“I am a boy. I just have to try a little harder.” ~ Druck
This week David came out as trans on the German web series Druck. Their love interest, Matteo, was shocked though fans had seen it coming for weeks. Matteo was afraid of saying the wrong thing and kept silent. After the episode David’s actor, Lukas Alexander, released a quick video on embarrassing questions trans youth get asked. Useful as Druck has a young audience base, many of whom are unfamiliar with trans issues.
I realized that Lukas Alexander was the first trans actor I’d seen cast in a romantic lead. The trans roles I’d seen on film tended to be tragic, or played by cis actors, or both. I decided to search for short films and web series with trans protagonists. After filtering out the tragedies I found coming out dramas, educational videos and a few more romances. No super hero adventures, paranormal mysteries or workplace sitcoms but you’ve got to start somewhere.
Most, though not all, of these films feature out trans or non-binary actors. For purposes of this article I will refer to characters by they/them/theirs unless they’ve identified their pronouns. Spoiler and trigger warnings apply.
BOY (2014). Emilie has begun binding and wearing masculine clothes. Their mother is pressuring them to wear a dress at a holiday gathering. The arguments get uglier as the event draws nearer. Ends with a sliver of hope.
Danish with English subtitles.
Potential triggers: Emilie endures insults, threats and a slap from their mother. Two other characters stare at them with disapproval. Emilie binds with Ace bandages which I’ve read can cause bruising and lung damage.
Funeral (2017). Sammy is debating how to dress for their estranged father’s funeral. They’ve started transitioning and are trying to find a new voice, but are advised to repress themselves on return to their hometown. They look for a compromise. Thoughtful.
Potential triggers. Sammy endures microaggressions from their mother and a well-meaning friend. Brief discussions of addiction recovery and physical discomfort during transition.
Includes brief nudity.
Impact (2017). Protagonist walks through their school day, ignored and occasionally mocked by their peers. A friendly student reaches out, improving their day. Simple.
English. Mostly silent.
Potential triggers. Student is mocked for their choice of restroom at school.
Letting Go (2018). Students have pink or blue balloons tied to them. One student switches colors. Their peers react in a variety of ways. Slow paced but the visual metaphor is nice.
Mostly silent, with some English text.
Potential triggers. A balloon is popped by a disapproving mother. Symbolism.
Like You (2016). Stefania trains Daniel, a new employee at their family farm. Stefania’s cagey around new people but she and Daniel have something in common. The rural setting is lovely but the storytelling is a little clumsy.
Icelandic and English with English Subtitles
Potential triggers. Stefania endures an insult from her brother.
Listen (2018). A group of trans teens silently walk through their school day, enduring bullying and microaggressions. Their thoughts are heard in voice over. Ends abruptly.
Potential triggers. Bullying. Discussions of self-harm.
Posture (2018). Teen shaves their body hair and tries on a dress and wig. They’re met with pushback from their father and girlfriend but find support from an unexpected source. Slow moving but heartfelt.
Potential triggers. Angry arguments with loved ones.
Pronoms (2017). Alice, a high school junior, has buzzed their hair short and begun wearing masculine clothes. Their boyfriend is uncomfortable with it. When a genderfluid student asks for Alice’s pronouns they are surprised. What follows is a quick primer as Alice introduces themselves to the trans community and makes some personal discoveries. The film maker is a beginner but the film is very cute. It’s rare to find a story focused on a character coming out to themselves, rather than others.
French with English subtitles.
Potential triggers. Some angry remarks from Alice’s soon-to-be-ex boyfriend.
The Real Thing (2017). Allie’s military father is returning home from tour of duty. Allie has come out to him via letter and begun presenting as feminine. Allie is scared to reunite and the school day is filled with microaggressions. Fortunately it builds to a heartwarming reunion back home. Beautiful.
English. Mostly silent.
Potential triggers: Teachers will not refer to Allie by their chosen name and prevent them from entering a restroom.
Sam’s Story (2017). Animated film follows Sam through their childhood. They come to an early realization about their gender identity but it takes their peers and parents some time to adjust. The animation is simple but I liked the art style. There’s a cute plot twist as well.
Potential triggers. Sam punches a student who laughs at them.
Shatter (2016). The protagonist dresses for their day. A voice over reads a poem about transphobia and finding self-worth. The music nearly overpowers the text.
Potential triggers: Discussion of suicide statistics. Bullies send the protagonist an ugly text.
TRANSlation (2018). Interviews with a group of trans people living in the U.K. The interview questions are fairly simple as they’re explaining basic terms. The caption calls it “a trans film for cis people.”
Trans Soul Rebel (2018). Ellie goes out with a terrible date, who realizes he’s seen them once before. Broadly acted and too short to make much of an impression.
Potential triggers: Ellie ends up slapping their rude date.
Visible (2018). The Australian protagonist walks through their city with a billboard listing statistics on trans issues. Sincere but dull.
Potential triggers: Minimal. The protagonist receives positive feedback for their gesture.
Bright Summer Night (2016). A loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here Puck is a non-binary poet distributing drugs at a wild party. The guests cavort, fight and fall in and out of love. The adaptation plays into the original story’s cruelty and can be hard to watch at times. Still the energy is high and the cast is likable.
10 Episodes. English.
Potential Triggers: They took the time to list the triggers up front including drug abuse, peer pressure and suicidal ideation.
Genders (2017). A group of students gather at a trans youth center in Cologne. We follow them as they gradually gain confidence in their home and love lives. The series is presented by Queerblick, a channel that provides tools for German LGBTQ+ youth to make their own films. The actors are green but the writing has charm.
5 episodes. German with English subtitles. Some subtitles are out of sync.
Potential triggers. Ep 4 includes scenes of bullying and self-harm. Ep 5 includes a coming out that is met with hostility. These are balanced out by lighter storylines.
Her Story (2016). Two transwomen re-enter L.A.’s dating world. The out waitress gets caught between an abusive business man and a nerdy lesbian reporter. The attorney is closeted, though a case defending a trans woman puts her under scrutiny. The series is well produced and well written. The story gets dark but is not all misery.
6 episodes. English
Potential triggers. Later episodes feature domestic violence and a public outing. A recurring character is a cis lesbian who goes on transphobic rants.
¡¡PERSONAJES TRANS EN SERIES!! (2018). Xavi Marruenda gives quick reviews of shows featuring trans characters including Orange is the New Black, The OA and Sense8.
2 episodes. Spanish. Option to auto translate English subs.
Trans 101 (2017). YouTuber Chase Ross hosts a series of educational videos. The presentation is dry. Chase simply stands in front of a backdrop and talks. But the information is useful and covers a wide range of topics.
31 episodes. English.
While I’ve found it’s hard to review short films without spoiling them entirely, it’s interesting to look through this list as a whole and watch for trends. Of the following films and shows
- 9 feature coming out scenes
- 7 feature disapproving parents… though some come round.
- 6 feature more than one trans character.
- 6 are in school settings
- 4 feature supportive love interests.
- 3 films rely on voice over monologues
- The BFI lists their top 10 films with transgender characters
- Suggest.com lists their top 14 films with transgender characters
- Wikipedia’s list of transgender characters in film and television
Who are some of your favorite trans and non-binary characters on TV and film? What genres would you like to see trans characters included in? For more reviews of LGBT+ media click here.