A trans superhero is finally coming to television—and she’s actually being played by a trans actress.
Supergirl made history at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year when it was announced that a trans superhero will be joining the titular hero and her friends as they fight evil and make National City (and the world) a safer place. The announcement was made during their panel, which also included a teaser video for Season 4 in addition to sharing the big news.
This isn’t the first time Supergirl's SDCC panel has made news, particularly among the LGBTQ community. In 2017, the cast alienated many LGBTQ fans when they treated queer shipping, in this case between Lena and Kara (aka SuperCorp), as absurd. Hopefully, the inclusion of a trans cast member and character represents a permanent shift for the show, one toward true LGBTQ inclusion rather than tokenism.
Actor and activist Nicole Maines will be playing the role of Nia Nal, aka Dreamer. In 2013, Maines made headlines when she successfully fought back against her school for her right to use the women’s bathroom. The Maine Supreme Court ruled that her rights had indeed been violated. Maines has also appeared on Royal Pains and The Trans List, a documentary about trans folks and their varied experiences.
“What we see on television has a very dramatic effect on our society," Maines told Variety in an interview where she discussed both her new role and the recent controversy surrounding Scarlett Johansson being cast to play a transman, Dante “Tex” Gill, in an upcoming film. (Johansson has since withdrawn from the project due to the backlash her casting announcement received.)
Maines discussed her own childhood and coming out, touching on how prevalent stereotypes of trans people have personally affected her. When she came out, she was met with disbelief from her parents. Maines noted that so often trans women are seen as men in dresses (and portrayed on TV and in movies by cis men in dresses), which does remarkable damage to trans children and makes coming out even harder.
At the SDCC panel, Maines spoke of her hopes for her role as Nia. "She has this ferocious drive to protect people and to fight against discrimination and hatred,” said Maines. “She's the superhero we need right now."
During Season 4 of Supergirl, we can expect to see Nia embark on a journey of self-discovery as she becomes the hero Dreamer while balancing her career as a reporter. Her own arc will resemble Kara’s path to becoming Supergirl, and one can only hope there will be a lot of gal-pal hijinks and lady-love, which would be a great counter to the Lena-versus-Kara narrative of the prior season.
While there is more than one version of Dreamer in the comics, there are a few things we can look forward to in the show. Dreamer is a super genius who hails from the planet Naltor. We do not know yet whether Dreamer knows about her powers. She may be like Supergirl, in that she could be a superpowered alien who hides her powers for most of her life, or she could think she’s a human until she discovers her powers, similar to Quake in Agents of SHIELD.
All Naltorians have the gift of precognition (or none of them do anymore and Dreamer is the only one born with that gift in seven generations, depending on which version we’re talking about), and Dreamer is one of the strongest from her planet. Naltorian visions of the future come during dreams. Dreamer is also able to forecast the future with 100% accuracy. Well, unless she misinterprets her dreams. (I understand that that may sound contradictory, but Dreamer has the ability to be 100% accurate. She’s still fallible.)
She can see up to one year in the future, which gives her a massive advantage in strategy and hand-to-hand combat, which she just so happens to have mastered. She was trained by another superhero, so there’s a chance Supergirl will fill that mentor/teacher role for her in the upcoming season. Or, they could have Alex teach Dreamer to fight, as she did with sister, Supergirl, which then would then be queer women uplifting one another and I am here for that.
There are definitely some limitations to Dreamer’s powers. Sometimes if she is looking into the future, she can lose track of the present and think that the battle has already ended, without ever getting involved. Her forgetfulness could provide for some levity in the narrative, giving us a Nutty Professor-esque Dreamer. Alternatively, it could be taken in a much darker, more Westworldian direction where her inability to tell present from future could result in confusion, or even massive time jumps within the narrative.
What’s so exciting about Dreamer is that the possibilities are endless. She’s a character with multiple backstories and different explanations for or limitations of her abilities, depending on the storyline. In fact, in the comic books, Dreamer is cisgender and not a reporter, so Supergirl has already redefined the character in ways that are exciting and make sense to the show’s narrative.
Regardless of how the character is interpreted, we already know we’re in for something special. Our first trans superhero is coming to TV and a trans activist and actor is bringing her to life. For the first time, trans and cis kids will grow up seeing a trans superhero on TV. For the first time, trans folks of all ages will see themselves reflected in a genius, precognitive, badass fighter who is protective, capable, and powerful.
In Maines’s own words, “Having trans people play trans roles shows that we are valid in our identities and we exist.” There actually may be no higher calling for a TV show or a superhero.