7:00pm PT by Alyse Whitney
'Shameless': How a Transgender Storyline Brings the Show Back to its Roots
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Shameless season seven, episode four, “I Am a Storm.”]
Shameless is going back to its roots to tackle sexuality in season seven.
In the Emmy Rossum-directed hour, Ian (Cameron Monaghan) starts seeing a new guy — Trevor (Faking It’s Elliot Fletcher) — but he isn’t aware that he's transgender when they first meet. When Ian discovers the truth, he freaks out and spews out a lot of questions — drunkenly at the bar they’re at, and later with an LGBTQA group over lunch — which may give viewers déjà vu to the time in season one when Ian first came out.
Executive producer Nancy Pimental tells The Hollywood Reporter that this was a deliberate parallel. “A few years ago, Ian was being confronted with people who were homophobic or weren't accepting of his choices, and now it has become normalized. Suddenly he's on the other side of it now, confronted with this new [trans] situation that he has to learn to accept,” she says. “Like people had to digest and process his sexuality in the beginning of the series, now Ian has to educate himself. As progressive as he can be in many ways, he can be limited in his exposure to people outside of his world.”
This season has seen Ian re-evaluate his sexuality after discovering his ex Caleb was sexually fluid, even sleeping with a woman to test his place on the Kinsey scale. Pimental notes that Ian is not inherently “searching or seeking out to be experimental,” but rather “being open-minded about the people he has chemistry with” and figuring out if he’s comfortable with the new relationship.
Pimental says that the storyline came up very organically in the writers’ room and took a while to come to fruition. “It feels like 700 years ago,” she jokes. “We didn’t come in saying we would like to do a trans story.”
Once the storyline was put into motion, casting was one of the most crucial aspects for the Shameless team. Recalls Rossum: “Introducing Trevor was the most exciting part of the episode. To cast an actor authentically who is trans to play trans, I think that everyone was nervous that the pool of actors to look at would be small. But it wasn't — there were a lot of really great choices. For me, the naturalism and charm and fierceness that comes with who Elliot is and the commitment to the character made him the obvious choice.”
As Ian and Trevor’s relationship blossoms throughout the season, the writing team is working hard to “get everything right,” from the nitty-gritty of the relationship to the terminology. Pimental called on a “reference person” when penning episode seven — which features a big storyline for the couple — and shared candid conversations with supportive members of the LGBTQA community.
“We were referred to some people who could help us get it right, and also were supportive of us doing it in a non-earnest, very Shameless kind of way,” she explains. “There are other shows who tackle trans storylines in a more straight-line kind of way, but we needed to have somebody who was really supportive of us to make it messy.”
Whether this will be a lasting relationship or not remains to be seen, but Ian will receive support from the Gallagher clan — especially from his older brother. “Lip's always had a real curiosity to try and figure out how people work. Way back in the pilot when Lip finds out Ian is gay, he asks him the strangest questions, like about how anal sex works. He's just curious about how that works and what feels good about that,” Jeremy Allen White tells THR. “The way that Lip approaches Trevor and Ian’s relationship is very similar where he's just trying to make sense of it. Lip trusts Ian and if Ian wants something or someone, then I don't think that Lip would ever try to stop him.”
Ultimately, the trans storyline is not meant to be the centerpiece of the season — it’s just another relationship that the Gallaghers experience. But on the flip side, exploring the storyline gave both the writers and actors exciting new material to turn into both drama and comedy.
“Cameron was psyched, and he’s really funny this season,” Pimental raves. “That's the fun of exploring this potential relationship — doing it in the Shameless way usually involves comedy. He's had a lot of funny stuff to do and he's been up for it and has really delivered. Playing depressed and bipolar doesn't necessarily bring out the he-hes and the ha-has, but this has been fun to watch.”
Shameless airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.