Nomi Marks and the future of trans characters in genre

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Jun 6, 2018, 2:01 PM EDT

She wasn't the first trans character I saw on TV or in a movie, but Sense8’s Nomi Marks was the first I saw myself in. 

One of only a few trans characters to be played by a trans actress (Jamie Clayton) and not a cisgender man, Nomi was also gay! Most of the trans women I’d seen before Sense8, in pretty much any medium, were straight. If she did have a female partner, she was usually a wife or girlfriend who she’d been with prior to transition. While these are very real parts of the trans experience for many, the depiction of a trans woman presented as a woman to love is content that I was utterly starving for. 

Then along came Nomi, quite literally, because the very first thing we see of her on Sense8 is a sex scene between her and her girlfriend Amanita (Freema Agyeman). It was like a gauntlet being dropped, with the same precise thud as the rainbow-hued sex toy that actually hits the floor in the scene. Throughout the two seasons of the show, the relationship between these two women has been beautiful to watch, from moments like Amanita standing up for Nomi when confronted by a transphobe at a Pride event, to their unexpected double wedding proposal (seriously, what is it with lesbians and double wedding proposals?). Neeta and Nomi are for sure relationship goals—minus, perhaps, the sinister conspiracy they’re constantly at odds with. 

It’s this shadowy plot featuring a secret secondary race of humans called sensates, who have evolved alongside homo sapiens, that excites me more about Nomi's use on the show. Nomi is trans, and it matters, but it’s not the primary driving purpose of her character in the story. She has business to take care of. She’s an extremely talented computer hacker with lots of connections to keep her off the grid. Far more of her time is spent eluding capture by an overzealous FBI agent and helping her fellow sensates maneuver away from and against their shadowy adversaries.

Sense8 - Jamie Clayton

The flip side is that when Nomi’s identity does find its way into the story, it’s the B-plot, the flavor. When compared to the stakes she’s facing off against along with her sensate cluster, the conflicts she faces due to her identity become the details that ground her as a character. By doing so, these details almost trick the non-trans viewer into relating to things that they likely wouldn’t have if Sense8 were a show just about Nomi as a trans woman struggling to earn her family’s acceptance.

One example is an early plot line in which Nomi’s very intolerant mother is misled into believing her sensate abilities are the result of a psychiatric condition and attempts to rule Nomi mentally unfit to decline a procedure that will essentially lobotomize her. Audiences might not understand the dynamics of Nomi’s mother deadnaming or misgendering her in this scenario, but the fear of losing one’s own autonomy permanently due to a medical decision is something that can be feared by everyone. 

On a more positive note, a line in Season 2 where Nomi’s father acknowledges her as his daughter for the first time is a nice relatable button on the end of a scene that otherwise moves the plot forward. People may not know what it’s like for an adult woman to hear her father say “my daughter” for the first time, but just the rush of knowing that he supports you and has your back can be felt to the core. It’s an excellent example of using the extra-ness of a genre plot to underscore the commonality of the everyday. 

It was exactly that aspect of science fiction storytelling that made me a fangirl to begin with. It was the entry point for young me to imagining a world where I belonged. The details of characters I could relate to, set against these fantastical stories, made me believe that things were possible for me when I couldn’t immediately see how they could be within the context of my own life. Now that I’ve come so far along myself, Nomi is right there with me. 

With Sense8 about to fade away for good, Nomi’s mark is a lasting one, and it should be. We’ve already seen more trans characters in shows like The OA, Jessica Jones, and the upcoming season of Supergirl. Science fiction and fantasy feel like genres just ripe for more trans inclusion, as well as non-binary or gender non-conforming characters. As we increasingly explore societies and cultures in fictional settings, there's even more room we can find for voices and identities that don’t always fit so easily into our own. The more we imagine universes that further unlock the potential diversity of humanity in the form of psychic abilities and/or superpowers, the freer we should be to explore that same potential for empathy and understanding of comparatively mundane differences that are actually present in our society now.

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