Meet Nicole Maines, the transgender woman playing TV’s first trans superhero

Nicole Maines smiling

As part of Mic Dispatch, I traveled to Hollywood to chat with transgender activist and actress Nicole Maines. The actress, who has previously appeared on Royal Pains and The Trans List, will be playing Nia Nall, television’s first trans superhero on the CW’s Supergirl, which returns for its fourth season on Sunday.

Maines talked about her history-making role, how she hopes her role impacts transgender communities and the pressures to conform to cisgender standards.

Mic: You made history in a huge way. You are the first trans superhero on TV. What went through your mind when the weight of that hit you?

Nicole Maines: You know, it’s still very unreal. It’s very strange. Having been just a fan of superheroes and of just superhero television shows and movies all my life, being a part of that is very strange and very unreal. In the wake of the week of ComicCon, just the explosion of love and support that hit me and seeing how excited people were for this character — it was a mixture of pride, of excitement.

Do you ever feel like you will have the weight of the trans community on your shoulders?

NM: You know, I think while I have been elevated to a kind of spokesperson, I don’t feel that there’s this overwhelming, crushing weight to represent all trans people. In the past couple of years, we’ve had so much representation being created and emerge for the community. So I think with each new representation, the weight that these characters and actors and television have on their shoulders is lifted a little bit because then, you are not the token anymore.

Your role is very much a huge step in the right direction for the trans community. But what do you think historically has been problematic when it comes to trans representation in Hollywood?

NM: Well, I think it’s no secret that the history of trans people being portrayed by cisgender actors has been very damaging to our community because for a lot of folks, it’s their only knowledge of what trans people are. So when people turn on the television and saw a cisgender man and actress, they equated being trans to being a man in a dress. And so that is how we’ve been treated since.

For trans kids who might be struggling with their identities, what do you think your role as Nia is going to do for them?

NM: I hope seeing her will give them the sense that ‘I really can be anything that I want to be.’ Being able to see yourself as a superhero is really kind of —that’s where the goalposts are. Like if I could be a superhero, I could be anything. So seeing a trans super hero, I hope will give trans kids the motivation and the encouragement and confidence in themselves to pursue their own dreams.

As a young trans woman in Hollywood who’s going to be on a mainstream show, do you ever feel the pressure to conform to cisgender standards of beauty or normative standards of beauty?

NM: You know, not even just as a trans woman in Hollywood. I think just as trans women we are pressured with this idea of passing that we have to look a certain way, which is inherently misogynistic, that women have to look a certain way, which is utter crap.

What types of other roles would you be interested in exploring in your acting career?

NM: I’ve always wanted to play a villain. I really, really want to play a bad guy. Well, you know, I always loved the bad guys growing up.

Correction: Oct. 15, 2018

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To learn more about trans issues, check out my weekly column on gender identity, Transplaining.