Supergirl: Nicole Maines on her year as TV's first transgender superhero

Since Nicole Maines joined Supergirl last summer, her life has changed in one very specific and tangible way. “I have a lot more Twitter followers,” says the transgender activist turned actress, who is only half-joking about what her increased following means to her.

Maines had just finished up her junior year at the University of Maine when the socially conscious CW drama cast her as Nia Nal, a.k.a. Dreamer, TV’s first transgender superhero. Having made headlines in 2014 as the plaintiff in a watershed Maine Supreme Judicial Court case that declared it was illegal to prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice, the TED Talk alum was already an outspoken advocate for transgender rights. But donning a mask in the Arrowverse helped extend her reach.

“I love Twitter, not just for comedy reasons, but because I’m able to interact with people directly,” she says. “I’m able to see exactly how Dreamer has affected younger trans kids in rural areas who really didn’t have anyone before. One of my favorite parts is just [being] able to interact with folks on social media in a very, very dark time and getting to share that kind of positivity.”

Playing Dreamer has also given Maines an opportunity to be unabashedly herself. In season 4’s 19th episode, Dreamer — in an effort to combat the vicious anti-alien sentiments sweeping the nation — publicly came out as a transgender, half-alien, half-human woman.

“That inadvertently [broke] the fourth wall because as Nia’s doing that, so am I. I’m going on television and declaring my identity as a trans woman, proudly, unapologetically, and in hopes of inspiring people,” she says, adding that shows like Supergirl and FX’s Pose help her remain hopeful, at least when it comes to accurate trans representation in media. “They’ve taught me there are people in Hollywood who care. They’ve shown me the work we are doing has made a difference, that people are listening.”

Supergirl returns for its fifth season this fall.

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