Trans Representation in the Media

By Laura Hughes (Suicide Crisis Service Lead – Maternity Cover)

On Saturday, 5.08 million Whovians across the UK were sat eagerly in front of their TV, ready to watch the first of three Doctor Who 60th Anniversary special episodes. Something which was a pleasant surprise to many viewers, was the LGBTQIA+ representation in the episode, especially for the trans community. This got me thinking, as both a devout Whovian and a mental health professional, about how this representation might impact the mental health of the LGBTQIA+ community across the country.

For context, there is often a lot of harmful trans representation across the media in the UK. From headlines promoting gender-critical biases, to news interviews giving platforms to transphobic ideology, there is rarely positive trans representation on mainstream television. Research shows the negative impacts this has on the trans community, including significant associations with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and general psychological distress (Hughto et al., 2021).

In the Doctor Who episode ‘The Star Beast’, trans actress Yasmin Finney plays a 15-year-old trans person named Rose, and (no spoilers), Rose’s trans identity was a vital, positive part of the overall storyline. But how important is representation like this?

With the majority of US adults never having met a transgender person (GLAAD, 2023), the media is absolutely paramount in terms of most people’s education about the trans population and their needs and experiences. Research shows that when cisgender people (those who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth) are exposed to trans characters, they are more likely to have supportive attitudes towards trans people and trans inclusion (Gillig et al., 2018, Orellana et al., 2020). With multiple studies finding that affirming and supporting trans youth plays an important role in reducing suicidality (McConnell et al., 2016; Gorse, 2022), the life-saving implications of positive trans representation in the media are heavily suggested.

Research also shows that the nature of trans representation matters. For example, if trans people are constantly shown in the media as one-dimensional, suffering, their primary storyline being about risk and suicide, this can have detrimental affects on trans viewers, including hopelessness about their future, impeded sense of identity, and lack of humanity (Corbett, 2021). The representation in ‘The Star Beast’ is of a confident, loved, hopeful trans person who ultimately saves the day, thus representing trans people as so.

More research needs to be done surrounding the hypothesised associations between trans representation and reduced suicidality, but I am hopeful that following Doctor Who, trans people across the country will be feeling a little bit more validated and hopeful right now.


Hughto, J. M., Pletta, D., Gordon, L., Cahill, S., Mimiaga, M. J., & Reisner, S. L. (2021). Negative transgender-related media messages are associated with adverse mental health outcomes in a multistate study of transgender adults. LGBT health8(1), 32-41.

Orellana, L., Totterdell, P., & Iyer, A. (2022). The association between transgender-related fiction and transnegativity: Transportation and intergroup anxiety as mediators. Psychology & Sexuality13(2), 228-239.

Gillig, T. K., Rosenthal, E. L., Murphy, S. T., & Folb, K. L. (2018). More than a media moment: The influence of televised storylines on viewers’ attitudes toward transgender people and policies. Sex Roles78, 515-527.

McConnell, E. A., Birkett, M., & Mustanski, B. (2016). Families matter: Social support and mental health trajectories among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health59(6), 674-680.

Gorse, M. (2022). Risk and protective factors to LGBTQ+ youth suicide: A review of the literature. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal39(1), 17-28.

GLAAD (2023).

Corbett, M. L. (2023). ” It’s always negative”: trans youth perspectives on suffering narratives (Doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia).