Transgender ‘Supergirl’ Actress Talks Transition, Superhero Role on CW Series

Transgender activist and actress Nicole Maines stopped by The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Tuesday to discuss her transition and new role on The CW’s Supergirl.

Maines, who was born as a boy, said she was 3 or 4 when she started realizing that she didn’t identity as male. “I really started thinking something wasn’t right,” she said. “My case was kind of unique because I have an identical twin brother and so growing up with him, he was identifying with all these male things and he was feeling very comfortable in his body.”

“So at the same time everyone was like, ‘Yeah, Jonas you’re a boy,’ they were telling me I was too young to understand what gender I was,” she said. “I went up to my parents and I was like, ‘Listen, for a couple of years I’ve tried this whole boy thing. I think it’s lovely. It’s just not me.'”

“As soon as I could, I tried to voice to my parents that something’s off,” she said.

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Maines then opened up about her parents’ reaction to her news. “My father grew up very conservative, and he really had set expectations for what boys and girls were supposed to be like,” she said. “So when I came out to him, that did not fit into his plan of what raising twin boys was going to be like. So he blocked that out. He ignored it. He focused on his hobbies, and that left my mother on her own for a while. She didn’t grow up with the same expectations that my father did.”

She said that her parents had very different concerns for her. “While his concerns were always, ‘What will the neighbors think?’ she was always much more concerned with Jonas and Nicole — well Wyatt at the time. ‘Will Jonas and Wyatt be safe around the neighbors?'” she recalled. “So she wanted to make sure that we always had a safe place to come back to in her home, and the only problem was at home, Dad didn’t get it.

“It took a while, but when our family was attacked, when we were in elementary school, he really stepped up and he said, ‘I don’t get this, but I love my child and I’m going to protect my child. Whatever it takes,'” she said.

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Maines’ transition from male to female was gradual. “We tried our best to work with the school and with the other families in the school system, and we did a gradual transition. I started transitioning when I was in first grade, and every year we kind of tacked a new thing on to it,” she explained.

Maines added that she was bullied while attending school. “When I would ride the bus — I couldn’t take the bus anymore — because kids would refer to me as ‘it’ on the bus,” she said. “Then in fifth grade it really kind of peaked. A male student in my class’ grandfather was a part of a special interest Christian right group, and he had his grandson follow me into the girls’ bathroom and he said, ‘My grandfather says we don’t have to have any faggots in our school.'”

It was announced in July that she had been cast as Nia Nal, also known as Dreamer. The character is described as a soulful transgender woman that feels driven to protect others.

While Maines may be new to the world of acting, she previously made headlines in June 2013 when the Maine Supreme Court ruled that her rights had been violated under the state’s Human Rights Act. The decision was a landmark victory for trans rights in its ruling that transgender people can use the restroom of their choice.

Maines’ new role comes at a point in time when storylines in films and television shows are becoming more inclusive. For instance, the FX musical drama Pose recently set a record for the largest cast of transgender characters to be portrayed by transgender series regulars.

Supergirl executive producer Greg Berlanti has been outspoken about his personal mission to tell LGBTQ stories on his series as inclusive storytelling becomes the norm on broadcast, cable and streaming services. “Even with the action shows though, I’ve still tried to do my part in making those shows relevant where I can, whether it’s having openly gay actors play straight characters or straight actors play gay characters,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in May 2016. 

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Before being cast in the CW series, Maines had no plans to pursue an acting career. “It was weird. I always loved theater growing up and I was always like, ‘Wow, it would be so fun to be an actor,'” she told DeGeneres. “But my next thought was, like, ‘I’m from Nowhere, Maine.’ You know, no one’s from Maine!

“I did a guest episode of Royal Pains and then right after that Supergirl happened and I was like, ‘How did I get here?’ Every day I walk on set and I’m waiting for someone to be like, ‘Ma’am, you can’t be here,'” she said.

Watch the full interview below.