15 Trans and Nonbinary Rising Stars and Where to Watch Them

These young storytellers are inspiring trans and queer artists and advocates, continuing the legacy of those transcestors who came before them. Here are the films and television series that showcase their gifts.

by and | June 1, 2023 | Comments


In honor of Pride, Rotten Tomatoes is highlighting LGBTQIA+ voices, and as part of the celebration, we’re spotlighting actors, activists, and storytellers of queer and trans experiences.

In each of their respective roles, the following actors and storytellers offer trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming communities the chance to see ourselves not just reflected and represented, but in command of an audience. They show us that queer existence is as powerful as it is commonplace. They’re changing Hollywood, redefining authenticity and originality one role at a time.

By portraying characters of varied gender expressions, these actors and performers both honor the queer trailblazers before them and inspire generations to come. They entertain us while offering opportunities to see ourselves in an industry long known for perpetuating divisions of race, gender, and sexuality.

What does it mean to be trans or nonbinary and an actor in Hollywood? Whether portraying a dragon queen, an engineer of artificial intelligence, a teen trying to survive in the wilderness, or a babysitter looking for their life’s purpose, the following trans and nonbinary rising stars are redefining and defying the gender binary onscreen.

Bella Ramsey

96% The Last of Us

(Photo by Liane Hentscher/HBO)

At just 19, Bella Ramsey has become a thriving breakout star leaving a trail of memorable roles in their midst in a short amount of time. Earning praise for their portrayal of the young yet fierce Lyanna Mormont on Game of Thrones, Ramsey quickly became synonymous with strong, independent, and outspoken characters.

More recently, Ramsey can be seen playing the hardheaded and sharp-witted Ellie in The Last of Us. As a nonbinary actor, Ramsey has stated: “Playing these more feminine characters is a chance to be something so opposite to myself, and it’s really fun.”

Bilal Baig

100% Sort Of

(Photo by Courtesy of HBO Max)

Approaching gender and sexuality in an earnest, messy, and heartwarming way, Bilal Baig highlights the wonderfully complex potential of what it means to write what you know. Their spellbinding MAX series Sort Of tells the story of Sabi, a babysitter seeking purpose in life — and ultimately themselves. In writing and portraying Sabi, Baig’s work feels so unfiltered that the lines between character and creator start to blur.

Inspiring and reflective of the ever-fluid state of self, Baig’s exploration serves as a universal call for self-acceptance and understanding.

Dua Saleh

94% Sex Education

(Photo by Sam Taylor / ©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Dua Saleh is a Sudanese-American actor, musician, and performer. Before becoming a recording artist and actor, Saleh was involved in grassroots organizations and studied systemic inequality at Augsburg University in Minnesota. Since 2019, they’ve released three EPs, citing Sister Rosetta Tharpe (a queer icon and the mother of rock and roll) as well as Arab and Sudanese music as heavy influences on their R&B stylings.

In season 3 of Netflix’s Sex Education, Dua portrays Cal, a nonbinary student who defies their British private school’s aesthetic and social expectations while challenging their peers to question each others’ assumptions about gender and sexuality.

Emma D’Arcy

89% Game of Thrones

(Photo by Ollie Upton / HBO)

To play a woman on the verge of inheriting a kingdom is no easy feat, yet Emma D’Arcy has given themselves over to the role of Rhaenyra Targaryen completely, filling our screens with sublime angst in every episode. Within the demands of the character, D’Arcy shows that one’s personal identity doesn’t infringe on the character they portray – in fact, the caliber of this role and its performance are mutually enhanced.

D’Arcy is a leading example of the layered ways in which gender expression varies between actor and character.

Hari Nef

91% Transparent

(Photo by Jason Mendez/Everett Collection)

Hari Nef’s first major onscreen role was Tante Gittel in Transparent on Amazon Prime. Tante’s story, presented in flashbacks, is based on the experiences of trans women in the Weimar Republic and features Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research. Housed in Berlin and ultimately destroyed by the Nazis, the Institute was the first recorded clinic to provide gender-affirming healthcare for trans people.

Since Transparent in 2015, Nef has appeared in Assassination Nation (a “stylish” and “viscerally energetic” movie that “juggles exploitation and socially aware elements,” according to its Critics Consensus), the psychological thriller series You, the Sex and the City sequel series And Just Like That…, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. She’s also featured in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie.

Jacob Tobia

96% She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

(Photo by Elizabeth Goodenough/Everett Collection)

A writer, actor, producer, and activist, Jacob Tobia has appeared on programs such as MTV’s The T Word (a documentary centered on trans young people, hosted by Laverne Cox) and the GLAAD Award-winning MTV series True Life: Im Genderqueer, as well as news segments for major networks to speak in support of trans and gender-nonconforming communities.

In 2019, Tobia published their memoir, Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story, which became a national bestseller and earned praise from Trevor Noah and the New York Times. Tobia has also worked for the United Nations, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice (an organization that centers intersex and other LGBTQ+ communities of color).

Tobia can be found voicing Double Trouble, a nonbinary character with the ability to shape-shift, on ND Stevenson’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. They also co-produced Queer 2.0: Life Outside the Binary on NBC in 2016.

Jesse James Keitel

80% Queer as Folk

(Photo by Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection)

Starring in ABC’s Big Sky, Jesse James Keitel broke out as the first nonbinary series regular in a primetime network TV series. Keitel’s onscreen presence has given space to the trans and nonbinary community, increasing visibility in front of a wider-reaching audience.

While performing as Ruthie in the Queer as Folk revival on Peacock and Dr. Aspen on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Keitel has carried their characters across a wide-ranging array of emotional landscapes without missing a step.

Lachlan Watson

93% Chucky

(Photo by SYFY)

At one point the youngest nonbinary actor on TV, Lachlan Watson has only grown as a performer and activist since landing their groundbreaking role as Theo Putnam on Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Continuing to work within the queer-revered genre of horror, Watson has gifted us with their divine performance as Glen/Glenda, Chucky and Tiffany’s children in Syfy’s Chucky series.

Serving a character whose gender identity was in question in Seed of Chucky, Watson delivers a superb performance as Glen/Glenda that is gender playful and savagely stylish. Now the audience gets to experience them in all their murderous glory through Lachlan’s explicitly queer portrayal.

Inspired by the work of Jacob Tobia, Watson has said that “seeing someone else being openly gender-free and being comfortable with that and being articulate about that and being proudly that was huge.”

Watson is no longer the youngest nonbinary actor on television, but their dedication to the craft — and to being their authentic self — continues to distinguish them among the rising stars gracing our screens and inspiring new generations.

Liv Hewson

96% Yellowjackets

(Photo by Kailey Schwerman / ©Showtime / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Liv Hewson’s visibility has risen thanks to their role as Van on Yellowjackets, but you can also catch them as Abby in Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix (alongside a plethora of assorted appearances in other series and films). In each of their works as an actor and playwright, Hewson brings their experiences as a queer and nonbinary person to their storytelling.

Hewson finds freedom in approaching roles with zero gendered expectations, even if the character isn’t expressly written as queer or trans. They discover and create richly queer opportunities in their roles across genres, but specifically in horror; as they shared in a 2018 interview, “Anytime you’re telling a story about monsterhood, you’re playing around with ideas about otherness and alienation.”

Hewson has spoken openly about the challenges of being an out gender-nonconforming person for years – including being asked to explain their experiences, the lack of nonbinary roles available, and how binary awards categories exclude nonbinary folks. In 2020, they received a Human Rights Campaign award for their advocacy.

Mason Alexander Park

88% The Sandman

(Photo by Mason Alexander Park as Desire in episode 110 of The Sandman. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022)

Mason Alexander Park is an award-winning screen and stage actor who stepped into a brighter spotlight following their magnetic performance as Desire in the Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.

“It’s everything that I could have ever wanted when I was growing up watching fantasy and sci-fi from the sidelines, wishing that I could one day see myself represented in those forms of media,” Park told The Queer Review in an interview about their role as Desire. “Now, not only do I get to see myself represented in that way, but I get to be a part of that representation for kids like me moving forward.”

Park is featured as Ian in NBC’s Quantum Leap revival and has appeared in Cowboy Bebop (another Netflix release, adapted from a ‘90s Japanese anime and starring John Cho), The Legend of Vox Machina, and, in 2011, iCarly.

On stage, they have played Dr Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. They’ve earned a Helen Hayes Award and will star as the Emcee in Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club in London starting this summer.

ND Stevenson

96% She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

(Photo by ©Netflix / Courtesy: Everett Collection and @mxderrickj on Instagram (via @gingerhazing))

As a comic book writer, illustrator, and animator, ND Stevenson has always been a creator at heart. His queer revival of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power took fans by storm with a slow-burning story of determination, friendship, and love. On the page, Stevenson’s graphic novels like Nimona and Lumberjanes offer further fantastical adventures.

Stevenson gradually gained notoriety on Tumblr in the early 2010s with his fan art and self-published stories that kickstarted his career. You can find Stevenson on Twitter sharing the trials and tribulations of being a writer and comic artist through illustrated self-portraits documenting his process, how he deals with procrastination, and his ever-evolving relationship with gender.

Nicole Maines

88% Supergirl

(Photo by Sergei Bachlakov / ©The CW / Courtesy of The Everett Collection)

Nicole Maines has recently gained momentum as an actor with a variety of roles that put her at the center of the action — and the drama — with a supernatural flair. Breaking ground as the first live-action trans superhero in the CW series Supergirl, Maines took up the mantle of Dreamer – a character whose power, in this iteration, is explicitly tied to her womanhood.

Supernatural abilities, in Dreamer’s family, are passed down matrilineally – over time, Dreamer comes to recognize her growing powers, which solidifies not just her genetic inheritance but also affirms her gender.

Maines became an activist out of necessity as a child when she was denied access to the girls’ bathroom in elementary school, prompting her family to pursue legal action against the district. Now Maines has carved out a space for herself within the entertainment industry — one that continues to evolve and uplift more trans entertainers.

Sabrina Wu

90% Joy Ride (2023)

(Photo by Ed Araquel for © Lionsgate / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Stand-up comedian, writer, Harvard grad, and now an official actor, Sabrina Wu has traversed the comedy landscape since their adolescence. Through their standup and writing on shows like “Doogie Kameāloha, M.D.,” Wu has steadily carved out a space for themself in the industry — and on our screens.

In 2022, Wu was named Just for Laughs’ “New Face of Comedy”; this summer, you can catch them in the hotly anticipated Adele Lim film Joy Ride.

Terry Hu

75% Zombies 3 (2022)

(Photo by John Medland for © Disney+ / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Terry Hu made history in 2022 when they starred as A-Spen in Zombies 3 – a casting coup that made them the first nonbinary actor to land a leading role in a live-action Disney movie.

“I don’t think I was thinking ‘I’m here to make history,’” Hu told NBC in an interview about playing A-Spen. In fact, Hu was most excited simply to have landed their first role in a feature-length film after previously appearing in “Americanized” and other shorts. “That being said, it wasn’t until fans started reaching out when my casting got announced and they were like, ‘This means so much to me’ … That’s what made it really meaningful. To be a part of anyone’s journey towards their authenticity is a really huge honor.”

For Hu, it’s particularly significant to play and see characters – as well as fellow real-world activists – who are both queer and Asian American Pacific Islanders, because it reflects their experience and the broadening imagination of storytelling in general.

“There are things that I’m doing and things that I’m part of that I could not have fathomed 10 years ago,” they told NBC.

Vico Ortiz

95% Our Flag Means Death

(Photo by Photograph by Aaron Epstein/HBO Max)

Vico Ortiz is an actor, activist, and drag king. Perhaps best known for playing Jim, a queer and nonbinary pirate on Our Flag Means Death, Ortiz has actively sought out queer and gender-expansive roles, as well as advocated to make their characters nonbinary.

“I was always going out for androgynous [roles],” Ortiz shared in an interview with the Gender Reveal podcast. “I have booked stuff that wasn’t specifically queer and I’m just like, ‘Well, you’re making it queer by hiring me.’”

Ortiz is Puerto Rican and uses elle/le/e pronouns in Spanish; they’re an advocate not just for queer storytelling and fluid understandings of gender and creative expression, but for more gender-neutral language in Spanish and English. Ortiz has multiple drag king personas, including “Vico Suave,” for which they pull inspiration from Bad Bunny, Ricky Martin, and Marc Anthony.

Onscreen, they’ve appeared in The Sex Lives of College Girls on MAX, Vida on STARZ, American Horror Story: 1984 on FX, and Transparent on Amazon Prime. In 2019, Ortiz also starred in the queer webseries These Thems.

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