After breakout roles in Netflix’s The Politician and Showtime’s Work in Progress, Theo Germaine’s career may stand as proof of what is now possible for a nonbinary actor in Hollywood.
Following decades of being almost nonexistent (and problematic when it occurred,) trans and nonbinary representation has dramatically increased in the past two to three years. In 2014, Laverne Cox marked a so-called "Transgender Tipping Point" in culture and since, things have continued to increase, seemingly ratcheting up around 2017. Still as Germaine — who rose to prominence as the effective, and sometimes morally ambiguous James on Netflix's The Politician — is quick to point out, there is much work to do.
“I’m discouraged by how we sometimes pat ourselves on the back during the times we’ve done the bare minimum in regards to inclusion in the industry. A lot of people are being kept out," they say. “I’m not seeing enough trans people being hired in other aspects of the industry yet. And those of us who are hired — many of us are thin and able-bodied. That needs to change now.” And now that they have a foot in the door and a growing platform, they are working intently to ensure television makes those changes.
Currently, what has seemed palatable for nonbinary representation onscreen has been narrowed to those assigned female at birth — at least that's who is booking the jobs.
"Most of the AMAB [assigned male at birth] nonbinary actors and performers I know deal with an incredible amount of transphobia towards them and get pushed into boxes more so than I am pushed into boxes," Germaine says. As our language has evolved labels like androgynous have become outdated, but the presentation of gender that androgyny has most often described — white, skinny, no body hair — is how we continue to see the greatest percentage of onscreen representation when it comes to those living outside the gender binary. And though the 28-year-old performer falls within that group, that doesn't mean it's been easy.
Prior to being cast in The Politician, Germaine experienced housing and financial instability while struggling to get their basic needs met. For money they worked periodic theater gigs, did food service, burlesque performances, office temping, pet care, occasional escorting, selling art, “and basically just taking any gig I could to pay all my bills and try to keep working towards the goal I had for acting.” In 2019 that changed with The Politician. Then, a few months later came their role as Chris in Work In Progress. Those shows have been renewed and this year, they've added to that oeuvre playing Jack Starr in HBO Max's Equal. But, while being a series regular is the goal for many, Germaine is still thinking about widening trans representation onscreen.
"I am going to talk about it and I am not going to quiet about it."
A version of this piece was originally published in this year's Out100 issue, out on newsstands 12/1. The issue has four cover stars, one of whom is Janelle Monae. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News +. The full Out100 will be released Thursday, November 19, 2020. The first-ever Out100 Virtual Honoree Induction Ceremony will be Saturday, November 21, 2020 at 8 p.m. EST. You can watch live on the Out100 Live landing page.