Nicole Maines (L) stars on Supergirl as the Dreamer. (Alex Stone/The CW)
Nicole Maines, who plays television’s first openly trans superhero, knows what it means to fight for what is right. She does it every day.
The 24-year-old from Glosservile, New York, is a hero after all. In 2014, she successfully sued her school district after being denied access to the girl’s bathroom for being trans.
Now, Maines has swapped legal paperwork for tights as she stars as Nia Nal, a shy, hardworking reporter in training working alongside Kara Danvers, otherwise known as Supergirl.
Maines debuted as Nal, who is also trans, on the fourth season of The CW series and was later revealed to be the dream-bending soothsayer known as, well, the Dreamer.
“Being able to have a trans superhero at all,” Maines told PinkNews, “just drives home the fact that one, trans is beautiful and powerful and capable.
“But, you know, also that it’s normal.”
According to a 2020-2021 report by GLAAD, an LGBT+ media watchdog, there are 29 regular and recurring trans characters on streaming giants Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.
And with the coronavirus pandemic still gnawing on normality, television as a way to tell stories has become a crucial vehicle for many to connect with others, the report authors write.
This means that more and more can and will see trans people on their television and laptop screens than ever before.
Nicole Maines: ‘Trans people are the experts on ourselves’
For Maines, this surge in LGBT+ representation becomes even more important for trans youth who can, for the first time, grow up watching someone like them not only fight crime and save the world, but exist.
Even today, it’s still a “luxury”, she said, for many trans people to know other trans folk, especially those from more rural, conservative areas.
“To be able to grow up and see yourself as a superhero is a really special thing that a lot of people don’t understand how important that is,” Maines said, “because no-one else has ever had a moment where they couldn’t look at any superhero and be like: ‘That’s like me’.”
“So being able to see yourself on TV, and as a superhero especially, that’s the difference between that child being completely alone and having at least one other person being like: ‘No, what you’re going through is not weird or gross or freaky or bad’.”
Maines has had to fight for most of her life. Growing up, superheroes such as X-Men‘s Storm modelled what it means to be true to yourself and battle for your beliefs. That and wear cool earrings, she joked.
After winning her landmark case, Maines was the subject of the book Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family and was featured in the HBO documentary The Trans List.
And as 2021 ends, it is a year that, for many trans Americans, was one marked by violence. Of at least 45 trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people violently slain and of Republican state legislators rolling back their rights for cheap political points.
But it was also a time of warmth and euphoria, of trans people stating their truths and embracing it and of increasing acceptance.
Trans people are heroes, Maines said. To trans young people, Maines had one message: “There are so many young people that say you don’t know what you’re talking about.
“And there are so many people that say: ‘Oh, you’re just a kid and these are adult issues and you’re too young to possibly understand the complexities of sex and gender’.”
“You know that’s not true. I know it’s not true. We all know that’s not true. We are the experts on ourselves.
“Don’t let anybody gaslight you into thinking that you are not who you say you are.”