Historically, transgender representation in pop culture has been minimal and oftentimes inaccurate. When it comes to fictional characters, they were regularly created by cisgender writers who portrayed trans identities in false, harmful and problematic ways. However, thanks to more trans actors and writers creating trans characters in film and television, we have seen better representations of trans lives. Alongside this increased on-screen visibility, we have also witnessed more celebrities proudly identify as trans.
In honour of Trans Awareness Week, here are some gorgeous examples of transgender representation in pop culture from 2023.
Hari Nef in the Barbie movie
The Barbie movie, a high budget blockbuster film having a well known actor like Ryan Gosling sincerely tell Hari Nef, a trans woman, that she’s beautiful is so important to me. I love this scene so much pic.twitter.com/CGhM7w6vjb
— and Aria 🏳️⚧️💕 (Ryan Gosling’s version) (@Moonlightariiia) September 3, 2023
Trans actor Hari Nef had a memorable role as Doctor Barbie in the biggest film of the year.
Hari told Out Magazine, “I’m excited to tell stories about trans people that aren’t merely redemptive, that aren’t rooted in transition or discovery. I’m excited for trans assholes on-screen. I’m excited for trans antiheroes on-screen.”
Abbi and Roman in Sex Education
am i the only person on this fucking app that loves both roman and abbi THEYRE SOOOOO THEY MAKE ME SOOO CRYING SOBBING SHITTING MY PANTS pic.twitter.com/q9IiPPBLCH
— andy 🥀 (@c3m3t4rydr1v3) September 24, 2023
The last episode of Sex Education included an incredibly intimate sex scene between the T4T power couple, Abbi and Roman. The characters who were played by trans actors and created by trans writers were praised for approaching their transness in very different ways.
In an interview with Diva Magazine, trans Sex Education writer Krisha Istha said: “We went back and forth in the writers’ room, trying to find the ‘ideal’ trans storyline until we realised that any one portrayal of the trans experience (whether the struggles or the joys) wouldn’t do trans people justice unless it was balanced out by the other.”
This documentary film follows four Black transgender women in America as they navigate careers as sex workers. In creating this film, director D. Smith aimed to avoid the “red-carpet narrative” that is often given to transgender women on screen. Instead, she shows trans women chilling and talking openly about their lives and experiences.
Smith said, “Trans women are magic. When trans women are allowed to be themselves they’re beautiful, they’re funny, they’re gold. We need more projects where trans women can just be trans women.”
The film won the Smith Sundance Film Festival’s Next Innovator Award.
Yasmin Finney in Doctor Who
— yasmin finney updates (@yazupdates) November 10, 2023
Yasmin Finney is making history as the first Black trans woman to star in the long-running, beloved British sci-fi show. She will play a trans character in a three-part 60th-anniversary special of Doctor Who, set to release in November 2023.
The 14th series of Doctor Who starring Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor is set to be the queerest season yet with Gatwa in the lead role and Drag Race alum Jinkx Monsoon guest starring.
Laith Ashley in Taylor Swift’s music video
Trans actor and model Laith Ashley played Taylor Swift’s love interest in her self-directed ‘Lavender Haze’ music video. The official video from Swift’s Midnights album has been viewed over 50 million times.
Ashley said, “As far as visibility for trans people, this is huge… I’ve gotten thousands of messages from trans people saying how important it is that someone with the platform that Taylor Swift has used a trans man as her love interest.”
Bella Ramsey’s non-binary representation
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Actor Bella Ramsey, best known for their role as Ellie in The Last of Us, came out as non-binary earlier this year, saying, “I’m very much just a person. Being gendered isn’t something that I particularly like.”
The 19-year-old actor credits their “gay army” for shielding them from the online hate that they received after coming out, also saying that their co-star, Pedro Pascal, expressed endless support for their identity on set.
Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ Grammy win
During the 65th Annual Grammy Awards earlier this year, Kim Petras made history by becoming the first openly trans woman to win a Grammy. She won alongside non-binary singer Sam Smith in the category of Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their hit song ‘Unholy’.
In her Grammy acceptance speech, Petras said, “I just wanted to thank all the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open for me so I could be here tonight”.
With a rise in anti-trans legislation and hate crimes, 2023 has been an incredibly difficult year for the trans community. But Tori Cooper, Director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said, “The visibility of trans and non-binary people is crucial in countering disinformation about our community from those who seek to weaken our resolve.”
Having trans joy at the centre of pop culture is a powerful act of resistance, and we can’t wait to see what transgender representation looks like in 2024!
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