How a TV character’s on-screen transition can mirror a real-life one
The recent coming out of Elliot Page as transgender resulted in their character changing gender in the latest season of “Umbrella Academy,” an occurrence that is still rare enough to generate considerable commentary and discussion on social media but is becoming more common.
The first episode of season three of Netflix show “Umbrella Academy” depicts the transition of number 7, named Viktor. A transition or change of some sort was expected as the actor playing the character, Elliot Page, came out as transgender in December 2020, after season two had dropped earlier that year in July. And this change is currently the subject of debate on Twitter, a quintessential example of how such journeys are still rather rare, with the gender transition being discussed more than the season itself.
While a number of commenters applaud the transition and how the show handled it, others think that private life should not play a role in on-screen fiction, while a few expressed their opinion that there were already too many masculine characters on the show. Even spoilers for the season have been overshadowed by some rising emotions generated during this debate.
However, this is not the first time something like this takes place on a TV show, but it remains still relatively rare; generally when a transgender character is represented, the transition has mostly already taken place. Actress Tommy Dorfman, who came out as a transgender female in 2021, after playing a male in “13 Reasons Why,” will now play female roles. Other recent examples are transgender actresses Zión Moreno in the “Gossip Girl” reboot and Hunter Schafer in “Euphoria,” young celebrities who started their careers after their gender transition. Although representation of transgender identity is becoming more commonplace, the depiction of transitioning remains less so.
But as many in the film and TV industry have understood, one of the best ways to depict today’s society is by giving a voice and visibility to those who are helping it evolve, making productions more inclusive and putting transgender actors in the spotlight. Netflix even erased Elliot Page’s deadname from their listings and replaced it right after their announcement.
Elliot Page’s character isn’t the first to transition. Alex Newell was first introduced in 2012, in season three of “Glee,” as Wade, a character who was assigned male at birth but who had a female identity on stage before taking the journey to become Unique Adams, a transgender teenage girl.
Another very recent example is Lachlan Watson who played Susie in season one of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” one of the witch’s best friends, and later became Theo. It is a gender transition that took place more or less at the same time as the actor’s one.
Most of these on-screen gender transitions last just a few minutes in the shows and are generally understood and well-received by other characters, even if many of these characters still reflect a society that has some way to go when it comes to inclusivity. However these depictions are important as they can give hope to people who are in transition themselves. In a long process of transgender characters being increasingly represented and normalized, it is likely something we will see more such journeys on TV in the future. JB
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