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Trans TV timeline

Trans TV timeline


Decades back, when TV personalities like Milton Berle and Flip Wilson threw on dresses for laughs, they inadvertently carved first notches in the time line of transgender representation. By the '70s drag queens, transvestites, transsexuals, and even dual-gender space travelers (in 1977's sci-fi comedy Quark) were cropping up regularly in TV movies and popular sitcoms like The Jeffersons. Here are some highlights of characters who set the stage for Romjin's Alexis on Ugly Betty.

The Streets of San Francisco 1972-1977 A female impersonator (John Davidson) slayed 'em--literally--in a 1974 episode of this police drama, which costarred a young Michael Douglas.

M.A.S.H. 1972-1983 Cpl. Max Klinger (Jamie Farr) dons dresses in an effort to get discharged--quite unsuccessfully.

All in the Family 1971-1979 Lori Shannon, born Don Seymour Mclean, appeared in three episodes over three seasons ('75-'77) as Beverly Lasalle, a female impersonator who became close friends with Edith Bunker after the homophobic and transphobic Archie saved her life. Beverly was ultimately mugged and murdered in 1977's powerful one-hour episode, "Edith's Crisis of Faith," honored with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing.

Bosom Buddies 1980-1982 In this legendary sitcom, Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari played a pair of budget-conscious New Yorkers who, in order to live in a "dirt cheap" women's hotel, lived and cross-dressed part-time as comically unconvincing female alter egos Buffy and Hildegarde.

Second Serve 1986 Vanessa Redgrave portrayed transgender tennis pro Renee Richards (nee Richard Radley) in this TV biopic, for which she received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for best actress. The Phil Donahue Show 1970-1996 U.K. model Caroline Cossey, a.k.a. Tula, appeared on Donahue's groundbreaking talk show in 1990, paving the way for representations of transgender, transvestite, and intersex people on programs like those of Jerry Springer, Sally, Geraldo, Maury Povich, and Montel.

Tales of the City 1993 Olympia Dukakis brought transgender landlady Anna Madrigal to effervescent life in this PBS miniseries adaptation of Armistead Maupin's first City novel (and in Showtime's subsequent sequels).

The Education of Max Bickford 2001-2002 Depicting transgender life with depth through a well-written recurring character, this CBS drama costarred Helen Shaver (Desert Hearts) as Erica Bettis, the recently gender-reassigned best friend of middle-aged college professor Max Bickford (Richard Dreyfuss).

Nip/Tuck 2003-present After seducing the teenage Matt McNamara, sultry life coach Ava Moore (Famke Janssen) was revealed to be transgender, after which the confused Matt picked up and brutally beat another trans woman, Cherry Peck (real-life drag queen Willam Belli). Cherry and friends attacked Matt in retaliation, and she later approached Dr. McNamara for reconstructive surgery.

All My Children 2006 Susan Lucci's stalwart soap broke ground with the introduction of Zarf, a male rock star who was transitioning to Zoe, a gay woman.

The Surreal Life 2003-present Alexis Arquette became the first transgender person to join VH1's cringe-inducing series about B- to Z-listers sharing a house.

Ugly Betty 2006-present After spending part of the first season mysteriously wrapped in bandages, former Hudson magazine editor Alex Meade emerged as the gorgeous Alexis (Rebecca Romijn).

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Lawrence Ferber