Major Papers


transgender, media, representation, television


The representation of transgender people in popular media has been overwhelmingly problematic. Historical representations of transgender characters in fictional television have featured stereotypical and negative portrayals that do not accurately reflect the real experiences of transgender people. Both the quantity and quality of transgender representation across all forms of media is an issue.

This research examines two popular television shows that feature transgender characters. Using a mix methods approach of Content Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis, the first four seasons of Orange is the New Black and The Fosters are examined. This research seeks to examine how the fictional transgender characters are constructed through their interaction with other characters and their place in the storyline. Of particular interest are the ways in which the transgender character is treated by others, the topic of conversations when the transgender characters are discussed, and whether they are victims of physical or psychological violence.

This research found that the improvement of representation in these shows is indicative of a trend towards more positive representation. The characters of Cole, Sophia, and Aaron are represented in some positive ways; however, it is noteworthy that all three continue to uphold the gender binary. Although there are still improvements that need to be made towards fair and complex representation, these characters’ signal a step in the right direction.

Primary Advisor

Susan Bryant


Brian Brown

Program Reader

Kyle Asquith

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Communication, Media and Film

Document Type

Major Research Paper

Convocation Year