In its sixth and final season, out showrunner Ryan Murphy's musical comedy Glee will once again address transgender issues — this time through the lens of beloved football coach Shannon Beiste, played by out actor Dot-Marie Jones.
In Episode 3, which aired at tonight and is titled Jagged Little Tapestry, Coach Beiste emotionally tells assistant coach Sam (Chord Overstreet) — and principal Sue Sylvester (out actor Jane Lynch) — that he is a transgender man and will be taking a leave of absence to pursue a medical transition.
But Gleeks need not lament the coach's departure — our sources tell us fans are likely to see Coach Beiste back at McKinley before the show's swan song.
Watch Beiste's coming-out scene below, then keep reading for exclusive comments from Jones about stepping into the role.
In a call with The Advocate, Jones described the filming process as "one the most emotional [set of] days I've ever had in my life. It was amazing."
"My biggest thing is just being respectful," Jones tells The Advocate. "The last thing I want to do is disrespect anybody in what I'm portraying, and to do it respectfully and with class, and with dignity and pride, and I could not have been prouder than I was that day [that we filmed those scenes]."
Jones, who married in 2013 after proposing to her longtime partner at Disneyland's Gay Days, says that although she isn't trans, her height and the fact that she is "not the most feminine wallflower" mean she is no stranger to being misgendered. The 6-foot, 3-inch self-described "giant" says she can only recall a handful of days where "somebody hasn't called me 'sir.'" Although she's able to laugh it off now, she admits that wasn't always the case.
"It used to really strike a nerve with me, to where when I was younger, it was almost fighting words," says Jones. "[But] you've gotta learn to love yourself and accept yourself, and then surround yourself with people that get you, and love you for who and what you are."
The 51-year-old actress notes that this wasn't her first time playing a trans man. In a pilot for another Ryan Murphy show that didn't get picked up — Pretty Handsome — Jones played a transgender man. "It was probably one of the most amazing things I've ever done, up until this," she tells The Advocate.
Friday's episode wasn't the first time Glee has addressed transgender issues — last season introduced Unique Adams, a McKinley student who comes out as a transgender girl. One episode in that season focused on Unique's access to appropriate bathrooms, seeing her bullied by a group of boys who see her leaving the girls' restroom. Although teachers ultimately decide that Unique should use the single-stall staff or nurse's restroom, Sue Sylvester initially suggests that Unique should use a portable toilet that she has placed in the choir room. The port-a-potty is covered in question marks.
While stopping short of calling that approach heavy-handed, Jones acknowledges that it was a provocative tack. But that's characteristic of Murphy's shows, she contends.
"Ryan wants people to see how real life is for trans people," Jones says. "And everything's not all warm and fuzzy. And it may seem a little extreme, and I can imagine some people were upset, but for some people, shit — it's real life."