being I read they only added characters that where clearly trans. Technically Alexandra Billings is the first trans actress to play a trans character as there is no information about the actress on Dark Angel. I’m a big fan of Candis Cayne! Excited to see Laverne Cox on Rocky Horror as well. This is a great list! Good work Autostraddle!

    • You don’t have to identify as male or female to be transgender; nonbinary and genderqueer folks are technically transgender too, even if they don’t personally identify with the label. Nor do you have to transition. Being transgender is about identity, first and foremost. You can be an absolute butch dyke or a fabulous drag queen and still not be transgender. Gender variant or gender non-conforming is not the same thing as transgender. And a gender dysphoric person is generally considered transgender, because gender dysphoria is considered a defining feature of the experience of being transgender (although some transgender people may not experience dysphoria, or only very weakly, or may not realise they do experience it after all, and some people who experience gender dysphoria may choose not to identify as transgender).

  49. One more, ICYMI. Backstroke episode “I am a Bird Now”, They find a murder victim, can’t believe its a man until they “check”, and other crazy disrespectful with inferences like, they wore bangs because they have something to hide. Aired in 2015.

  50. The character Marshmallow is also trans and the running gag on the show is every time Bob sees her, he goes, “oh, hey Marshmallow.” She’s been in a few episodes(I think like 9 or so.

  51. In 2001, the short-lived X Files spin-off, “The Lone Gunmen,” had an episode called “The Lying Game,” which featured a trans woman named Carol Strode. She was played by actress Catherine Dent. I don’t know how she identifies or what her sexuality is.

    Here is a wiki on the episode: http://x-files.wikia.com/wiki/The_Lying_Game

    You can watch the episode here: https://youtu.be/e8HzwD0FSq4

    —–

    Thank you for tackling this subject and making this great article. I’d like to check out some of these more positive portrayals that I’ve not seen now. It’s so good to see the clear progression of the portrayals over time too. Makes me feel a lot less horrified by humanity.

    Also, I just want to say that I adore Denise from Twin Peaks! I love that she is this fun, badass character, who just happens to be a cute trans girl. I also like how good Agent Cooper was about it, even if he did make one ignorant comment, assuming she would no longer be attracted to women. I think David Lynch specifically put the comment in there to show how stupid it is to think or say that to a trans person.

  52. Back in the 70s or 80s there was a hysterical syndicated TV show starring a male drag queen. The show was either about cooking or household advice. I can’t remember her name or the show’s name unfortunately. It was usually on late in the evening and on a UHF station. (Remember those?) And as I recall she was the only one on the show. No guests or co-stars.

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