The Best Lesbian and Trans Characters in Cinema and Movies
Lesbians, Camera, ACTION!
Let’s face it. Most portrayals of women loving women are done for the male gaze and unfortunately, these depictions fall short of who these characters could be and what their lives would be like if they were real people. Sure, it’s “just for entertainment”, but we all connect with the characters with whom we see a reflection of ourselves. It would make sense, then, that women who love women, trans women, and the overlap thereof see accurate representations of themselves. Outside of Hollywood magic, what characters do we actually like? Are they relatable? Realistic? And why? We’ve lined up a few of our favorite characters who do more than play the comic relief, show a little skin and offer some representation.
2015 brought us Bessie, stunningly portrayed by Queen Latifah. Snapshots of the life of Bessie Smith, the blues singer, this film tells the story of what it was like to be Black, queer, and famous in the deep south in the 1920s as a person that presented as a woman. The layers!! While there is some critique on the cinematic style, we are focusing on the character of Bessie. She was talented, bold, assertive, and didn’t take anyone’s – ahem – stuff. Ever. From the opening act where she lets loose on a man getting a little too pawsy with her, to never compromising her artistic integrity, Bessie is first on our list because she is REAL. Both literally and figuratively. We can all relate to championing (or even being) a fierce “queen” who handles her business with a take no shit but do no harm approach. The real Bessie Smith was known to openly challenge racism, patriarchy, and anti-LGBT sentiment before we had even compiled those letters into an identity. Bessie the character was both likeable and flawed, with Latifah showing us a genuine honesty that won her a SAG Award alongside several other awards and nominations.
In short, Nomi from Sense8 (2015) is one bad bitch who you can trust to come through on a dime and in a pinch. every. single. time. Having survived less-than-supportive parents who still insist on calling her by her deadname, Nomi lives her life as a political writer and hactivist. She is loved by her beautiful, supportive, and protective girlfriend Amanita. We love Nomi for the kind, genuine, and brave person she is. We all want to have someone like this in our lives, and we should work on having some (ALL!) of these qualities. Nomi escaped a literal lobotomy orchestrated by her mother, dodges FBI agents, all while searching for Dr. Metzger (the proverbial evil villain), and manages to overcome all her obstacles by asking WWND – What would Nancy Drew do – and loving Amanita with the power of a thousand hugs. To top it all off, she looks damn good while doing it.
There isn’t a lot of masc-of-center representation in Hollywood’s portrayal of women, and even fewer “studs”. A unique term that is specific to the Black American masc-of-center dominant lesbian experience, studs are so left out of media, that we needed to include a definition. Hattie is a stud who is an aspiring writer living in LA, and she’s not killing it at all. She’s homeless, but not houseless, and makes time for “dating” even though she’s broke. She gets a job that kinda sucks, but it’s also the kinda job that says if you work hard and focus you can move up through the ranks. But Hattie doesn’t want to do any of that. She wants to make it big NOW, not go get the office their coffees again. After bumping and grinding with her boss – and not to get ahead – Hattie makes a mess of things with what seem like logical decisions to her at the time. We like Hattie because she is all of us in our early twenties. Lacking self-awareness, foresight, and boundaries. She has big dreams though, and through all of her wayward shenanigans, she doesn’t actually ever lose focus of wanting to be a writer and that deserves its own applause. Hattie makes us cringe and laugh in the series Twenties (2020).
We love Cotton from the TV series Star (2015) for being the first transgender woman of color on a series as a regular so we give her all of her flowers, but more than that, we love Cotton for always standing in her truth. Whether it’s against her mother and pastor, who both struggle to understand why the baby boy they’ve always known isn’t a boy anymore, or her handsome and wealthy boyfriend who wants her to stop escorting, Cotton is who she is and does what she wants to do. Cotton wants her surgery, and to hell with anyone standing her way. She has been through the fire and her street smarts show it. Cotton is supportive, honest, and resilient. Most of the men in her life have abused her, and while she has lived realities most of us could never survive, through it all she has been blessed with a biological son and one of the most beautiful hearts in primetime television.
Transitioning from a support role to the main character, Casey is the big sister we all love to hate… but also love to love. She’s super annoying but that’s how she shows affection. She’s stubborn as hell, not afraid to back down from a fight (or pick one for that matter). Casey is incredibly sure of herself… kinda. She has the perfect relationship with her best friend-turned-boo thang… but later realizes that she wants something more and that something more also has to be different. Enter Izzie: her other best friend. Their relationship is definitely something different and we get to watch as it becomes the more she’s looking for. Casey is the prime example of what CompHet looks like: the patronizing concept that heterosexuality is normal and compulsive and anything else is just abnormal. As she moves through being a teenager with tons of indescribable emotions, she also is sorting out big feelings that no one else seems to be dealing with. And she’s having trouble articulating them even to herself. Casey is an unseen hero as she manages an independence most of us would be jealous to have mastered at such a young age. All this and she still manages to be fiercely protective of her autistic brother… even if she punches him in the arm every now and then.
Ellie lives in a small town and goes to a small school and is surrounded by small minds. Her dad has a Ph.D. in Engineering, but because of the language barrier, the best work he can find is at a small railway conjunction. To make extra money, Ellie writes papers at school for all the kids who make fun of her name and constantly hit her with microaggressions. As she begins to write love letters to the girl she’s been crushing on – catfishing as her adorable and hopeless latest client – Ellie discovers that her feelings run deeper than she thought, and that wanting to feel seen and heard is important to her. Her loneliness starts to abate as she discovers friendship, love, and a new way to connect with her day. Ellie is a quiet, intelligent character with a lot going on beneath the surface. She may or may not be the only one of her kind in her hometown of Squahamish, but learning to have pride in her whole self is a game-changer in the aptly named movie The Half of It (2020).