As Nia Nal/Dreamer on The CW’s “Supergirl,” Nicole Maines has played TV’s first transgender superhero since the show’s fourth season. But for the trans rights activist and actor, progress is the chance to play a villain.
“I think it’s that more and more trans characters [can] be less than perfect and be a–holes and be the villains,” Maines, who is featured in this year’s Power of Pride list, tells Variety via phone from Austin, Texas, where she is quarantining with her family. “We can look at them, and be like, ‘They’re just people. They make poor choices. They can be bad people. They can be not nice.’ Trans-ness is not a person. A person is not identified by their trans-ness.”
She has relished evolving Dreamer, a character whose darkness bubbled to the surface in the show’s most recent fifth season, coming to a head when, in an episode titled “Reality Bytes,” she (SPOILER) almost murders her roommate’s transphobic assaulter.
It’s a stark contrast to when she first started playing her, when she was afraid of revealing any trace of a character flaw, and much more in line with her most recent starring role as Laurel in the queer indie vampire film “Bit.” The latter centers on a newbie vampire whose intersectional feminist vampire friend group aren’t exactly who she thinks they are.
“When I first started playing Nia, I was really nervous to kind of show her in any way that wasn’t favorable. I was very nervous to show her making poor choices or have her react poorly to something. I needed her to be a success. I needed Dreamer and Nia to be untouchable,” she says.
That nervousness, she says, was due to the paucity of trans characters on-screen. “The representation is really on the shoulders of just a few. So everything that happens to those characters is reflective of the rest of the trans community. If we’re anything less than perfect, that’s going to reflect poorly on the rest of us.”
While she’s currently only 22 years old, Maines started advocating for trans rights at an early age. When she was 15, she and her family sued their Maine school district over her right to use the women’s restroom at her school. The case escalated to the Maine Supreme Court.
And while she regards that as a win, she is often reminded of how far trans people have in the fight for equality around the world. For example, in May, Hungary ended legal recognition of transgender and intersex people.
“It reminds me not to get comfortable, that no matter how much progress I make in a state or in a country, it is not reflective of the safety for trans people worldwide,” she observes. “It reminds me that there’s no such thing as one trans experience.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only delayed the start of shooting the next season of “Supergirl,” but also the traditional celebrations of Pride month, to which she says she is trying to find other ways — mostly via social media — of connecting with her young fans. She worries that some of them may be quarantining in situations where they can’t be out to those they are with or worse.
The uncertainty has resulted in some interesting quarantine dreams. She had what she calls a “Supergirl” stress dream the other night.
She laughs, “Oh God, I need to go back to work.” Doesn’t sound like she has ever really stopped, though.