'It takes away the stigma': five of the best cartoons with transgender characters

From a non-binary shape-shifter in She-Ra to a transgender cane toad, animation features plenty of storylines to help children better understand gender

‘Danger & Eggs shows LGBTQ characters as a normal part of life.’
‘Danger & Eggs shows LGBTQ characters as a normal part of life.’ Photograph: Amazon Prime Video

Transgender people are the subject of much conversation at the moment, predominantly by cis commentators, it has to be said, but the more open conversations on the topic are to be welcomed. It is allowing people to come out sooner and be themselves at a much earlier age than before. Having those conversations with children will never be easy, and representation on TV can play a huge part in how people relate to the world and think about themselves. Thankfully, there is a new influx of cartoons and animations that delve into the topic of being transgender in a wholesome, authentic and relatable way.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Netflix

Double Trouble, voiced by non-binary advocate, Jacob Tobia.
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Double Trouble, voiced by the non-binary advocate Jacob Tobia. Photograph: Netflix

In She-Ra, transgender and LGBTQ representation is woven perfectly into the plot. The series doesn’t have just one transgender character who has a whole storyline about that; it has several, all of whom have different identities, and are voiced by trans people. Most notable is Double Trouble, presented as a non-binary character and voiced by the non-binary advocate Jacob Tobia. Double Trouble is a mischievous shape-shifter who causes some trouble for many of the other main characters, but, ultimately, is fun and exciting to be around.

Other transgender characters include Jewelstar, a transgender man who is one of the Star Siblings. There have also been fan theories about Bow being transgender, but the creator has said that the character wasn’t intended to be strictly transgender, even though his expression is gender nonconforming. The showrunner, Noelle Stevenson, said that she was pleased that so many people saw representation in Bow, but she made the character LGBT retrospectively.

The show is about friendship, love and the fact that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. It doesn’t revolve around the fact that its characters have different ethnicities, body types and sexualities, but rather allows them to coexist in a free and open way. They are LGBTQ and proud, but it’s not the main driver for the drama.

Steven Universe, Cartoon Network

Steven Universe
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Steven, with the ‘fused’ same-sex couple Ruby and Sapphire. Photograph: CARTOON NETWORK

Steven Universe has long been hailed as one of the most groundbreaking animated series in terms of LGBTQ representation. The show is set in an interstellar universe, and has featured beautiful representation of people exploring their gender, as well as two women getting married. The show’s fifth series (on Netflix in the UK) focused on the main character, Steven, struggling to persuade his newly found biological family that he was indeed a boy.

While Steven isn’t trans, and his family believes he is in fact his mother pretending to be someone else, the same themes and experiences that transgender people go through resonate strongly. He struggles to persuade them of who he is, to get them to use the right name and generally to respect him for who he is. For trans people, this hits home, as many of us often struggle to be seen as our true selves, and to have our new names and pronouns used. The show weaves in LGBTQ people quite beautifully through its cast, and normalises different expression and identities in a very natural way.

Too Loud, YouTube

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Desiree tells her sister Sara that she is transgender.

A quirky, fast-paced show, Too Loud centres on the lives of two siblings who are volunteering at their school’s library. During the show’s second season, one of them, who had been presented as a boy called Jeffrey, comes out as a trans girl by the name of Desiree. The episode follows Desiree and her sister, Sara, who is hosting a girls-only slumber party. At this point, Desiree hasn’t come out, but she and her sister plot to dress her up as Sara’s cousin and pretend to be someone else.

During the night, Desiree discloses to Sara that she has never felt better, and that being a girl feels so much more right for her than being a boy. Desiree is worried about her reaction, but Sara is delighted to have a sister. The rest of the party then finds out about Desiree, and she is quickly consoled by all the other girls who say they don’t really care whether she is Jeffrey or Desiree, they like her all the same.

The plot makes coming out as trans seem a positive and rewarding experience, where family and friends can be incredibly supportive. Although the show plays with common stereotypes about dressing a certain way, it delves deeper than that, and gives children an insight into the lives of transgender kids and teenagers. To see such positive representation will not only help fight stigma and help kids realise being trans is a positive thing, but also helps transgender kids and teenagers feel seen and supported.

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, Netflix

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Rocko’s Modern Life.

A recent special episode of the show followed Rachel as she came out as transgender. While the show initially depicts Rachel struggling to get acceptance from her family, in particular her father Ed, it does an amazing job of showing the experiences of many transgender people and their family’s reaction.

It is obvious that her father isn’t being reasonable, and is struggling with this change, but the other characters on the show help him come to understand that his anger is a projection of many of the other life changes they are going through. In the end, Ed realises that change is the key to happiness and ultimately accepts his new daughter, Rachel, and the show ends with them continuing to go on about their lives, running the family ice-cream truck.

This storyline is woven through the main plot in an authentic way, not showing an immediate acceptance of the character’s transition – but rather the slow process that many people will relate to. When someone comes out as transgender, it often takes a long time for those around them to come to terms with it, and the show manages to reflect on some of those experiences, while ultimately sending a strong message of acceptance and diversity.

Danger & Eggs, Amazon Prime

Jazz Jennings voices the trans character Zadie in Danger & Eggs.
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Jazz Jennings voices the trans character Zadie in Danger & Eggs. Photograph: Mark DeLong/AP

Danger & Eggs is an animated series that belongs to the same universe as Adventure Time, Steven Universe and The Regular Show. It does a wonderful job of showing transgender characters, as well as LGBTQ characters in general, all voiced by LGBTQ people. The show centres on DD Danger and a giant egg called Eggs, and their adventures together in Chickenpaw Park.

It shows LGBTQ characters as a normal part of life, including same-sex families, a trans girl (voiced by the transgender star Jazz Jennings) and a non-binary character who plays in a band. It’s a great choice for families to watch together, and shows LGBTQ characters in a really simple and normalised way. It’s an excellent way to start a conversation with young people about transgender and wider LGBTQ issues.