From 'Ace Ventura' to 'Transparent': How Trans Characters Evolved On-Screen

After decades of hateful clichés, portrayals of transgender lives have finally grown up.
Dec 14, 2015·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

The past year has been a game changer for transgender visibility, with Caitlyn Jenner becoming a household name and actors like Jeffrey Tambor and Eddie Redmayne winning critical praise and awards for their portrayals of transgender women. A group of transgender actors and activists think that recognition will only continue to grow.

“2016 is going to open a lot of doors for a lot of people, because I do think Hollywood wants to start bringing more [transgender] people in.” said Buck Angel, a trans performer and adult film producer, in a video produced by TakePart.

A lot of progress has been made in the way transgender characters are portrayed in pop culture since the days of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. In the 1994 movie, the ultimate surprise twist was that the seductive police chief who stuck her tongue down Jim Carrey’s throat was a deranged ex–football player who had it in for Dan Marino.

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In a film from just a few years ago, actor Ed Helms’ character, Stu, begins gagging when he realizes he’s had sex with a transgender woman in The Hangover Part II.

“These clips instill in me a deep-seated shame of my body and my trans-ness,” said Scott Turner Schofield, a trans actor best known as Nick on The Bold and the Beautiful.

These reactions of profound disgust can have consequences, and as trans actor Jazzmun notes, they can also perpetuate violence—which research has shown transgender women face at a disproportionate rate to cis-gender women.

Films like Dallas Buyers Club, Transamerica, and The Danish Girl all boast more realistic depictions of transgender women but star cis-gender actors in transgender roles. As cis-gender actors have won Golden Globes, Oscars, and Emmys for their portrayals of transgender women, trans activist Drian Juarez thinks the time has come for transgender actors to play those roles.

“I think we’re ready to see a trans actor win an Oscar,” Juarez said.