Transgender and Gender Diverse Characters in (lesser known) Movies and TV Shows

If you’ve been familiar with the concept of trans and gender for longer than 2 seconds, then you’ve most likely heard of mainstream movies like Boys Don’t Cry and Transamerica. If you’re older, or have done some research, you might’ve watched The Crying Game, or Bad Education. And who can ever miss the cult classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch? (I sure didn’t know what I was getting into the first time I watched it.)

Yet you’ve exhausted them all. You’re curious to know if there’s more out there.

Well, there is! Some can be hard to track down, not to mention the majority of transgender-themed television and films are documentaries. But there are a handful that do a decent job of portraying transgender, or gender non-conforming, gender variant, or cross dressing people, and some even do an awesome job at it.

So here’s the list of what I’ve managed to scavenge, with some commentary. If I’ve missed anything, please add it in the comments!

Transgender Characters

Tomboy

This french movie tells the story of Laure, who passes herself off as Mikael – a carefree boy – for an entire summer. All the reviews I’ve seen agree with namely one thing: it’s an absolutely wonderful movie – perhaps a bit slower paced than usual – except for the last 15 seconds, which completely ruin the ambiguous open tone carried throughout. (That ending made me so angry I just pretend it never existed.)

Tomboy

Ma Vie en Rose

Ludovic is the youngest of 3 boys, but on the inside Ludo is really a girl, though her parents don’t understand. This Belgian film was produced more than 15 years ago and is just as relevant today. As trans youth are being thrown into the spotlight more and more frequently, the world is trying to catch up. Parents with trans kids have repeatedly told me how much this movie resonates with them as they struggle to make sense of what their young child is going through, but can’t yet eloquently articulate.

Beautiful Boxer

Beautiful Boxer

Another film based on a true story about a Thai transwoman who competes as a professional kickboxer (Muay Thai) to take care of her family and fund her transition. Other than being foreign (which to me is always a plus), it gives a rare glimpse into what it’s like to transition as an elite athlete, which there are few real occurrences of to date. This movie is bittersweet, and very honest.

Romeos der film

Romeos – der film

In this German film, a gay transman (played by what I can gather is a real transman) falls for a cisgender gay guy. Need I say more?

Soldier’s Girl

Based on a true story about Calpernia Addams (a transwoman, played by Lee Pace) and her relationship with a solider, it’s a brutal and honest viewing of the consequences of transphobia.

Gun Hill Road

This independent film deals with a Latino family and their son, who is quickly becoming their daughter. I have yet to watch it. Luckily it recently became available on Netflix (rejoice!) and I had a chance to finally watch it!

What’s notable is that the transgender character of Michael/Vanessa is actually played by a transwoman. This was Harmony Santana’s film debut, and her spirit shines through as authentic, lending a unique air to the movie.

Facing Mirrors

In Iran, homosexuality is illegal, while transsexuality is not just legal but SRS is paid for by the state. However, homophobia and transphobia are inextricably linked, which means neither gay nor transgender people are safe from discrimination. I saw the screening at the SF LGBT Film Festival last summer, and also had the chance to hear from the director and producer (both women) afterwards, which was an extremely interesting complement to the experience.

The movie depicts a transgender man in the midst of transition, who is back in Iran to see his family and must struggle with being seen and treated as a woman in a society where women are literally policed. Through circumstance, he meets a woman who moonlights as a cab driver so she can make ends meet since her husband is in jail.

Primarily it’s a story about friendship. Focusing equally on both stories, and not giving any more weight nor shock value on the transgender character than on his counterpart, it’s a window into a parallel reality on the other side of the world.

United States of Tara

The United States of Tara

This dark comedy centers around Tara, her family, and how they cope with Tara’s DID – more colloquially known as Multiple Personality Disorder. One of Tara’s alters is Buck. Buck wears tank tops, a trucker hat, baggy jeans and old boots. Buck rides a motorcycle, shoots guns, watches porn, and claims his dick was blown off in ‘Nam. Buck acts, walks, talks, and breathes like a man, so that even though he’s in Tara’s body, when Tara is Buck, everyone calls him He.

While this is fiction, and I don’t think it was the writer’s intention, I see Buck as epitomizing the transgender experience in a way – that of having a body that differs from your inner gender, of having some people deny who you are, and of the validation when others treat you in line with yourself.

Adam from Degrassi

Degrassi

I’ve made a point of watching all the clips I can find featuring Adam, the only transgender teen in scripted television (apparently Adam is now joined by Unique on Glee as trans teen TV cast regulars). It’s worth noting this is a mainstream television show aimed at teens, and Adam’s transness is dealt with frankly and openly.

Gender Diverse Characters

While not specifically in the transgender or transsexual category, some of these films and TV shows portray the continuing spectrum of gender, be it through a gender non-conforming character, or someone who cross dresses (for pleasure, or a different purposes). Each of these sheds light on the critical issue of gender diversity.

Breakfast with Scot

One would think having two gay dads would give you the upper hand if you’re a boy who likes to dress in feather boas and wear makeup. That’s not necessarily the case with Scot, who winds up in foster care with his uncle and his husband, who happens to be a retired professional hockey player in the closet. Another one of those feel-good movies, made in Canada, so it’s offers a view into a different culture :P

Ready, OK!

I don’t know how on earth I found this movie, but it’s extremely cute and funny. It centers around a single mom and her flamboyant son, who is fighting for his right to be on the cheerleading squad in his conservative Catholic elementary school. When a precocious boy gets in a fight about his gender expression with a nun, you can expect hilarious yet thoughtful arguments.

Billy Elliot

Yes, this is a mainstream movie. And no, although Billy Elliot loves ballet, he is neither a “poof” nor gender non-conforming. But do you remember the best friend who kisses Billy, and likes to dress in drag? Perhaps this movie deserves a second viewing after all.

Pariah

Originally a short film, this feature-length picture depicts Alike, an African-American teenager coming to terms with her lesbian identity. What I found notable with regards to gender is how her sexuality interplays with her gender presentation, as well as Alike’s attempt to find her own balance in the spectrum of masculine and feminine expression.

Unveiled - Fremde Haut

Unveiled

Fremde Haut is a German movie about a woman fleeing Iran, as she is persecuted for her relationship with another woman. Upon arrival in Germany, her refugee status is denied, but through a turn of events (no spoilers) she must pass herself off as a man.

Though she’s not trans, she undergoes many experiences that transpeople go through in everyday life, including the deliberate care put into every detail of her presentation, and most saliently, the fear of “being discovered,” and the consequences of it.

The Riches

In this short lived show about a family of travelling con artists, the youngest son is gender creative. He likes to wear dresses, pink shoes, and paint his nails. His family even takes advantage of his penchant for passing as a girl during their many schemes.

Always protective of her son, it’s a heartfelt moment when his mamma tells him “Son, you can be whoever you want to be, but soon, the world is gonna make you choose.”

House of Lies

To be honest I watched a few episodes of this show and didn’t really like it. What got me to watch it in the first place was a series of articles detailing the main character’s gender creative son, Roscoe.

Roscoe

As the writer of the character explains, Roscoe is just Roscoe – a sentiment some of us try most of our lives to get through to others. And renowned gender psychologist Diane Ehrensaft reminds us of how Roscoe – and adults’ confusion of his gender and sexuality – parallels that of many transgender, gay, and otherwise gender diverse children in real life.

Any Others?

If you’ve seen or heard of other movies or television shows featuring a main character who shines through the gender spectrum – tell us!

41 responses to “Transgender and Gender Diverse Characters in (lesser known) Movies and TV Shows

  1. They are animated so I’m not sure if they count, but:

    Transgender:
    Wandering Son is one of my favorites.

    http://www.crunchyroll.com/hourou-musuko-wandering-son

    Gender Diverse
    Ouran Highschool Host-club is very very good.
    Main character is a girl who doesn’t understand why gender matters, and spends half of the series dress and acting like a boy. Her father is a drag-queen who usually prefers to go by his stage name and dress as a woman. Her father’s best friend who was born as a man, lives as a woman and uses female pronouns, though it is never explicitly stated that she is transgender. http://www.hulu.com/ouran-high-school-host-club

    Tiger and Bunny:
    One of the heroes considers themselves gender-free and tends to express themselves as ‘one of the girls’. The series is a lot of fun, but Nathan isn’t one of the main characters.

    http://www.hulu.com/tiger-and-bunny

    • Ah yes, I was debating whether to include that. It definitely forces the viewer to question social assumptions about the (then) marginalized gay life.

  2. In Hollyoaks there was a gay ftm teenager. I think his name was Jason. I didn’t watch his full storyline, but it seemed quite interesting from the scenes I saw (which were after his coming out).

  3. My Life as a Dog is a Swedish film about a boy sent by his ill mother to live with relatives. One of the friends he makes is Saga, a tomboy who plays sports with the boys and doesn’t seem pleased with the onset of puberty. She’s never stated to be trans, but certainly seems gender non-conforming.

  4. Great list. I have a few more movies to watch now. :) And on Romeos, the trans guy in it is played by a cis guy, Rick Okon i believe?
    The ending to Tomboy made me mad too. When i watch it i skip that part and make up a different one.

  5. There’s a Finnish movie called Kerron sinulle kaiken (= I’ll tell you everything, trailer here: http://youtu.be/kumaZdEMJow , in Finnish though :D) I guess it’s pretty uncommon to have a transwoman played by a female-born actress? I haven’t seen it yet but I’ve heard it isn’t a movie really about trans issues, rather a love triangle with a transwoman involved.

    Oh and I heard of a Swedish movie called She Male Snails, (originally Pojktanten), described as “a movie about queer people made by queer people” by a very angry swedish transboy who had just seen Tomboy and yearned for better movies about gender diversity. (I disagree with him on Tomboy, I love it to bits and imo the ending just depicts a violent crash back to “reality” from the innocent summer-y world of children ugh I don’t know how to explain this in English! “It’s just not the way the world works (yet, which is a shame)!!”)

    http://pojktanten.se/

    I’m not sure if this helped at all, neither of those are probably available to you ´u` ahhh so sorry!

    (Also the Hourou Musuko anime isn’t that good compared to the manga it’s based on, which is actually one of THE trans-themed movies/books/comics/things that have helped me to realize and come into terms with who I am, gender-wise. ((oh and by the way this blog is also one of those things, thank you so much <3 <3 ;;)))

  6. There’s a Spanish film called 20 Centimetres, a serious comedy about a pre-op trans woman that’s worth seeing. Also Different For Girls, hard to get hold of but available on YouTube, an English film about a trans woman meeting her old friend from school years later. She’s A Boy I Knew, a brilliant Canadian documentary film about the film-maker’s MTF transition. Better Than Chocolate, a Canadian lesbian romcom with a trans woman character in it (who sings the fab song “I’m not a fucking drag queen…”) I’m disappointed by how few films there are in comparison about trans men.

  7. The movie “Palindromes” is a really weird (in a sort-of-good way) film in which the main character, Aviva (that’s a palindrome, by the way), is played by actors/actresses of varying ages, races, and genders. I’ve seen a lot of conversation online about Aviva’s gender identity. It’s really interesting, and I’d love to rewatch it sometime with my more aware trans* outlook. Beware: there are depictions of underage (13-14) sex, pedophilia (13-year-old girl and grown man, although it’s “consenual”), and there’s a lot of talk about abortion. Listing all of that (for trigger warnings) makes it seem like a really heavy, depressing movie, but I feel that it’s more of a thoughtful experience than a downer.
    I haven’t gotten this far yet in the series, but apparently there’s a transgirl on Glee in the third season named Unique. It irks me, though, how on the Glee Wiki, her name is listed as Wade “Unique” Adams.

    • Unique doesn’t come out as trans* until the fourth season. Her character is introduced as a boy that likes to wear girl clothes. So the name is correct. (Though I don’t like it either. I’m hoping it’ll be changed soon.)

  8. I forgot to mention Zerophilia, which is an odd teen comedy about people who have the Z gene, who switch between genders. It’s actually worth watching – speaking as someone with a non-binary gender identity, we’re not very visible out there on the small or large screen.

  9. There’s a 2008 Swedish romance film called “Let the Right One In”, by Tomas Alfredson. The movie itself isn’t exactly about transgender issues, but it has a lonely and ankward 12 year old boy who falls in love with a 200 year old vampire in a child’s body, and the vampire is not exactly a girl. However, the film never explains clearly that Eli, the vampire “girl”, is in reality a castrated male who is condemn to live forever in a preteen body without growing up, like Peter Pan, and without being male nor female, being an androgynous child destined to kill for live. The book is very explicit about Eli’s origin and is called like the movie or “Let Me In”. Of course, it has an American remake, but DON’T WATCH IT!!!! Watch the original film

  10. The L Word has Ivan Aycock, and Max Sweeney, both of whom are trans*, though Ivan is never stated to be transitioning, they are shown to bind and pack regularly, and Ivan Aycock is their legal name, it seems. Max is introduced as a butch lesbian who seems to have no idea trans* people exists for the majority of his life. The storyline is frustrating at times, and there is, of course, problematic language, but it’s a step in the right direction, and was helpful to me, at least, during my own realizations.

  11. One of the three main characters in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a trans woman, and the other two are gay men who dress in drag. Also, Cillian Murphy plays a trans woman named Kitten in the movie Breakfast on Pluto (which is centered on Kitten’s life).

    • I didn’t include this one because
      a) I haven’t seen it, and
      b) from what I’ve read about it, the characters (there are two actually) are what we’d call transmen, but they are portrayed as “women dressing as / trying to pass as men.” That the movie perpetuates this message, despite the historical context, just doesn’t sit well with me.
      Again though, I haven’t seen it yet.

  12. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is another cult classic that deals with trans* sorts of ideals/issues.

  13. “XXY” is an Argentinian made movie about an intersex teen in Uruguay. The scene is a slow paced summer, but covers various experiences, really a coming of age film.
    It’s on Netflix, or at least in Canada, it’s available.

  14. I love Tomboy. I spent a year waiting in anticipation for it to reach me, and it was as fragile and breathtaking as I had hoped.

    I will be beginning my trans* movie marathon shortly!

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  16. There’s an Irish film called Breakfast on Pluto where our lead character dresses in drag and I believe identifies as a woman (it’s been a while, I could be wrong) it stars Cillian Murphy as our lead.
    Then there’s Hourly Musuko (Wandering Son) which is a wonderful anime about two Middle School kids struggling with their gender identity – really worth a watch! That anime was the first to make me start questioning my gender identity.

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