This Pride Month I’ve been speaking to members of the LGBTQ+ community about how a character, actor, pairing or TV show has helped them. LGBTQ+ representation is so important and has the ability to transform lives. Through something as simple as a fictional character, someone who feels alone in their experience can suddenly feel like they’re being seen for the first time.
Transgender representation is severely lacking, with just 38 trans characters being reported by GLAAD on TV in 2019. We need to do something about that figure and listen to why it’s so important, directly from the people it effects.
I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to Erica (@BlazerGirl2) on Twitter about what the character Nia Nal (aka Dreamer) on Supergirl has meant to her as a transgender woman.
1. Please can you tell us who the character you’ve chosen is?
The character that I have chosen to highlight is Supergirl’s Nia Nal/Dreamer. From the moment Nia showed up on screen in Season 4 Episode 1: American Allen, she commanded the viewer’s attention. Her first scene is portrayed exactly like the main character Kara Danvers/Supergirl was when the show first debuted. She was a nervous intelligent young girl with a secret, starting her first day at Catco as a new reporter.
In the following episodes, we follow Nia on her journey to becoming Dreamer, the first transgender superhero on television.
2. Is there a particular scene on the show that drew you to them, or if you were already hooked, is there a particular scene that means a lot to you?
I honestly was hooked on the show already due to its themes of female empowerment and it’s showcasing of one of the main characters Alex Danvers as an out and proud lesbian. In January 2018 the creator and producer of the show publicly spoke about the lack of transgender representation in the Arrowverse. They promptly followed that up by announcing in May of that same year that there was an open casting call for a young transgender girl to join the main cast in Season 4. Enter Nicole Maines; a young transgender activist that was already in the public spotlight from her fight with her school district to be able to use the girls bathroom (which she won). So I like so many of my transgender sisters, were eagerly awaiting Nicole’s portrayal of Nia Nal.
This brings me to episode 5: The Fallout and a scene when Nia comes face to face with an alien being discriminated against when there is a hack in the system that interferes with his image inducer, which prevents his ability to hide his appearance. Nia witnesses the alien being first verbally assaulted and then physically attacked by the same owner of a pizza restaurant that had served him many times when the alien’s identity was hidden. Nia actually steps in to thwart the attack and then proceeds to go to speak with James Olsen, the editor and chief of the newspaper she works for, about what she witnessed. She comes out to him as a transgender woman to explain to him that she personally knows what it feels like to be attacked and denied for who she was. She then says that due to her own personal experiences, she felt that she had to stand up and “hold a mirror to that bully’s face” and it made a difference.
I had tears in my eyes while witnessing this scene for the first time and I still get emotional every time I see it, which is many times because for the first time I had seen TRUE representation of a vulnerable yet strong transgender woman being portrayed to a national audience. Honestly I could write an entire essay about this episode but that one moment was just so big!
3. What about them has had the biggest impact for you personally/how have they helped you with your identity?
There are so many things to love about Nia Nal and the incredible job Nicole does of portraying her. Watching her grow from a nervous rookie reporter to a kick ass superpowered female and knowing that female is a transgender woman, really presents the idea to transgender women and girls everywhere that we can be anything or anyone that we want to be. The key to unlocking that potential is in the experiences that we go through to make us who we are.
There is a moment in Episode 11: Blood Memory where Nia returns home to visit her very supportive and loving family and talks to her mother about the dreams she has been having and what they mean. Nia is terrified that the gift of dreaming, which is passed on through the families matronly line, is in her and not her sister Maeve who they all believed was destined to have the power. Once Nia realizes she, not Maeve, has this power she is desperate to find a way to transfer her power to her sister. Maeve as we learn has been studying the interpretation of dreams her entire life in anticipation of having the gift. There is a beautiful moment in the story where Nia’s mother realizes that she, not her sister, was given the gift and she makes this tear inducing statement about how of course it was Nia. She tells Nia that the struggle and growth she experienced in her journey from a young transgender girl to a strong transgender woman, was preparing her to become Dreamer.
There is a heartbreaking moment later in the episode where her sister, who she described to Kara as her biggest supporter, questions why she would be given the gift and not her. She is so angry she even says to Nia, “you’re not even a real woman.” While that moment was very hard to witness, it hits home because it is in my opinion, a metaphor for what transgender women many times experince in the real world. There will be people that come into your life and say they love and support you and for a while they will, but when your successes interfere with something they want, or they feel they deserve, then their true feelings come to the surface and many times that comes in the form of ugly words meant to hurt you.
There is nothing more hurtful to a transgender woman than for someone to say, “you are not a real woman.”
I think that when a character like Nia comes along, someone who you see who has gone on a similar journey, it gives you hope that like her, everything that you have gone through will all be worth the end result. That you get to live your life as your true authentic self and as a result of the struggle it takes to get there, you like Dreamer will shine!
4. Transgender characters (and actors) make up a much smaller percentage of those we see on our screens. How did you feel when you were first introduced to this character?
For the first time ever a show that I loved so much made me feel validated in a way it never had. For so long so many of the portrayals of transgender women on televison and the big screen lacked authenticity. You can tell just how much Nicole’s real life experiences have powered her portrayal of Nia.
5. Do you think the character is positively represented, or could more be done?
This will be the easiest answer of the interview. I think it’s clear they have consulted Nicole in every aspect of how Nia’s story is told. It’s so genuine and real. Any other filmmakers that wish to tell the story of a transgender woman should look no further than Supergirl.
6. Having real-life role models who you can look up to is key. What about the actor inspires you?
What inspires me about Nicole’s performance is even though the story of Nia Nal/Dreamer is fictional, you can tell that in so many ways Nicole is portraying the realness of her life through this character. She is an activist for transgender rights or as I would refer to her a “real life” superhero. Superhero’s draw on their powers to fight for and protect others and that is what she does in real life. She uses her platform via social media to speak out on behalf of all those that fight for equality and fair treatment. Could you think of anyone more inspirational? Because I sure can’t.
7. Is there anything else we’ve not discussed about the character/actor that you’d like to highlight?
I highly recommend that if you haven’t already check out Nicole’s social media presence. In one of the recent articles that just came out a few days ago, she speaks about how when she first started playing Nia Nal, she was very careful to not portray her in anything other than a favorable light. This was because she felt the weight of playing one of the few authentic transgender characters. But now she is thrilled that the show is not afraid to show us Nia’s dark side. The Episode she is referring to is episode 15 of season 5 called “Reality Bytes.”
The premise of this episode is that there is a man that goes to online dating sites and sets up dates with transgender women in order to attack them. When one of those women is Nia’s black transgender roommate, she takes the attack personally and all her frustration and rage boils over to the point where she decides to end him. I won’t spoil the ending, but seeing how the episode exposes law enforcement for its lack of attention to the case of an assaulted black transgender woman, something ripped straight from the headlines of the the real world, it really is something the transgender community can relate to. The epsiode also shows us Dreamer’s humanity and the weight she carries being the world’s only out transgender superhero. It doesn’t matter what good she does, or how many lives she effects positively, there will always be people filled with hate that can’t and won’t see past her trans-ness when they look at her.
Nicole said about this portrayl “I think it’s that more and more trans characters [can] be less than perfect and be a**holes and be the villains,” Maines said. “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 really is our community’s superhero on and off the screen.
Through Erica’s words it’s clear the power that positive transgender representation has on the community. Having a positive transgender actress like Nicole Maines in the role helps to make this character even more special, and is something that wouldn’t be the same with a cisgender actor. She brings an authenticity and emotion to Nia Nal that’s essential to the community and more of these roles need to be created for other trans actors.
You can follow Erica on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/BlazerGirl2
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