19 transgender and non-binary celebrities who are changing television

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez attends the 2022 GLAAD Media Awards.
Michaela Jaé Rodriguez attends the 2022 GLAAD Media Awards.Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for GLAAD
  • More TV shows are featuring transgender and non-binary actors and characters.

  • Laverne Cox started on "Orange Is the New Black" and has become a superstar and trans activist.

  • Michaela Jaé Rodriguez became the first transgender woman to win a Golden Globe in 2022 for "Pose."

Michaela Jaé Rodriguez is known for her work on "Pose" and became the first transgender person to win a Golden Globe in 2022.

MJ Rodriguez appears on "Pose."
Mj Rodriguez.Jordan Strauss/ AP

Before landing her role on "Pose," Rodriguez appeared on TV in shows like "Nurse Jackie" and "The Carrie Diaries." But it's her role as Blanca Rodriguez on "Pose" that really catapulted her into the spotlight.

After three seasons, Rodriguez was finally nominated for an Emmy in May 2021 for her role in "Pose," making history. And in January 2022, Rodriguez once again made history by becoming the first transgender person to win a Golden Globe.

"This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals," Rodriguez wrote on Instagram. "They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS. To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!"

Rodriguez also appeared in the Golden Globe-winning Netflix musical "Tick, Tick...Boom!" in 2021, and will next star in the Apple TV+ series "Loot" alongside Maya Rudolph, Adam Scott, and Joel Kim Booster.

Hunter Schafer stepped into the limelight with HBO's hit "Euphoria," which returned for season two in January 2022.

Hunter Schafer.
Hunter Schafer.Jordan Strauss/ AP

Schafer's only acting credits to date are her role as Jules on HBO's "Euphoria" and as a voice in the English dub of the 2021 anime film "Belle."

Though her acting resume is small, it's impactful. Her character is one of the only trans characters on TV that doesn't actually struggle with her identity.

"There need to be more roles where trans people aren't just dealing with being trans; they're being trans while dealing with other issues," Schafer told Variety in 2019. "We're so much more complex than just one identity."

Zion Moreno is starring in the "Gossip Girl" reboot, which will return for season two in 2022.

zion moreno gossip girl
Zion Moreno on June 30, 2021.Dia Dipasupil/WireImage/Getty Images

Moreno made a name for herself as a transgender model and then switched to acting, appearing in Netflix's "Control Z."

In 2020, it was announced that Moreno would join the cast of the reboot of "Gossip Girl" on HBO Max. In the first season — which premiered last summer — Moreno's character Luna is one of the rich kids with a bad attitude.

"Gossip Girl's" executive producer Joshua Safran told Variety in July 2021 that Luna is transgender in the series.

"We decided as writers that this isn't a show that's about how she became her authentic self. That's just not our story. Luna is Luna to these people, and that's that," Safran said in the interview.

She also appeared in four episodes of the TNT comedy "Claws" from 2021 to 2022.

Elliot Page acted in "Umbrella Academy" and "Tales of the City" before coming out as transgender.

elliot page 2021
Elliot Page at the 2021 Met Gala.Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Getting his start in "Juno" in 2007, which earned him an Oscar nomination, Page has since made a name for himself in Netflix's "Umbrella Academy" as Vanya Hargreeves and "Tales of The City" as Shawna Hawkins.

In 2020, Page came out as transgender.

"I love that I am trans," Page wrote in a statement in 2020. "And I love that I am queer. And the more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more I dream, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive. To all the trans people who deal with harassment, self-loathing, abuse, and the threat of violence every day: I see you, I love you, and I will do everything I can to change this world for the better."

Variety reported at the time that he will continue his role in "Umbrella Academy." It was later revealed that Vanya will also transition during seaosn three, and will now go by Viktor, which is potentially the first time an actor's transition will be reflected in their work on-screen.

Laverne Cox got her start on "Orange Is the New Black."

Laverne Cox got her start on "Orange Is the New Black."
Laverne Cox.Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Cox jumped into the spotlight in 2013 when she started playing Sophia Burset on Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black." In the show, she played a transgender inmate in a women's prison.

For her role on the show, Cox was nominated for three Emmy awards. In 2014, she was the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in an acting category.

In 2015, she won a Daytime Emmy for executive producing "Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word," becoming the first openly transgender woman to win the award.

Cox appeared in a few other TV shows like "The Mindy Project," "Dear White People," and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." She was also in the Oscar-winning film "Promising Young Woman." But the actress has also become an activist for transgender rights.

"It's amazing that in various parts of the country, young people are still struggling who are LGBTQ+. And I think it's because we still, culturally, have this very rigid idea of what women should be," Cox told Yahoo Life in 2018.

"And because of that, young people are being bullied, particularly LGBTQ youth. There's unprecedented visibility for trans folks now, but we're being attacked more than ever before."

Cox was then tapped to replace Giuliana Rancic as E! News' red carpet correspondent, beginning in 2022. She also appeared in Shonda Rhimes' latest Netflix show, "Inventing Anna."

Asia Kate Dillon stars as Taylor Mason in "Billions."

Asia Kate Dillon stars as Taylor Mason in "Billions."
Asia Kate Dillon.Bryan Bedder/GettyImages

In 2016, Dillon earned a spot on Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black," playing Brandy Epps, but most people know them as Taylor Mason on Showtime's "Billions." By playing Mason, Dillon has become the first non-binary actor playing a non-binary character on TV.

Dillon told "Good Morning America" in 2019 this role helped them better understand their own identity.

"In that moment it crystallized for me, that it was going to be OK for me to never change my body if that was my journey and I was still valid as a non-binary person and a trans person," they said.

Dillon made headlines in 2017 when they spoke out about the Emmys' gendered award categories.

"It's not the first time I've thought about this, but it was certainly the first time where I felt like I had a unique opportunity and a platform to engage in the conversation about questions that I had," Dillon told Variety.

In response, the MTV Movie & TV Awards created a gender-neutral acting award category, which Dillon presented that year.

Most know Alex Blue Davis as the first trans actor on "Grey's Anatomy."

Alex Blue Davis was the first trans actor on "Grey's Anatomy."
Alex Blue Davis.Phil Mccarten/ AP

Davis got his start in TV on shows like "2 Broke Girls" and "NCIS," but he is best known for his role on "Grey's Anatomy." Davis played an intern, Dr. Casey Parker, who is an openly trans man.

Showrunner Krista Vernoff said she re-wrote Parker's coming out plot line several times. Ultimately, the character says, "I'm a proud trans man, Dr. Bailey. I like for people to get to know me before they find out my medical history."

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, Davis said the line was monumental for him.

"What's cool about the show, the episode and Krista's vision for this character is he's about way more than being trans," Davis said. "I cried at the table read, it was very moving for me. I've been waiting for a moment like this on TV my whole life. I am so honored I got to say that line on TV because it's a long time coming."

Dominique Jackson made a name for herself on FX's "Pose."

Dominique Jackson
Dominique Jackson.Richard Shotwell/ AP

Jackson is known for her role as Elektra Abundance on FX's groundbreaking show "Pose," which ended last year.

In season one, her character decides to get sex assignment surgery — commonly referred to as "bottom surgery" — and Elektra lost some friends and her boyfriend over the decision.

"Throughout the years, many people have had this misconception about being transgender and they have always come from their comfortability," Jackson told Metro in 2019. "But we also have to realize that having gender-affirming surgeries, it is a personal journey. Every trans person's journey ends in a certain place. My version of complete was bottom surgery. A lot of people just thought we did this surgery because it's always about 'getting a man' or something like that."

Next for Jackson is an upcoming episode of the horror anthology series "American Horror Stories."

Outside of acting, Jackson has also written a book titled "The Transexual from Tribago," which chronicles her personal journey.

Indya Moore is another transgender star who appeared on "Pose."

Indya Moore.
Indya Moore.Jordan Strauss/ AP

Moore started as a model, but they really made a name for themselves when they were cast as Angel on FX's "Pose." As a trans and non-binary person, they became a mainstream success, booking even more modeling gigs and eventually becoming Elle's first trans cover model.

In that cover story, Moore said activism is one of the most important parts of their life.

"When I'm around people having conversations about their day, I'm looking at them, like, 'What could they possibly be talking about? How are we not talking about deconstructing white supremacy right now? How are we not trying to save trans people?'" Moore told Elle in 2019. "I don't know who I am outside of someone who's just trying to be free and find safety for myself and for others."

Moore will appear in the upcoming "Aquaman" sequel, as "Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom," another huge step forward for trans representation.

Jamie Clayton is known for her role in Netflix's "Sense 8."

Jamie Clayton.
Jamie Clayton.Paul A. Hebert/ AP

Clayton is known for her role as Nomi Marks on Netflix's "Sense 8." In the series, Clayton plays a trans hacker who develops the ability to see into the minds of eight other people around the world.

When the show ended in 2018, Clayton went on to appear in multiple other TV series, including "Designated Survivor," "Roswell, New Mexico," and "The L Word: Generation Q."

In 2022, she'll take on the iconic role of Pinhead in the Hulu reboot of "Hellraiser."

Outside of media, Clayton has become an activist for trans rights, especially trans visibility in Hollywood.

"Actors who are trans never even get to audition for anything other than roles of trans characters," she tweeted in 2018. "That's the real issue. We can't even get in the room. Cast actors who are trans as non-trans characters. I dare you."

Tom Phelan starred in a groundbreaking role on "The Fosters."

the fosters tom phelan
Phelan in "The Fosters" with co-star Maia Mitchell.Disney–ABC Domestic Television

Like Hunter Schafer, Phelan has a short list of acting credits, but his role in "The Fosters" was revolutionary. He became one of the first trans actors to play a young trans character. In the show, his character, Cole, tackles taking hormones and experiencing misgendering.

He told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015 that while his character is great for trans visibility, he worries that it won't make that big of an impact.

"We've come a long way with being in the public eye, but in terms of lessening violence, there hasn't been a lot of change," he said. "Media representation is great, but it's not going to promote visible, genuine change."

"Media representation is for the community and for young trans kids and it's for people looking to see themselves. I don't think it's for the rest of the world. Its primary function is to serve as a looking glass so that people who feel lost and confused can look and see themselves," Phelan added.

Elliot Fletcher has had recurring roles on some of the biggest shows on TV, like "Shameless," "The Fosters," and "Y: The Last Man."

Elliot Fletcher.
Elliot Fletcher.Jordan Strauss/ AP

In 2016, Fletcher took on his first trans role on MTV's "Faking It." Since then, he has continued playing trans characters, like Trevor on Showtime's "Shameless" and Aaron Baker on "The Fosters."

Most recently, he had a starring role in "Y: The Last Man" as a very interesting character, Sam. The show explores what would happen if every mammal with a Y chromosome suddenly dropped dead. In the graphic novel the show is based on, there's no real mention of trans men who, of course, would not be affected by the virus.

But in the Hulu adaptation, one of the main characters is Sam, a trans man, whose character was able to bring a sense of modernity to the source material. It was canceled in 2021 after one season.

"We change it up a lot," Fletcher told Men's Health in November 2021. "The show reverses traditional gender roles, or what are thought to be traditional gender roles, because there are no cis men in this world, and cisgender is so often the assumed default."

"There's no one version of a trans guy in Hollywood anymore," Fletcher told The New York Times in 2020.

Josie Totah transitioned after starring in NBC's "Champions," and then played the most popular student at Bayside High in the "Saved by the Bell" reboot.

josie totah in saved by the bell
Josie Totah in "Saved by the Bell."Isabella Vosmikova/Peacock/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Prior to transitioning, Totah appeared in a number of TV shows, including "Jessie," "Glee," and "Liv and Maddie." Right before coming out, she starred as Michael Patel in NBC's "Champions."

In 2018, she announced that she was transgender and prefers she/her pronouns. She  has continued to act, appearing in "The Other Two" and "No Good Nick." In late 2020, Totah became the lead in the "Saved by the Bell" reboot, which was canceled after two seasons in 2022. Totah was also a producer on the show.

"We wanted to tell a story that normalized being trans in high school," Totah told People in December 2020. "The entire character isn't based on that one part of her. We have normal lives. We do normal things. And there is so much more to us than our gender identities."

Jen Richards produced and starred in the web series "Her Story."

Jen Richards.
Jen Richards.Demis Maryannakis/ AP

Richards is best known for her work on the web series "Her Story," which she co-produced. She also played Violet in the show, which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in 2016.

Since then, Richards has appeared in "Nashville," "Better Things," Tales of the City," "Blindspot," "Mrs. Fletcher," and "Clarice."

Outside acting, Richards also works to promote trans visibility and to fight for trans rights. For example, she founded the Trans 100, which honors and recognizes people and organizations that are doing good within the trans community.

She has also been vocal about the importance of casting trans people in trans roles.

"If they cast a cis woman, they're ultimately saying a trans woman is a type of woman," Richards told Variety. "They cast a cis man, they're saying that, at the end of the day, a trans woman is a kind of man. Right from the moment you cast a man as a trans woman, you've already proven that you are out of step."

Alexandra Billings is most recognizable for her role in "Transparent."

Alexandra Billings.
Alexandra Billings.Chris Pizzello/ AP

Billings became the first transgender person to play a transgender character on TV when she took the role of Donna in 2005's "Romy and Michele: In the Beginning." Since then, she has appeared in "How to Get Away with Murder," "Grey's Anatomy," "ER," "Eli Stone," and "Goliath" as trans characters. But the actress is best known for her role as Davina on Amazon's "Transparent."

She has also been outspoken about cis-gendered people taking trans roles. In an op-ed for HuffPost, she explained her frustrations with Jared Leto's Oscar-winning performance in "Dallas Buyers Club," in which he played a trans woman. She especially found it frustrating that the actor didn't acknowledge the trans community in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.

"He spoke about shaving his legs, he spoke about his backside in his bikini, and he spoke about a Brazilian wax he never got because it seemed to be too much trouble," Billings wrote in 2016.

"What he didn't speak about was the transgender woman he played, or the millions of other transgender people in the audience, or the hundreds of millions of people around the world who are living with and dying from the AIDS virus," she continued.

You can next see Billings on the upcoming Prime Video series "The Peripheral."

Trace Lysette has appeared in "Transparent" and the movie "Hustlers."

Trace Lysette.
Trace Lysette.Chris Pizzello/ AP

Lysette began her acting career in 2014, playing Shea on Amazon's "Transparent." Her character is an openly trans woman who is a yoga instructor and educator.

Lysette made headlines in 2017 when she came forward and accused her "Transparent" co-star, Jeffrey Tambor, of inappropriate sexual behavior while on set.

"Despite multiple uncomfortable experiences with Jeffrey, it has been an incredible, career-solidifying honor to bring life to my character, Shea, on Amazon's 'Transparent,'" the actress wrote in a statement at the time. "Working on the award-winning series as a low-income trans woman with active roots in New York's ball culture is a rare opportunity most of my sisters are not given."

Tambor, who later left the show, responded to the accusations by saying he accepted he was not a perfect coworker but that he had "never been a predator — ever."

Outside of "Transparent," Lysette has appeared on FX's "Pose" and "Hustlers." More recently, she hosted a six-part podcast series for Wondery called "Harsh Reality," which is about a controversial British reality TV show that starred a transgender woman.

In 2021, she had a small role on the Netflix animated series "Q Force," which is about a team of queer secret agents.

Brian Michael Smith starred as a trans man in OWN's "Queen Sugar" and was the first trans man to be named on People's Sexiest Men Alive list.

Brian Micahel Smith.
Brian Michael Smith.Phil Mccarten/ AP

Smith has been earning acting credits since 2011, appearing in TV shows like "Gossip Girl," "Girls," "Chicago P.D.," "Blue Bloods," and "After." But in all of these shows, he played a cis straight man. It wasn't until 2017, however, that Smith came out as trans through his character on OWN's drama series "Queen Sugar."

In 2020, Smith began starring in "9-1-1: Lone Star" on Fox, making him the first Black trans male series regular on network TV. He also recurs on "The L Word: Generation Q" as a trans character.

As the trans community pushes for more trans actors to play cis roles, Smith is proof that it's possible.

"There weren't a lot of trans male roles when I started out," Smith told NBC News in 2017. "I was really trying to be cautious about [choosing a trans role] because it was something I was interested in, but I wanted to make sure that it resonated with me, and it would have a positive impact on trans and non-trans people alike."

In November 2021, People Magazine included Smith in their "Sexiest Men Alive" list — he is the first trans man to be named on the annual list.

"I've been called many things, this is a first," Smith wrote on his Instagram after the announcement. "Incredibly honored to be included in this list with so many actors I admire. Big love to @people for the historic shout-out."

Nicole Maines portrayed the first trans superhero on CW's "Supergirl."

Nicole Maines.
Nicole Maines.Richard Shotwell/ AP

Before acting, Maines was the subject of several documentaries that focused on the trans experience. In 2016, she was profiled in HBO's "The Trans List," and in 2018, she was profiled again in "Not Your Skin."

She then moved into acting, becoming the first trans superhero on TV in 2018. Maines played a reporter named Nia Nal on CW's "Supergirl." The character eventually turned into the superhero Dreamer. Maines remained on the show until its end in 2021.

"I've been doing a lot of auditions lately because a lot of different shows have been really eager to tell the story of transgender people," Maines said at Comic-Con in 2018. "It seems only fitting that we have a trans superhero for trans kids to look up to. I wish there was a trans superhero when I was little."

Leo Sheng is the only trans series regular on "The L Word: Generation Q."

leo sheng
Sheng.Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Sheng first gained media attention through his Instagram, as he documented his transition on the app.

"Once I was able to start my medical transition, I started to document that on Instagram because I found a community there of trans guys sharing their journeys — whether that's social, medical, different variations of journeys," Sheng told The New York Times. "That felt really empowering to see."

He was then connected to Hollywood through a campaign he did with Miley Cyrus' charity Happy Hippie Foundation.

Since 2019, Sheng has starred as Micah, an adjunct professor and therapist on the reboot/continuation of the groundbreaking series "The L Word," "The L Word: Generation Q."

"There's a lot that has become mainstream in the last 10 years," he told The Times. "These are conversations that not only queer and trans people are having, but cis folks are having and thinking about now. And I think that's reflected in our sequel."

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