TV’s transgender trend

This season has many character trends. You’ll see nerds (“Big Bang Theory,” “Chuck,” “Aliens in America,” “The IT Crowd”), slackers (“Reaper” and “Chuck,” again — which would make him a slacker-nerd, I guess), wealthy clans (“Dirty Sexy Money,” “Cane”) and hot women kicking ass, literally (“Bionic Woman,” “Sarah Connor Chronicles” and, um, “Chuck” again) and on the job (“Women’s Murder Club” and midseasoners “Lipstick Jungle” and “Cashmere Mafia”).

Perhaps most interesting is the influx of transgender characters this fall. There are three, all on ABC shows — one played by a supermodel and two played by transgender performers.

Candis“Dirty Sexy Money,” which bows Wednesday, has a character named Carmelita, a transgender woman having an affair with Billy Baldwin’s character, a married politician. Carmelita is played by transwoman Candis Cayne (pictured at left with Baldwin), who’s slated to appear in at least five episodes of the soapy drama. In this interview, Cayne explains that her voice was digitally lowered in post-production. Some sites have objected that this character is a homewrecker but there’s no shortage of those on TV, across the spectrum of sexual identity.

Jazzmun_7The net’s “Big Shots” goes the less subtle route, making its transgender character a prostitute (and using a far less charming phrase that won’t be repeated here). Transgender actress Jazzmun plays a working girl named Dontrelle whose encounter with Dylan McDermott’s character leaves him with some explaining to do. Jazzmun (pictured at right with McDermott) is scheduled to appear in one episode beyond the pilot, which bows Thursday. The actress is a veteran of episodic television having appeared in episodes of “CSI” and “CSI: NY,” “Desperate Housewives,” “NYPD Blue,” “ER,” “Gilmore Girls,” “The Shield,” ”The Closer,” “Nip/Tuck” and others.


And of course Thursday, “Ugly Betty” is back for its second season with model-turned-actress Rebecca Romijn (left) back as as series regular, playing transsexual publishing executive Alexis Meade, who was introduced last season. She’s the most fully fleshed out of the three transgender characters — just a regular gal working in the cutthroat business of a top fashion magazine while she struggles with her new identity and seeks acceptance from her family and the world at large.

I should mention that daytime’s “All My Children” — also on ABC — had a transsexual storyline last year that was dropped rather abruptly. It was a valiant effort, not entirely well executed. Michael Logan of TV Guide wrote: “AMC is risking big viewer turnoff with this landmark story — not because Zarf is a transgender but because she’s an annoying, self-obsessed bore.” And he was pretty much spot on with that assessment.

Remember the days, before the reality TV boom, when “Will and Grace” was groundbreaking for having a gay character and Ellen DeGeneres’ show was cancelled not long after her coming-out episode? Now there are so many gays portrayed on TV that it’s practically passe. For a pretty comprehensive list, visit

Bravo to ABC for continuing to push boundaries.

(A special thanks to my new friend Christine Daniels for her guidance on this post.)

— Kathy Lyford

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  1. I don’t see anything wrong with casting transgenders in television shows. As a matter of fact, they add spice to the program

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  8. Aaron says:

    There’s also a trans-woman love interest in one ep. of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” and, while she’s played for laughs, so is everyone ELSE in the show…

  9. Kathy says:

    “Where are all these out gay characters you’re talking about?”
    “Brothers and Sisters” has Kevin and Uncle Saul; “The L Word” has, well, the whole cast; “Desperate Housewives” is adding a gay couple this season; “Ugly Betty” has Mark and is adding a love interest for him this season; Oscar on “The Office”; one of the main characters on midseason’s “Cashmere Mafia” is bisexual; “Friday Night Lights'” mayor is a lesbian; “Men in Trees”; “ER”; “Grey’s Anatomy.” And others. Like I said, check for a detailed list.

  10. John says:

    None of the transgender women characters you describe are lesbians. They all prefer to sleep with men, therefore they are not gay. Where are all these out gay characters you’re talking about?

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