Trans visibility doesn't mean anything if it's harmful. Over the last decade or so we've seen an increase in trans roles on television and logically, within that, coming out scenes for those roles have been a part of that. But looking back at the ones that have stood the test of time, ones that we will always remember, there has been one thing in common: the characters are all played by trans actors.
Given their lived experiences, trans actors and filmmakers have been able to inject nuanced perspectives into these scenes that will undoubtedly become transformative cultural touchpoint for generations of trans folks. Here, we celebrate some of the ones we loved the most. These are the types of trans stories we need to see.
The movie Adam, directed by trans filmmaker Rhys Ernst, drew a lot of controversy when it came out, but it also has some of the best and most accurate scenes depicting queer and trans communities in the early 2000s.
In one scene, Adam, who is a cis boy pretending to be a trans guy to date a queer woman, his sister, and some friends are watching the news when a story about a trans woman being murdered by the man she slept with comes on. Adam's straight, cis male friend says that maybe if she hadn't "pretended she was a girl," she'd still be alive. After Adam relucatantly agrees, Ethan, played by Leo Sheng is fed up and says, "No, I don't tell people when I hook up with them, that I'm trans." He continues, "I've hooked up with people and not told them."
Played by nonbinary actor Lachlan Watson, Theo is a school friend of teen witch Sabrina Carpenter. He had already come out to his friends and was going by Theo at school, but it's when he came out to his dad that our hearts really were touched.
In this scene, Theo's dad is asking him if he should buy him a dress for an upcoming school dance. When Theo says he'd rather wear a suit, he begins to explain. "I feel more myself in boy's clothes. Actually Dad, I don't think I'm a girl at all," he says, "I'm not a girl. Even though I look like a girl, even though I have a girl's name, even though you've always thought of me as a girl, I'm a boy."
Cowboys is a new movie that not many people have seen, and that should change. It stars 10-year-old trans actor Sasha Knight as a young trans boy named Joe who runs away with his father when his mom won't accept his real gender.
In one scene, Joe and his dad Troy, played by Steve Zahn, are sitting in a pickup truck when Joe comes out to him.
"Do you like wearing dresses?" Joe asks. When Troy confirms he does not, Joe continues. "Right, because you're a boy. Boys don't wear dresses... That's why I can't wear dresses any more." When his dad calls him a tomboy in an attempt to understand, Joe lays it out clearly.
"I'm not a tomboy," he says. "Tomboy is just another type of girl, but I'm not a girl." It's emotional and fraught, and one of the realest coming out scenes you'll see in a movie. It's made even better by featuring such an amazing young trans actor.
Nia Nal had already come out to her friends, including Supergirl herself, Kara Danvers, and James Olsen, in really great ways, and was supported by all of them. But it was when she came out as trans while in her superhero persona of Dreamer that made for an all new type of coming out narrative on TV.
In season 4 of the show, Dreamer is being interviewed on national TV by Kara. First she comes out as an alien, and then, she says, "I am also a trans woman. I'm different, Ms. Danvers, but so is everybody. And I don't know when that became such a bad thing. The greatest gift we can give each other is our authentic selves, and sharing that, sharing our truth is what will make us strong."
When Gun Hill Road first came out in 2011, it was extremely rare for trans actors to play trans roles, so a movie starring a trans woman of color like this was completely groundbreaking. Frist-time actor Harmony Santana made history when she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for the role of Vanessa, a trans girl struggling to be accepted by her father who was recently out of jail.
In one scene, a man asks Vanessa for her number, saying he wants to take her out. She leans in his ear and whispers that she's trans. It's a moment any trans person who's had to disclose to a new partner will recognize. While the man stumbles at first, he's still attracted to her and they end up going out.
Jen Richards and Angelica Ross, who have gone on to star in projects like Clarice and Pose, were the creators and stars of this Emmy-winning web series about the dating lives of trans women.
There are a ton of great scenes in the show, and in one, Ross' character, Paige, is on a first date with a man when she thinks about bringing up the fact that she's trans. She's having a great time so decides to wait a little bit. When she does tell him, it's after they've been dating for a while. I
n a wonderful twist on the scene, we don't actually see Paige tell him, just his response. At first, he tells her that she should've told him. But when he realizes he has his own stuff he hadn't told her yet, he understands. "Shit Paige, I really like you," he says, "Do you wanna walk with me a bit?"
Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black will forever be one of the most iconic and groundbreaking trans characters in television history. Early in season one, we get a look at her backstory, and see the first time she wore women's clothing in front of her ex-wife. At first, she's wearing a denim skirt and cute top, but her wife tells her, "you should be dressing like a classy grown-up lady," and helps her into one of her dresses. There had never been a trans coming out on TV treated with as much respect and love as this one.
Lola Rodriguez is one of many talented trans actresses to star in HBO Max's Spanish drama Veneno, about legendary trans icon Cristina Ortiz. Rodriguez plays Valeria Vargas, the real-life trans journalist who wrote the book about Ortiz that the show is based on.
In episode two, Valeria comes out as trans to her mother. She's just heard about how Ortiz had to run away from an unsupportive mother when she was just 13, and she doesn't want to do the same. "They're women, well, we're women for whom the world is dangerous," she tells her mom about the trans women she's been spending time with. "I don't want to move out, Mama, I don't want to go through this alone. But it's up to you." Her mom's response is to hug and kiss her daughter. It's exactly what we all hope for when we come out.