“The L Word: Generation Q” Should Change Its Mind About Trans Actresses Playing Cis Characters

The year before I came out I watched a trans woman on TV get fucked by another woman.

Twenty minutes into the Wachowskis’ whirlwind of a show Sense8 we cut to a dimly lit bedroom in San Francisco, a mix of moans and the clang of metal already filling the soundtrack. We’ve seen flashes of her in the opening sequence, but this is our official introduction to Nomi Marks – trans woman, lesbian, hacker, recipient of her girlfriend Amanita’s strap-on.

Nomi is played by Jamie Clayton who is herself trans. The first time I saw the episode I wouldn’t have known, but now when I rewatch the scene I take pleasure in the sexy tinge of transness I recognize in her voice – even just in her moans.

“You literally just fucked my brains out,” Nomi tells Amanita. And then Amanita throws the wet rainbow dildo on the floor with a thud and a splash.

“Happy Pride,” they say to each other.


By the time it was announced that Jamie Clayton was joining the cast of The L Word: Generation Q, there had already been a small outcry at the show’s supposed lack of trans women.

A casting notice looking for two trans male actors set off a flurry of tweets from trans women wondering why a show supposedly about lesbians was prioritizing men.

This was, of course, misguided at best. Cis-dominated lesbian spaces do tend to have more transmasculine people and one of the original L Word’s greatest sins was against Max, its trans male lead. It made sense that the reboot would focus first on amending this mistake.

But most importantly, we’re not in competition. If the intention is to reflect queer community then there should be trans men, trans women, and a lot of non-binary people. We shouldn’t be fighting for a few spots in a large cis ensemble.

A month after the first two rounds of new casting, it was announced that Sophie Giannamore – a trans actress who played Young Maura on Transparent – would be joining the cast as Jordi, a rebellious teen and probable friend of Bette and Tina’s daughter Angie. The small amount of media with queer trans women has focused on teenagers and people who are older. The L Word was primarily about the messy lives of young adults so while this announcement was a relief it still felt like a consolation prize. Placing a trans girl only in the teen storyline seemed to imply that the next generation of trans women were worthy of inclusion, but it was too late for millennials.

One week later Jamie Clayton was announced as a bartender named Tess.

The excitement I felt wasn’t just because she’s a trans actress – it was because she’s Jamie Clayton. I’ll forever love her for that sex scene, but the other thing about Jamie Clayton is she’s a fucking amazing actress. She has a natural movie star charisma that captivates every moment she’s on screen. Throughout the two seasons and a movie of Sense8 she showed such a range of emotion and humor and since that show was prematurely canceled I’ve been increasingly frustrated with her lack of work. This isn’t rare for trans actors. Hollywood loves an underdog story but hates to shift power. A new trans actor is a headline; a seasoned trans actor is just, well, an actor.

But now Jamie Clayton was joining The L Word and I felt myself getting truly excited for the sequel for the first time. Still with this casting announcement so late – and having been let down by trans representation so many times – I braced myself for her to simply be in the background, to not get much of a storyline at all.


Three episodes into the show Jordi had been set up as Angie’s cool girl love interest and Tess was set to run Shane’s lesbian bar – while her new boss was being classic Shane and sleeping with Tess’ girlfriend. Neither character was very well-developed, but the potential was all there. They weren’t the focus, but they certainly weren’t forgotten.

Then an interview came out on Autostraddle with show creator Marja-Lewis Ryan where she revealed a shocking piece of information: Tess and Jordi aren’t supposed to be trans.

Marja: We have two trans actresses who are trans but their characters are not.

Riese: Wait, really?

Marja: That was something that like when I met with Jamie and was like, what’s next, how can we push forward? And she was like, what if my character’s not trans? I was like, awesome. ’cause that feels like something I didn’t know and I wouldn’t have known to do that. But most of my job is to hire well and listen. So we’ll see how that goes.

Clayton certainly isn’t the first trans actor to express a desire to be cast as cis. There are only a handful of trans-specific parts each year and most of them are consumed with the characters’ transness (usually through a cis lens). Clayton is one of many talented trans actors whose careers have progressed all too slowly after their break-out role.

But is the desire actually to be cast as cis? Or is the desire to be cast as a character granted a humanity beyond their transness? And what happens to the work itself if that transness is explicitly removed?

Indya Moore, who currently plays Angel on Pose, tweeted: “i dont think trans people wanna play cis characters, i think we just want to take on narratives in stories where the focus is not on the ways this society consumes our gender variance/identities. It’s possible to be fully trans in film/tv & NOT existentially politicized.”

Jen Richards, who last year was in Tales of the City and Mrs. Fletcher, retweeted with the comment: “So true! Whenever I play a character whose gender isn’t discussed, people applaud my being cast as cis. But unless you see a baby coming out of my vagina, my character is trans. Always. And that’s not a limitation.”

Creating a film and TV landscape where characters are only trans when the storyline is about their transness ignores all the other facets of our lives. It ignores our personhood.

And what’s especially unfortunate about making Tess and Jordi cis is the storylines they eventually received exceeded even my most optimistic expectations.


While the first few episodes of Gen Q set up a romance between Shane and Tess’ girlfriend Lena, once this flirtation was consummated Lena disappeared. The show shifted its focus towards Tess’ reaction – and her wavering sobriety.

During episode five, Tess bonds with fellow newcomer and probable fellow alcoholic Finley. It begins as a sort of mentorship after Tess’ sponsor tells her to turn her cravings towards helping someone else. They go out for brunch and we learn that Tess grew up in Vegas and has a hot showgirl mom.

But after a confrontation with Shane and ignored calls to Lena, Tess relapses. And Finley is more than happy to become her drinking buddy instead.

After closing, the two of them play a drunk, flirty game of Never Have I Ever. And then they’re making out. And then they’re getting naked. And then Finley is sticking her fingers in Tess’ mouth and putting them inside her. And then Finley is going down on her as Tess writhes in pleasure.

The scene is obviously complicated by Tess’ lapse in sobriety. Neither of these characters should be hooking up with each other. It’s objectively the wrong decision. But characters having sex they shouldn’t is a time honored L Word tradition. And for once a trans woman is involved – a trans woman actress at least.

This scene is the first time a trans actress has had sex on TV with another actress – cis or trans – besides Sense8. Transparent featured a sex scene with Maura but she was played by a cis man. And Euphoria had a few queer make outs but the only sex we see Hunter Schafer’s Jules have is with a cis man.

It’s also worth noting that Tess has sex with Finley – the closest person the new L Word has to a masc woman character. Since the first trailer premiered people have been calling Finley the new Shane and while that’s a reduction there’s no denying that Finley is the messy, endearing, soft butch heartthrob of the new show. The pairing of Tess with Finley – the message that sends – is revolutionary in a world where it’s still difficult as a trans woman to find inclusion in cis-dominated lesbian spaces. But it would’ve meant so much more if the character – not just the actress – was trans.

While Tess and Finley are having their misguided tryst, across town Angie is confessing what anyone with any sense already knew – she’s crushing hard on Jordi. After their school play – which Jordi starred in! while Angie did crew! high school theatre! – Shane asks Angie if she likes Jordi and then tells Angie that she thinks Jordi likes her too. They’re all smiley at each other and it’s painfully cute.

Next episode, Angie gets her license and immediately drives over to Jordi’s house. Angie tells Jordi she likes her. She tells her she like likes her. She tells her she maybe loves her. Jordi with a smile says she likes her too – she loves her too. And then they kiss.

Shane and her wife/ex-wife Quiara applaud from the car. I applauded too.

Underneath a YouTube preview for this episode somebody named Mollie commented: “Because I’m a high schooler I’m very happy about the high school gayness that has been added to the show I’m happy about all the gayness aaaaaaa my gay little heart”

One of the best parts of Generation Q is its ability to show queer lives across a spectrum of ages. Kids like YouTube commenter Mollie won’t just grow up knowing they can someday be gay – like those who watched the original show in secret – they can know they don’t have to wait. Angie and Jordi are adorable and it’s indicative of a new generation that Angie’s love interest would be trans without any drama. It also allows an opportunity for queer trans kids to feel the same sense of inclusion as queer cis kids – if only Jordi’s character was actually trans.

By the time the eighth and final episode of the first season airs on Sunday both Jordi and Tess will have been established as major characters in the Gen Q ensemble. And there’s no reason both of them can’t be trans in future seasons.


The thing about representation is it’s personal. Every day I go out into the world as a trans lesbian and live my life. It factors into my dynamics with friends, it impacts my sex life, and, yes, it influences the work I do for this queer women’s website. Last year for work and pleasure I watched over 150 movies about queer women and only two featured a trans woman in a leading role – both seen at Outfest, neither since released. I love watching and writing about lesbian+ film and television, but I’m always aware that the connection I feel to these works is separate from another part of my identity.

Similarly, while it’s brought me so much joy to witness the surge of trans women who have appeared on TV over the last couple years, I’ve often had to put aside my gayness to connect. I’m grateful for the two love stories with cis men Jen Richards got to play on Tales of the City and Mrs. Fletcher, the complicated love story with a cis man (well, alien) Nicole Maines is stumbling through on Supergirl, the failed crush Hunter Schafer has on a cis man on Euphoria that leads her tentatively into the arms of her queer girl friend, and, of course, the variety of love stories between trans women (and a non-binary person) with cis men on Pose. But with each of these shows I once again must ignore a part of my identity.

Not every queer show has to cover every identity which is why I’ve never been eager for a trans lesbian to appear on Pose. I simply want more – more shows, more characters, more experiences portrayed. I want to see trans love stories where cis men aren’t always framed as the prize. I want to see trans women and trans men and non-binary people with cis women but, more importantly, with each other.

I want to see trans love stories that aren’t love stories at all. I want to see trans love stories that could better be described as drunken misguided hook-ups. Because I’m a person – a messy, queer person – and that’s most of what I have.

More than any show on TV, The L Word: Generation Q has come the closest to featuring the kind of trans women representation I crave. All that needs to change is for the show to actually make the characters trans women.

There is an entire world of possibility in between ignoring a character’s transness and making their transness the focus. I live in that world every day.

Make Tess trans. Make Jordi trans. Include their transness in their other storylines. And, most importantly, keep giving them those other storylines.

The same interview with Marja-Lewis Ryan where she said these characters are cis, she mentioned the desire to have two of every identity in her writers room. But on the first season of Gen Q there was only one trans writer and no trans women. Hire a trans lesbian writer for season two – we’re out here and eager to tell our stories.

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 114 articles for us.

40 Comments

  1. Or maybe they could have more characters, and not force a different role on a trans woman who specifically WANTED to play a cis character because she believes trans women shouldn’t be forced to only ever portray trans women, just because you personally think “Well, she MIGHT want something completely different than what she said!” but hey, since when does anyone care what individual trans women actually want, right? Why trust someone on their own feelings when you can project your own feelings on them?

    • that’s not really what happened — marja wanted to tell stories that were new and push the boundaries of what had been done before, and asked jamie for her advice on what was “next,” what hadn’t been done before. and she suggested having trans actors play cis characters. that was her perspective on something that hadn’t been done before. and she is more or less correct about that. but another thing that is “next” is to have young-ish trans characters dating women, something that jamie’s had the chance to play before, but VERY few others.

      i don’t think that’s the same as having her request to play a cis character.

      • I agree, I am curious if the conversation would have gone differently if Jamie had been asked , “Is Tess trans? Should we address her gender identity and if so how?” Plus I think it’s totally ok for fans to voice another thoughtful, well-researched perspective

  2. I really appreciate that you brought up the casting calls and the casting announcements for the show released over the past year. There was a long lead up to the premier, which was (seemingly) marked by promises to “do better” re: trans representation. Part of the disappointment about learning these characters are written as cis is that there was months of excitement about the casting choices!

    Casting is a really important part of the production process. Lesbian film critic and scholar B. Ruby Rich once wrote that directors use casting to “write a film’s meaning beyond its screenplay,” in order to “encourages [their] publics to recognize their lineages on the screen and to invest accordingly.” (She was talking about Jamie Babbit’s movie Itty Bitty Titty Committee.) In other words, casting is incredibly important for LGBTQ film and TV. It creates meaning and it provides queer+trans audiences with opportunities for resonance and recognition when we see ourselves on screen. A lot of folks got invested in Gen Q *because* of the casting of Jamie Clayton and Sophie Giannamore. For the show to then deny the audience the experience of resonance with those stories…definitely a big missed opportunity.

  3. I knew about the casting choices, but had kind of forgotten about them in relation to the characters by the time the show aired. I loved Jamie Clayton on Sense8 and I loved that she was, once again, playing a lesbian. I watched the first 5 episodes of Gen Q with the understanding that her character was a trans lesbian – then was a little shocked and saddened when I realized/remembered that her character was written as cis. When Tess is telling Finley where she comes from – “They go out for brunch and we learn that Tess grew up in Vegas and has a hot showgirl mom” – at this point I’m still assuming Tess is trans, and I love the picture that this storyline painted! Because I can picture a little trans girl wanting to grow up to be like the hot showgirls she’s surrounded by.

    On the other hand, I don’t mind Sophie Giannamore playing a cis character because I was previously unfamiliar with this actress, so I didn’t already identify her with a trans character nor with a lesbian character. And the character’s age also makes me less invested with her.

    I am disappointed that 2 trans actresses were cast yet we wound up with zero trans female characters. Now we are just left with Micah as the sole trans character since Brian Michael Smith (Pierce) has left the show. And even though he was barely on screen, I was actually more interested in him as a character than I have been with Micah’s storyline so far. I might have to watch 9-1-1 lone star now just to feel like I still get to see that character. lol

    • I was totally unfamiliar with Jamie Clayton and Sophie Giannamore before seeing them in Generation Q. But until I watched the whole season and read recaps/commentary, I assumed Tess was trans and that Jordi was cis.

      I couldn’t have recalled a specific reference to Tess’s transness if you asked me to, but I guess I read her that way and assumed it had been mentioned/implied, or that no one felt the need to bring it up because they were just treating Tess, a lesbian who works at a lesbian bar, like another lesbian.

      So I agree with a lot of this, specifically regarding my interpretation of Tess’s character through an understanding of her being trans, or so I assumed. It was refreshing! I liked the showgirl mom bit, I thought that it was a nicely subtle detail to have Tess’s “powerless outsider” feeling mirrored back in a different context when she saw her girlfriend interact with Shane. It seemed like an experience that would have coupled nicely with her trans experience without it being about transition…more of a feeling of finding a place that was inclusive to her but then having to still be an outsider (i.e. a loving relationship that she gets pushed out of). I was thinking about how her character might have ended up working in the bar/hospitality industry as a trans person who might have had limits in employment options and how it would be worth it for her to build a career in that industry even while battling alcoholism because it tends to be more inclusive than some more traditional careers and offer community. I thought it was cool to have a sex scene where a cis lesbian went down on a trans lesbian like it was no big thing!

      So I was really surprised to find out that Tess is cis. I’m cis so I don’t want to comment on how trans women feel about representation, but just observing my own reaction to this character. Jamie is a phenomenal actress, and I wouldn’t have been so invested in imagining her backstory if she didn’t have such great screen presence. (I didn’t find myself nearly as invested in Micah’s) It just totally puts her character in a different light.

      I kinda wish that Tess wasn’t yet canonically cis or trans so that she could be trans! Might have to rewatch.

  4. I would dare say trans actors playing both trans and cis characters is a good thing. Before many more projects make room for specifically trans characters, opening up the space for trans actors to play cis roles is a big deal, because basically all the roles that aren’t trans are cis. In this imperfect world it might even fight trans actors being typecast into specific roles. And any expansion of acting opportunities I would consider good.

    And then there are the different ways in which trans people relate to gender – some are empowered by the way in which they are different from cis people, while others look for similarities and feel empowered for being perceived as cis. So while I obviously don’t know Jamie Clayton’s personal motivation, it doesn’t seem that unusual she would want to play cis and I see how that would be a great thing. It would be an even greater thing if there were more trans storylines on TV and movies alongside that, but…

    • My two responses to this are:

      1) Like Jen Richards said, there’s a difference between playing a character originally written for cis people and thinking of that character as cis.

      2) The L Word is explicitly a show about queer community and queer lives. Of all the shows to ignore transness this shouldn’t be the one.

      • 1) I agree! And personally, I do not understand either Tess or Jordi as cis. I have all the other cis ladies for that, in this or any other show. But as a general concept I find it… at least worth considering. As already said, the show hasn’t referenced them in any way that would exclude them being trans. And honestly, even if it did… I’ve headcanoned against tougher odds and seen much bigger retcons.

        2) Good point. What confused me slightly is that Generation Q has so far been so polite and palatable in whatever subversive or representational content they’ve included. I think it may have even been mentioned in the podcast at some point… The original L Word was many shades of everything, but it wasn’t shy and it was big. Even with its age, it still feels… wilder, somehow. But that’s another topic.

  5. My thoughts exactly ! The more interesting and complex Tess becomes as a character, the more I’m bummed she isn’t canonically trans. Trans women are part of queer communities too and it feels weird not to have that recognized when Jamie is right there onscreen.

  6. I very much agree. It feels extremely odd to know that Tess is supposed to be cis. It feels like an artificial layer of knowledge, because if I hadn’t read the interview with Marja Lewis-Ryan, I would have just assumed that Tess is trans because I know that Jamie Clayton is trans. Like, there’s nothing about the character that precludes Tess from being trans, like Jen Richards said.

    So it’s like, they don’t even have to retcon anything, just give Tess a trans storyline or two.

    And it would be so much better that way, for all the reasons you said, Drew. It feels so strange to not have any trans women characters on the show. Wrong, even.

  7. Honestly, given how horrible the first incarnation treated Lisa (the “lesbian-identified man”, who was pretty obviously a closeted/repressed trans woman in retrospect), it might be cool to have a similar character who actually realizes she’s trans and begins to transition–or better yet, have that be shown in flashbacks as one of the trans character’s backstory.

  8. Have they backed themselves into a corner like the Bojack creators did when they couldn’t recast Diane Nguyen with a Vietnamese-American actor? I can’t really tell, like maybe Jordi and Tess’s trans status could be referenced at some point?

    If not, they should introduce new trans female characters played by trans women in the second season. I can see how they intended to give trans actresses work and do something ‘new’ but that still leaves those stories out, which is the original problem we’ve all been complaining about for 10 years.

  9. It’s especially odd that they’re making Tess cis when she makes that reference to “girls like us” in one of the first few episodes. In my mind, that phrase is directly associated with Janet Mock and trans women, and that’s what I would expect the phrase to mean in the show as well, especially in a show that’s about queer people entirely??

  10. Given that Micah’s transness seems to be his only attribute and his anxiety about transness seems to be the only thing he can respond to or have feelings about, I don’t think we could really trust Gen Q writers to write storylines for Jordi or Tess that don’t entirely revolve around transness as spectacle.

    Also, to be honest, it feels like the show is pandering to the TERF demographic a little bit, by not having trans women or non-binary characters on screen, and by giving the trans man such a trite storyline.

    • Yep, my wife and I were talking about that second point, and we both agree that it feels like the show is trying to play the middle ground, by appeasing those calling for trans representation by hiring trans actors, but pandering to TERFs as you say in the actual storylines.

    • HARD AGREE. I’m not impressed with anything the writers are doing about handling trans actors and characters. Like, looking at the characters, we currently have two trans men and a bunch of cis lesbians and….. that’s it? It doesn’t feel like a representation of the community they’re trying to depict. We deserve to see trans women on screen. We deserve to see nonbinary people on screen. It doesn’t make any sense that in 2020 a group of queer women this diverse in age, class, race, occupation, and so on wouldn’t have ANY trans women or nonbinary friends.

      And the one major trans character, Micah, has a horribly cringy storyline. I can barely watch his scenes, even though I want to be happy for Leo Sheng, who seems really excited about the role. But all these scenes disclosing Micah’s past are really uncomfortable and are a bad model for cis people watching the show who don’t know how to interact with trans people.

      As has been said in the comments before, Work in Progress is doing MUCH better by its trans characters (and by butches too).

  11. Frankly, I’d even be delighted by a part-time character. Hell, have a messy hookup with a trans lesbian. But more importantly: address it, please? Like, the L Word is a messy soap opera, but it’d be nice to actually address some of the issues folx like us have to deal with in this community. I want to see people like me, sure, but part of that is not whitewashing our experiences and issues.

    • It is absolutely staggering to me that there isn’t a trans woman OR non-binary character anywhere in a show that purports to be about queer life in 2020.

      I live in a city with a very scattered and disparate queer community and I still see more diversity of gender and sexuality in my everyday life than The fucking L Word in LA.

      It feels like a weirdly conscious choice, especially considering the show has no trans women writers.

      I watch and the message I get is ‘This is a lesbian show. You are not welcome here’.

  12. I think the discussion which actor can play which role is very sexist and racist. Anyone can play anything. That is what acting is for.

    And stop telling artists what they should do. If you don’t like the product, don’t consume it. Use your money and time on something else to support instead. And stop whining in the internet. Go outside and produce or fund your own project.

  13. great piece. even if Jamie Clayton wanted/wants to play a cis character, I think the rest of this still stands.

    the show hasn’t done much good for trans actors, characters, or viewers so far.

    Micah’s storyline is all about his transness and teaching his cis partner about it (and even worse, constantly having to correct cringy things his cis partner does) (and even WORSE, lots of cringy things not being corrected and portrayed as ok…..). the last thing I wanted in 2020 was another story where a trans person has to handhold cis people through explaining their transition.

    it’s wild that there are no trans women characters. it’s wild that there are no; nonbinary characters. the age range of these characters is about 40 years, and they all work different places and are very much in the queer scene of their community. there’s just no way that there wouldn’t be trans women and nonbinary people in any of those spaces.

    I appreciate that the writers are trying to make things better than the original (although, what a low bar). but there’s still a LOT of room for improvement here

  14. Thank you for this article. I’ve thought it over for a few days, discussed it with friends. Which is what anyone hopes for from an article, right? Thank you for that. After thinking it through, I’m still uncomfortable with the re-interpretation of Jamie’s desires for her character. She wanted Tara to not be trans. That was her choice, which I’m not sure we can interpret as actually meaning the opposite. She should be given agency over her thoughts and desires, not reinterpreted. I think there is space for disappointment around this choice, or seeing the choice as one made within limited options for trans characters- but to put her statement next to Indya Moore’s and run with what they said feels wrong. I also disagree with Riese’s interpretation in the comments. My interpretation is that Jamie wasn’t talking about roles generally, she mentioned her character specifically. I think that’s important. And I also wonder, if we knew that Jamie asked to be cis and that Marja went against her wishes, if we’d be calling out the marginalization of transwomen actors away from cis roles.

    I wish the show had continued adding perspectives after Jamie expressed her desires for Tara. Given that, the show could have (could still!) then worked to create a storyline for a transwoman, played by a transwoman. I agree that Jamie’s choice marginalized the representation of transwomen in this new reboot. But I am uncomfortable holding her accountable for that, or re-interpreting her words. I see the fault of the show being that they stopped at Tara, rather than incorporating a new plotline and character.

    Again, thanks for the space for this conversation.

  15. I think this decision brings an interesting point to light that the show seems to be creating different attitudes with how they are interacting with different parts of the trans population. We have trans femme and trans masc performers but it seems like contrasting “rules” apply to how their characters are portrayed.
    Now I want to address that of course I realize that the circumstances around the characters and their story lines are distinct and likely play into this phenomenon. Micah as a character is set up to go through a story line where his trans-ness is central, whereas that’s not a position that Tess and Jordi’s characters are in. I would also guess that the origins of these character background differ too. I’m certain that the decision that Micah would be a trans man was decided way before casting, whereas it seems Tess’s gender identity is being developed along with input from her performer. Still despite all the individual situations, it does seem to create a divide between how trans masc and trans femme people relate to their characters (and of course the jury is still out on non-binary folx), and I’m interested to see what thoughts people have on this.

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