These 10 Trans Male TV Characters Represent the Best (and Worst) of Queer TV Tropes
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We dug back through recent TV history to find 10 trans male TV characters that left a lasting impression on us, for good (and bad) reasons. While some certainly defied stereotypes, some other of these trans male TV characters fell into tired or offensive tropes.
1. Ian Alexander as Buck Vu in The OA
A few years ago, the then-15-year-old transgender, pansexual Asian-American actor played a high school student in Netflix’s mysterious sci-fi series The OA. Regarding his role, Alexander said, “People have messaged me saying that I helped them come out to their family or helped them to be more confident with their identities. It’s everything that I ever hoped the show could do for people.”
He also admitted that he’s “still experimenting with gender nonconformity and the possibility of being non-binary.” You can follow him on Instagram.
2. Hannah Alligood as Frankie Fox in Better Things
The teenage actress plays Frankie, the radical middle child of Sam Fox, a single mother and working actress raising three children in Los Angeles.
Although Frankie gets in trouble in Season 2 for using the school’s boy’s bathroom despite being assigned a male gender at birth, for a while, the show left Frankie’s gender identity somewhat uncertain.
In an interview with TV guide, Alligood said, “I think that’s the point — is that nobody really knows what’s going on with Frankie because she’s at this stage in her life where everything’s confusing.”
3. Victoria Atkin as Jason Costello in Hollyoaks
Although Hollyoaks has been running as a British soap opera since 1995, Atkin joined the younger-aged cast for a brief three month period from August to December 2010 as part of the newly introduced Costello family. He was one of the few trans male TV characters ever to appear in a British soap opera.
Atkin’s character helped the show explore the issue of gender dysphoria, including “the mental trauma, physical disgust and ongoing frustration of a boy trapped in a girl’s body” and the effect that experience has on the people around him.
To prepare for the part Atkins spent time with trans teenagers. She eventually left the role to pursue other projects, and in the show, her character departed to start a new life in the United States.
4. Tatiana Maslany as Tony Sawicki in Orphan Black
Tony is one of many clones in the series played by Maslany, but Tony is the only openly transgender clone in the sci-fi drama. Tony was introduced in the show’s second season, and though they only appeared once in the entire show, they had a rather dramatic appearance.
After witnessing the death of his human “monitor” at the hands of shadowy individuals in suits, Tony escapes with the help of a detective. He later kisses Felix, the show’s main gay character, who is also a campy, drug-dealing, sex-worker.
5. Brian Michael as Antoine Wilkins in Queen Sugar
In July 2017, Michael came out as transgender after appearing in Oprah Winfrey Network’s family drama. In the episode, Michael played Antoine Wilkins, a police officer who approached a suspicious dumpster diver only to discover that the diver was a former high school friend who used to protect him during high school.
Wilkins is one of the only black trans male TV characters ever to grace the small screen. “That’s something that I feel like really attracted me to the role and the scene,” Michael said. “It wasn’t this heavy-handed cliché focus on the heavy elements of people’s transgender experiences.”
Michael began his professional acting career about six years ago and has appeared on Girls, Blue Bloods and Law and Order.
6. Elliot Fletcher as Trevor in Shameless, Aaron in The Fosters and Noah in Faking It
Fletcher is possibly the most prolific trans male actor in television, playing three different trans male TV characters in three different dramatic series. A musician and YouTuber, Fletcher came out to his parents at age 17 despite attending an all-girls Catholic school since age six.
He played a rival performer and eventual gay love interest to Shane in MTV’s Faking It. In Season 7 of Shameless, he played Trevor, a gay love interest to Ian, a main character who doesn’t initially realize that Trevor is trans. Aaron’s relationship with Callie in the The Fosters was one of the first-ever trans romances on a teen drama.
7. Tom Phelan as Cole in The Fosters
Cole is the only transgender member of Girls United, the group home for runaway youth assigned female at birth. The other runaways misgender Cole and he also gets beat up in public while trying to use a men’s restroom. He is also heterosexual.
At first, Cole violently clashes with his roommate Callie after Callie observes Cole binding his chest after a shower, but the two eventually become confidants as Cole agrees not to report Callie’s secret cell phone as long as Callie allows him to use it to secretly get hormones for his transition. Eventually, Cole gets relocated to a home for LBGTQ youth to get top surgery and and other transitional medical care.
Phelan is transgender in real life. He came out to his parents during his sophomore year of high school.
Although he thinks that his acting will help young trans people feel less confused because they can see someone like themselves on camera, he said that he doubts whether trans male TV characters, and his show in particular, help make life for actual trans people any easier because, “I don’t think the most violent trans misogynists are going to be watching The Fosters.”
8. Daniela Sea as Max Sweeney in The L Word
Although the openly lesbian/bi actress Sea the groundbreaking lesbian dramatic series in Season 3 as Moira — a working class, butch lesbian who contrasted the show’s numerous lipstick lesbians — Max eventually transitions to male, bringing a bunch of problematic stereotypes along the way.
For one, the show made Max’s transition an over-simplified affair with Max taking a testosterone shot in one episode and scheduling transitional surgery barely two episodes later. Over a two week period, he grows a mustache and beard which is pretty much impossible.
Max also manages to get a computer programmer job that once rejected him when he applied as female. Interestingly, after leaving The L Word, Sea also played Blake, a trans guy in an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. In the episode, Blake offers an impassioned plea for people to take trans teens seriously.
9. Jordan Todosey as Adam Torres in Degrassi
Adam transferred to Degrassi High School as a sophomore to escape transphobic bullies at his old school, but at Degrassi another student outs him as trans. The outing arc occurs over a two-part episode entitled My Body Is a Cage in which he first accidentally drops his tampons in front of other students and then is later discovered by his crush, Bianca, to be using a chest binder.
Torres stayed in the show for 78 episodes from the show’s tenth to thirteenth season until — a remarkably long run for trans male TV characters —being killed off after a texting-while-driving car accident. The LGBTQ media organization GLAAD criticized the show for following a long-running problematic TV trope of killing off queer characters, but the show’s creators defended the decision, saying that the character was still authentic and positively affected viewers.
The actress who portrayed him is a cisgender female.
10. Zelda Williams as Drew Reeves in Dead of Summer
Williams played Reeves in the one season supernatural thriller which was developed for the Disney-ABC owned Freeform cable channel directed towards 14 to 34-old viewers.
In the show, Reeves played a “Kurt Cobain type” camp counselor with an ‘I-don’t-give-a…’ attitude who had “zero interest in bonding with the rest of the group.” In one scene, Reeves disaffectedly sits on a pier and smokes a cigarette, looking on while the other campers and counselors go swimming.
Zelda Williams is the cisgender daughter of deceased comedy actor Robin Williams.