TV has never seen more transgender characters

Fri Apr 25, 2008 3:23am EDT
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By P. Ryan Baber

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Although long known to the gay community, breakout star Candis Cayne became a household name this year with her recurring role as the male-to-female transgender character Carmelita on ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money."

She also made history as the first transgender actress to play a transgender character in primetime, and she even shared an onscreen kiss with William Baldwin.

"It just never would have occurred to me to cast a person that wasn't transgender," says creator and executive producer Craig Wright. "The minute Candis walked through the door, there wasn't a single ounce of opposition."

This was a bold step for a network at a time when most LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) ground is broken on cable. With two cable networks -- Here! and Logo -- providing dedicated gay content, and numerous other cable networks featuring LGBT characters in original miniseries, documentaries and dramas, the LGBT experience is being portrayed with more complexity than ever.

According to Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which is holding its 19th annual Media Awards on Saturday at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre (with additional ceremonies in New York, South Florida and San Francisco), "There are fewer gay characters on the broadcast networks than there have been in over a decade ... but the characters that do exist are more fully realized and authentic than characters we've seen in the past, so progress is being made."

While gay characters are enjoying fewer but meatier roles, transgender characters have never seen so much airtime. ABC has led the way, garnering 11 GLAAD nominations, three of which credit the depiction of transgender characters on "Dirty Sexy Money," "Ugly Betty" and "All My Children." However, even though Cayne has won enormous praise both for her performance and for what her inclusion means for the transgender community, the vast majority of transgender roles on television are still not played by transgender actors.

According to some producers, it is not studio opposition that makes it so difficult, but rather the challenge of casting roles from the relatively small talent pool of transgender actors. "We didn't know whether to go with a real transgender or whether to go with a woman," says "Ugly Betty" creator and executive producer Silvio Horta. "We saw some transgender actors, but it ended up being that the couple that we found just didn't have the chops."

So when the show revealed that editor Alex Meade had disappeared for two years to complete a transition from male to female, including full sexual reassignment surgery, creators turned to actress Rebecca Romijn to fill the high heels of the newly metamorphosed Alexis Meade.   Continued...