In 1998, Julie Hesmondhalgh made history playing Coronation Street’s Hayley Cropper, the world’s first regular transgender character on a soap opera. 17 years later, an American soap finally broke that same barrier when The Bold and the Beautiful’s Maya, played by Karla Mosley, was revealed as a trans woman. A couple months later, the soap introduced another trans character, Nick, played by the actor Scott Turner Schofield.
What makes Schofield’s casting historic is that he is the first openly transgender actor cast in a US soap. Shows such as Loving and All My Children have featured transgender characters, but they were fleeting storylines featuring minor characters played by cis actors.
The Bold and the Beautiful—seen daily by 35 million people in 100 countries—has taken it to a whole new level. “It’s being told in a way that I have wanted trans stories to be told for over a decade. It is telling a love story, it is telling a family story, it is telling our stories right,” Schofield says. He credits the show’s writers and producers, led by head writer and executive producer Bradley Bell, for consulting with GLAAD and getting the story right. “I can’t tell you how happy I am with the writers and being able to deliver text that is so smart… It’s taking a transgender woman of colour and taking a white transgender man and… opening that whole world up in an inclusive, intelligent, and correct way.”
Schofield’s character, Nick, debuted in May as a close friend of Maya, whom Schofield describes as the show’s “leading lady.” Since then, he has shared screen time with some of daytime television’s biggest stars, including Thorsten Kaye and Jacob Young, calling them “lovely, lovely men.” Kaye, he says, helped calm his nerves on set, while Young took to Twitter to defend the “love story” being told between his character, Rick, and Maya. “What an ally,” he says of Young.
But he saves some of his deepest praise for Mosley. Before meeting her, he said she was “of the opinion that only transgender people should play transgender roles.” He asked the producers what Mosley’s reaction had been, to which he says they responded with “how can I possibly do this justice? I have to do this justice,” saying she has researched the role and talked to trans women, including Janet Mock, in an effort to get it right.
“I have full respect for Karla,” he adds. “She’s a wonderful person, her heart is in the right place, and she knows what she’s doing.”
Still, he does hope his casting will open the doors for other trans actors on television. “There is a slew” of other trans actors just ready for the big break, he says. “The floodgates are about to open.”
It’s been an uphill battle for trans actors, including Schofield. Despite the emergence of icons such as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, and Schofield’s on praise for his co-star Mosley, the bulk of trans roles still go to cis actors. For Schofield, The Bold and the Beautiful marks his television debut, something he’s been working a decade toward. “I always wanted to be an actor,” he says. “I was the kid who got in front of the TV and pissed off my parents by trying to perform all the time.”
The pressures of living in a society that often ostracises trans people took a toll, though. “You can become an excellent actor (as a trans person) because you’ve been training your entire life” by being misgendered at birth, “or you can go into a place where you are never yourself,” he says.
“Because I was transgender, I couldn’t get any roles. I was doing great in my classes. My teachers all said I was a good actor.” But, he adds, casting directors could tell he wasn’t completely being himself. “Coming out as trans and really living my life… is what enabled me to get this role on The Bold and the Beautiful.”
Though the show is his biggest role to date, it’s not the first time Schofield has been in the limelight. He has produced and starred in two internationally touring one-man shows and given a well-received Ted Talk, each focusing on gender identity and trans experiences. “I like to try to elevate the narrative,” he says, explaining that for him “transition (wasn’t) about me. I knew who I was. I had to transition the world.”
“I was walking in a world where people were calling me a she when I knew I was a he, and that wasn’t about me. It was about everybody else.”
His aim is to challenge not only assumptions and misconceptions about trans people but also the social construction of what it means to be a man. “We need to talk about masculinity,” he says. “Coming up there and being a white guy, yet being a white guy that you really need to think about—I think if we thought about being white guys more, if we thought about being men and what that means, that would push us further in society.”
While his duration on The Bold and the Beautiful is uncertain (Schofield is not under contract), he’s already busy working on his next project. Ze Said/She Said, a web series he created and stars in with his fiancé, Jessica Lynn Johnson, debuted on YouTube last month. Though scripted, he describes it as “the bastard child of reality television and comedy.” Based around their own lives, it’s a romantic comedy featuring a trans Yogi (Schofield) and a cisgender Christian (Johnson).
Regardless of whether acting for the stage, television, or the internet, Schofield hopes to have a positive influence. With not only his own burgeoning profile but a growing understanding and acceptance of trans people, he has high hopes for the future.
“I think that people who are kids now won’t have to come out as trans. They will just live into that.”
Skylar Baker-Jordan is THEGAYUK’s political contributing editor and has bylines at HuffPost, The Independent and the Daily Dot.