Awareness Week

Buck Vu of ‘The OA,’ and 10 other totally awesome transgender characters that rule TV

As Transgender Awareness Week winds down, and with the Transgender Day of Remembrance approaching Nov. 20, we’ve take a close look at the changing television landscape, and how trans characters have emerged on a number of popular shows.

There’s a long way to go for a true sense of the diversity and complexity of transgender characters, but we’re here to acknowledge where credit is due.

For our money, these 10 characters represent not only the best transgender characters, but some of the best characters on TV.

So, grab the remote (or at least your laptop), and settle in for our look at the 10 Best Trans Characters on TV.

1. Nomi Marks, Sense8

Perhaps because transgender sisters Lana and Lily Wachowski created her, the lesbian hacker Nomi Marks rules on Netflix’s Sense8. Cunning, funny and totally devoted to her longtime girlfriend Amanita, Nomi, as played by Jamie Clayton, represents the moral center of the series. That her chosen name “Nomi” might just be a reference to Showgirls also makes us happy. Netflix axed Sense8 earlier this year, though devotees of the show staged a coup and convinced the streaming service to bring the show back for at least one wrap-up movie.

2. Buck Vu, The OA

First things first: Netflix’s sci-fi mystery The OA is a very weird show. That said, the series which features talk of God, angels, and dimension hopping Tai-Chi (really) uses its premise to introduce one of the most interesting transgender characters on TV: Buck Vu, played by transgender actor Ian Alexander. The adolescent Buck, who oversees his own transition using steroids procured from a local drug dealer, shines light on the feelings of transgender teens in a beautiful and unique way.

3. Sophia Burset, Orange is the New Black

Though featuring a transgender convict of color may reinforce a negative stereotype or two, Sophia Burset still managed to emerge as the scene stealer of Orange is the New Black. Besides, anything that makes Laverne Cox into a full-fledged, Emmy-nominated star is ok by us.

4. Maura Pfeifferman, Transparent

The casting of Jeffrey Tambor, a cisgender man, in the leading role of Maura Pfeifferman on Amazon’s Transparent still meets with ridicule from commentators who feel only trans actors should play trans characters. Worse, the recent damning allegations of sexual harassment against Tambor do his casting no favors. That said, we’d be remiss not to include Maura Pfeifferman in our list here. Regardless of the actor playing the role, Maura the character represents one of the best (and best written) transgender roles to ever hit the screen, and literally change the way people think about the transgender community. Wise but naïve, pained but hopeful, Maura brings to light the struggles of older adults.

5. The Doctor, Dr. Who

Maybe we’ve jumped the gun on this one, but after ten series and a whopping 50 years on the air, the famed sci-fi time traveler comes into her own. Acclaimed actress Jodie Whittaker steps into the role of Dr. Who, the 13th incarnation of the popular character. If nothing else, that makes The Doctor gender fluid. Here’s hoping the show uses the opportunity to explore some of the deeper issues of gender and sexuality. Either way, we love Doc.

Related: TV continually devalues queer diversity. These 10 pathbreaking shows buck the trend.

6. Ms. Hudson, Elementary

Elementary, the American reimagining of Sherlock, itself a reimagining of queer writer Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, updates the character of Mrs. Hudson, the housekeeper with class and wit. This latter day Ms. Hudson becomes an expert on ancient Greece, played by transgender icon Candis Cayne.

7. Frankie Fox, Better Things

The aptly-named Better Things, created by lead actress Pamela Aldon, continues to enrich the fabric of TV by introducing the transgender moppet Frankie. As played by real-life transgender juvenile Hannah Alligood, Frankie embodies everything awful and awesome about being young and queer.

8. Cotton Brown, Star

Queer trailblazer Lee Daniels, the director behind Precious and creator of Empire struck another blow for diversity on television with Star and the character Cotton, the transgender daughter of Queen Latifah’s Carlotta. It helps too that Cotton is played by Amiyah Scott, the transgender bombshell that brings sass and tenderness to her role.

9. Davina, Transparent

Props to Transparent for creating a steadfast best friend for Maura in Davina, played by real-life transgender actress Alexandra Billings. Props to Billings too for becoming the first transgender woman to go full-frontal nude on television. After all, how many cisgender actresses wouldn’t do that?

10. Lola, Difficult People

Yes, Hulu just axed the snarky New York series Difficult People, featuring Shakina Nayfack as the transgender barista Lola. And it’s a shame. The show, a sort of spiritual successor to Seinfeld, featured some of the best queer characters on TV, chief among them, paranoid (and hilarious) conspiracy theorist Lola.

11. Taylor Amber Mason, Billions

While not exactly transgender, we also have to mention Taylor Amber Mason, the first nonbinary character ever on mainstream TV in the US. Played by nonbinary actor Asia Kate Dillon, Taylor has all the markings of a financial shark and a supergenius. We’re not sure if that makes her a hero or a villain exactly, but either way, she’s fascinating.

Did we leave out a character you love? Tell us in the comments…

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    Anna Madrigal; keep all the rest.

    “queer writer Arthur Conan Doyle“

    When did his heterosexual ass get coopted and why isn’t this “problematic”? I guess “queer” really can mean anything. Gives “3-pipe solution” a whole different subtext

    • Danny595

      It’s a word used by postmodernists, so yes, it can mean anything they want, and the meaning changes at their whim. “Queer” has included heteros for a long time now. I think it’s great b/c it’s a toxic label and the less meaning it has and the less association it has with LGB people, the better.

  • Kate Mullet

    Good list: gotta check out some of these shows that I never heard of. Another (albeit an older season): LIZ TAYLOR, American Horror Story: Hotel.

  • Miss Understood

    Elementary can’t make up it’s mind about Ms. Hudson. They introduced her but never made her part of any storyline. It’s as if people behind the scenes are bickering about whether to include her or not.

  • Ummmm Yeah

    We are well aware theses unwanted are out there using gay rights for their own agenda and destroying actual gay rights. We don’t need a week to be reminded how damaging they are to us.

    • startenout

      You are disgusting. They are the T in LGBT and you are just as ignorant as the idiocracy that wants to deny all people equal rights.

    • Ummmm Yeah

      The T forced it’s way in unwanted in the 90’s because they failed at everything they tried on their own. And they been nothing but a problem since.

    • IvanPH

      I agree. Sexual orientation is massively different from gender identity. By lumping LGB with T, we’re making it more difficult for straight and cisgender people to understand the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity.

    • Brody

      Drop it, forsake it, forget it, reject it.
      Including it only serves to allow people to classify us all as mentally unstable.

  • IvanPH

    There is no such thing as transgender. You can’t transition from one gender to another. An outright scientific fact. No amount of injected hormones will change one person’s gender. These “transgender women” should instead continue identifying themselves as men because they are mene. They simply do not follow gender norms or stereotypes.

    Also, laws protecting gays and lesbians from employment, public accommodation and housing are being delayed and denied because of the bathroom issue among “transgender” individuals.

  • KaiserVonScheiss

    Doctor Who isn’t transgender It’s called regeneration. God.

    And ‘non-binary’ still isn’t a real thing. There’s male or female. Gender is the expression of that state, male or female.

  • startenout

    I am so glad that now gay people can be just as horrible, transphobic and ignorant as all homophobes. Stand together or fall alone; it’s amazing how people we’re fine when trans men and women were marching right alongside us for gay rights, but God forbid they want equal treatment and recognition that they are denied. Ugh, sometimes I just hate being lumped in with you people

    • Tobi

      Good. Leave.

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