Positively-portrayed, complex, and richly-drawn trans characters are populating some of our favorite shows

By Melissa Maerz
Updated December 05, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST
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Credit: Beth Dubber/Amazon; Joan Marcus; Paul Schiraldi/Netflix

It’s easy to believe that pop culture has the power to change the world. It’s rare to witness that change in real time, but that’s what happened.

Across the country, our minds were opened to the varied experiences of transgender people by watching television. Laverne Cox — Litchfield’s beloved hairdresser, Sophia, on Orange Is the New Black — endeared herself to both inmates and the Television Academy, becoming the first openly trans actor ever nominated for an Emmy. Then on Amazon, the new drama Transparent, about a transgender woman named Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) and her troubled family, was a hit with viewers and was hailed as one of fall’s best TV shows by many critics (including this writer). On Broadway, Neil Patrick Harris sold out nearly his entire run in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and won a Tony award for starring as the title character, a trans singer in a glam-rock band. These fully formed roles suggested that trans people aren’t heroes or villains. They’re just human.

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