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Best transgender movies and where to watch them

Robyn Exton

Nov 09, 2022

Best transgender movies and where to watch them

Looking for the best transgender movies to sink your teeth into? With the silver screen woefully underrepresenting the trans experience, finding non-offensive content to snuggle up on the couch for might seem like a fruitless exercise.

When we take into account the 2021 GLAAD report, which revealed no transgender or non-binary characters featured in a theatrical release from any major studio in 2020 (despite overall LGBT+ representation increasing), the disappointment is real (*sigh*).

And so, we must look for the disruptors of the medium to get our fix. Of course, not every trans movie is perfect, and not every experience is depicted accurately, but with so few options, supporting the production of these movies by watching them, talking about them, and demanding more is one way to encourage the movie industry into taking note. 

The best transgender movies are based on true stories and represent lived experiences. Too many films depict caricatures or harmful stereotypes, whether they’re seeped in transphobia or based on misconceptions. So, to protect you from the worst offenders, we’ve put together a transgender movie list worth your time and attention, from comedies and musicals to dramas and indie sensations. 

The Danish Girl represents the trans experience, except where it counts

Where to watch: Netflix, Prime Video

2015 was a good year for transgender films. Alongside Tangerine, The Danish Girl was one of the most talked about films (for good and bad) and critically acclaimed. If you like transgender movies based on true stories, The Danish Girl is for you. However, it drew fair criticism for its inaccurate history and the casting of cisgender actor, Eddie Redmayne, to depict Lili Ilse Elvene – the real-life woman the film was based on. Despite the controversy, The Danish Girl tells an important story about the transgender struggle and the early dangers of reassignment surgery – a choice that wasn’t and still isn’t taken lightly.

The film explores Lili’s realization and subsequent transition after she stands in for a model her wife, Gerda, is painting. As Gerda dresses Lili (who’s still outwardly expressing herself as Einar Wegener at this point) in feminine clothing, her desire to shake off her male identity is unlocked. The rest of the film follows Lili’s pursuit of becoming her truest self. (Fair warning: tissues are an essential viewing requirement). 

Although the trans experience is relatable and the film won several awards, Eddie Redmayne’s casting, its historical inaccuracy, and the fact it’s based on a speculative book criticised for ‘forced feminisation erotica’ gives it a lower trans representation score. However, if you’re able to overlook the aforementioned, The Danish Girl is a great film well worth watching.

Drunktown’s Finest puts a Navajo transgender woman in a lead role

Where to watch: Vudu, Prime Video, Apple TV

Drunktown’s Finest is a poignant drama released in 2014. A fan favourite despite its slow pace, it follows three separate yet intertwining stories about young Native Americans, all of whom seek an escape from their lives and troubles on a Navajo reservation. One of the stories follows a transgender woman, Felixia, played by Carmen Moore, who wants to model for the local ‘woman of the tribe’ calendar and struggles to love herself. 

Director Sydney Freeland, a Navajo filmmaker, creates a movie that depicts a very different type of trans experience. If you’re looking for a trans character who’s accepted unequivocally by their family, Drunktown’s Finest shows bigots everywhere what loving someone who doesn’t fit in gender stereotypes looks like. In a particularly heartwarming scene, Felixia’s grandfather discusses how a third gender – the nádleehi – brings men and women together. (Cute, right?!) However, the seriousness of the stories are meticulously played out, leading to a slightly clunky delivery you’ll either love or hate.

Despite the refreshing representation of both Native Americans and transgender characters, Drunktown’s Finest still depicts another transgender character as a sex worker. However, considering Felixia is played by Carmen Moore, a transgender actress, the film deserves its higher representation score.

Tangerine shatters conventions with hefty belly laughs

Where to watch: Prime Video, Hulu, Apple TV, YouTube Movies, Google Play

This indie sensation is a comedy-drama (aka dramedy) that was shot on three 5S iPhones. Tangerine premiered at the Sundance film festival in 2015 and received critical acclaim for several reasons, one of which was its portrayal of trans people. The two lead actors, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, are also trans, and their roles launched the first-ever Academy Awards campaign for ‘openly transgender actresses supported by a film director.’

Tangerine follows a transgender sex worker, Sin-Dee Rella, who discovers her boyfriend and pimp, Chester, is cheating on her with a cisgendered woman. Having served a 28-day jail sentence, she’s rightly irked and goes off to find him and the woman he’s been sleeping with. The film also explores Sin-Dee Rella’s relationship with her friend, Alexandra, who’s another trans sex worker with dreams of becoming a stage performer.

 Tangerine was praised for its portrayal of transgender characters and its casting of the transgender actors who played them. It also explored a lesser-known sex-trade subculture and the bonds between women who are othered in more ways than one.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show will make you do the timewarp

Where to watch: Hulu, Disney+, ESPN+, Prime Video

No list of transgender movies is definitive without this revered classic. After it flopped upon its initial release in 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show defined the meaning of the term ‘cult status’ after it was revived by a fervent and mostly LGBT+ fanbase. Based on a 1973 stage musical by Richard O’Brien, it’s a cross-genre flick perfect for anyone looking for a mind-bending experience. 

The film follows an engaged couple, Brad and Janet, as they seek help from the inhabitants of a nearby castle after their car breaks down. While there, the couple meet Dr. Frank N. Furter, who’s an alien transvestite from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. (Yes, really). He invites them to stay and witness the creation of the perfect ‘muscle man’ to fulfil his desires, whom he names Rocky. Kinky hijinks ensue as Brad and Janet try to survive the night in this camp horror-meets-sci-fi romp.

Opinions are divided on the trans representation in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Some believe Dr. Frank N. Furter’s unabashed confidence was a refreshing asset to the trans experience, depicting him as sexually liberated and powerful at a time of woeful underrepresentation. However, others felt his villainous nature furthered transphobic misconceptions about predatory behaviours and turned him into a trans caricature.

Boy Meets Girl is a flawed but forward step

Where to watch: Prime Video

If rom-coms are your jam, you can’t go wrong with Boy meets Girl. It’s an endearing tale of two people finding love, defying social conventions, and educating themselves along the way. The story is a little contrived in parts, but not at the expense of the trans community. Its lead actress is played by YouTube star, Michelle Hendley, who’s also transgender, making her casting refreshingly inclusive.

The story of Boy Meets Girl is set in a small and sleepy town where nothing really happens. It’s the kind of place people frequent coffee shops on their way to whimsical jobs, and everyone goes to church on Sundays. The protagonist, Ricky Jones, works in one such coffee shop and spends most of her time hanging out with her bestie. Her dream is to move to New York where she can study fashion (of course). The film is full of familiar rom-com tropes until a woman named Francesca arrives and turns Ricky’s life (and the narrative) upside down.

Boy Meets Girl is a refreshing take on a classic tale, and it shines when it focuses on the relationship between Ricky and Francesca. However, it’s a little derivative at times and loses itself in ‘teaching’ rather than ‘showing’ its audience its underlying message. Furthermore, the focus on Ricky’s status as ‘pre-op’ seems unnecessary, while the film itself should be titled ‘Girl meets Girl,’ which is a more accurate description of how each lead identifies. 

Transfinite is a positive joyride of representation

Where to watch: Prime Video, Roku

For those with short attention spans and a penchant for sci-fi, Transfinite will meet your spiritual and mind-bending needs. With seven magical and liberating stories, each written and performed by those with “various beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities,” Transfinite is a joyride of representation. 

The variety, unpredictability, and genuine fun Transfinite offers viewers is rare. Each protagonist uses magic to break down the barriers between people and the natural world, whether it’s through dance, cultivating flowers, or martial arts. Each story weaves a unique narrative but lands on the same message: the limits of human identity are as infinite as our imaginations. 

From the name of the movie, the actors who star in it, the writers who created it, and the stories Tranfinite tells, there’s no denying this film represents the transgender community in all the best ways. Through a lens of the supernatural, Transfinite depicts the trans experience from all walks of life.

Boys Don’t Cry is both a groundbreaking and heartbreaking transgender movie

Where to watch: Disney+

One to avoid if you’re feeling teary, but well worth watching for its important message, Boys Don’t Cry is a transgender film based on the real-life murder of trans man, Brandon Teena. Directed by Kimberly Peirce, it stars Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena and Chloë Sevigny as Brandon’s girlfriend, Lana Tisdel. Upon the film’s release in 1999, both lead actors were praised for their outstanding performances.

The film explores transphobia, the nature of platonic and romantic relationships, and the violence directed towards the LGBT+ community. As a result, it’s classed as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and is preserved under the Land Film Registry in the US. 

Despite Hilary Swank’s standout performance playing Brandon Teena, she’s still a cisgendered woman playing a trans man, which lowers the trans representation score. However, considering the director, Kimberly Peirce, is an LGBT+ activist and identifies as genderqueer, her influence on the movie is relevant.

Ma Vie En Rose was a transgender movie ahead of its time

Where to watch: Prime Video, Google Play

Highly rated and well ahead of its time in 1997, Ma Vie En Rose (translation: my life in pink) was given an unfair ‘R rating’ upon its release, which was considered an act of transphobia. However, this didn’t stop Ma Vie En Rose’s tremendous success and Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The film follows Ludovic, a strong-willed transgender girl who struggles to shake off her male identity due to extreme prejudice. There are several heartbreaking scenes the trans community knows all too well, including one where Ludo’s hair is cut short to ‘help’ her better conform to other people’s expectations. What makes Ma Vie En Rose so powerful is how these trials are seen through the eyes of a 7-year-old, including all the innocence and naivety that comes with the exploration and expression of discovering your gender identity. It makes the reality of the responding prejudice all the more heartbreaking. 

The film itself depicts a transgender girl in a lead role, and the story itself was based on Chris Vander Stappen’s screenplay, who identified as a ‘Tomboy’ and lived as a man before their death, despite being assigned female at birth. However, Ma Vie En Rose is a gentle foray into gender politics and lacks the conviction of its successors. Even so, it’s a classic transgender movie everyone needs to watch at least once.

Honourable transgender movie mentions

If you’ve seen all the flicks on this transgender movies list and want more, here are a few other worthy picks:

  • Alice Júnior (2019)
  • Gun Hill Road (2011)
  • All About My Mother (2000)
  • Tomboy (2011)
  • Romeos (2011)

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Robyn Exton

Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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