TV review

Bold, Beautiful—and Transgender: A Daytime Soap’s Radical Twist

The Daily Beast

March 20, 2015

In the extremely brilliant, camp 1991 movie Soapdish, which satirized the crazy world of the daytime soap, part of the high-pitched denouement saw the exposure of a transgender actress live on camera.

Montana Moorehead (Cathy Moriarty) was revealed—with the aid of a gormless yearbook picture—to be “Milton Moorehead.” The villainous character ran screaming from the set.

In 1982, in Tootsie, the climactic reveal was the (cross-dressing, this time) revelation that Dustin Hoffman’s character on the show, and his actor persona, were both in fact male, not female.

Now, in The Bold and The Beautiful, a cliffhanger played out on Wednesday focused on the truth about someone’s gender identity. This time—in the era of respected pop-cultural trans totems like Transparent and Laverne Cox, and a greater awareness of trans issues—it was played for real, rather than laughs, or as a mocking punchline.

Everything was on point for a big Bold and The Beautiful climax in Wednesday’s episode.

Two sisters were having an emotionally fraught conversation, with the music swelling menacingly, as Maya Avant (Karla Mosley) faced questioning from her sister Nicole (Reign Edwards).

“How can they act like you never existed?” Nicole, asked referring to their parents. Maya had apparently disappeared from the family home. “I’m your little sister and I needed you,” Nicole told her. Maya remained tearfully silent.

“The reason I haven’t seen you since you left home is because you’ve been living a whole other lifestyle,” Nicole said.

You’re not my sister Maya, you’re not Maya at all. You’re Myron. You’re my brother.”

Fade to black.

Well, it certainly made a difference to the usual “reveal secret” soap trope. The sister who’s really a mother. The sister who isn’t really her sister. The sister who’s secretly a killer.

And yes, Bradley P. Bell, the show’s executive producer and head writer, tells The Daily Beast: The naming was a nod to Gore Vidal’s 1968 novel Myra Breckinridge, whose sex-change central character was also called Myron in their male incarnation.

The fallout to the revelation will begin when The Bold and The Beautiful returns to the screen on Monday.

Bell denies the storyline is a short-term, sensationalist shot in the arm. B&B plans to stick with the storyline, and the media group GLAAD has been collaborating on the scripts.

There is the small matter of Maya’s partner, Rick, who does not know of his partner’s past, and another mystery, mentioned when Maya joined the show, of a child. But ironing out such knots of a character’s past is all too familiar to soap writers. Long-lost twins, amnesia, doppelgangers, and ghosts all pop up regularly, after all.

“The bottom line is that it is a love story, plain and simple,” said Bell of Maya’s story. “If anyone finds love in their life, that is to be celebrated.”

Maya has been a character on the show for just over two years, and producers decided to make her character trans three months ago. “I always want to tell love stories, and this will be a different kind of love story. It’s a great adventure,” said Bell. “She is in a relationship. A big part of the story is her being transgender with the man she loves. I’m curious to see how he reacts. It will be an in-depth look at disclosure: the right and appropriate time to say something. When is waiting too long, when is too early?”

Maya is not the first transgender character in a U.S. daytime soap. The ’90s-set The City and All My Children featured trans characters, too. But none have matched the longevity and popularity of the much-loved (and now missed—the character died last year) Hayley Cropper in Britain’s Coronation Street.

After many years of near-invisibility of LGBT characters in daytime, Maya in The Bold and The Beautiful follows the show featuring her love rival Caroline’s lesbian parents.

The marital travails of Will and Sonny are playing out on Days of Our Lives, and notable past LGB soap alumni include Bianca in All My Children, Guiding Light’s Olivia and Natalia, and the tangled love life of As the World Turns’ Luke Snyder and his sexy towel-snapping scene with first love Noah.

The Bold and The Beautiful—watched in more than 100 countries by 30-plus million viewers—is trumpeting that in Maya, it will be the only show on broadcast television featuring a regular trans character. The program also will feature trans actors as the storyline progresses, the trajectory of which will no doubt be watched closely by activists and advocates.

The first misfire was Nicole describing Maya’s gender identity as a “lifestyle,” but perhaps that will be addressed as the storyline unfolds. As Bell said, the storyline will feature the gamut of prejudice and acceptance, and should be watched in that spirit.

Some of the other B&B characters “will be very open-minded towards Maya. Some will be very supportive, and there will be others who don’t like it, who say all the wrong things, and through these people you experience prejudice,” Bell said.

“We in daytime explore things on the level of 250 episodes a year,” he said. “We’re digging deep in this story, every facet and avenue. It is experimental TV. We’ll do things the right way and the wrong way. People will object to it. We have a great relationship with the people from GLAAD who have sat in on story meetings, who have combed through every script.”

On how Mosley responded to the news about her character, he said: “I called Karla into my office. She put her hands over her mouth, her eyes were wide open, and her jaw dropped. She said, ‘I would be honored to play this story.’”

“Karla Mosley is front and center,” Bell added. “She plays a beautiful transgender character and is the star of our show. We are not going to be doing this story around the edges.”

Mosley told US Weekly: “We really have an opportunity that a lot of shows don’t have to reach some minds that may be closed at first and that might take a minute to even understand what the terminology is and what it all means.”

Mosley also said she was ready to engage with fans with all kinds of views on social media and that “as an artist and activist,” she is prepared to be as vocal as required.

Bell anticipates negative reactions. “I think about it a lot. I don’t really care. I don’t mind ruffling feathers. I hope we do something positive. We’re committed to the story. Ten years ago, CBS would have forbidden us doing it. But they’ve been wholly supportive.”

A more accepting and open society, and the perspective-opening effects of the Internet, have changed shows like The Bold and The Beautiful, said Bell.

“Appealing to a conservative audience is no longer what we are aspiring to do,” he said. “It no longer makes business sense. We should be open to featuring characters of all kinds.”