By: Eshe Ukweli
Eshe Ukwell is an intern at GLAAD for the Communities of Color Program.
It’s not often that we see trans women on screen portrayed with dimension, nor is it often that their portrayal and characters are done with authenticity or accuracy. But Euphoria’s Jules Vaughan (played by Hunter Schafer), the love interest of main character Rue Bennet (played by Zendaya) is showing audiences not only the expansiveness of gender but also what it means to stay true to one’s own internal compass.
Since its Season 1 premiere back in 2019, Euphoria has constantly provided audiences with dynamic characters who are far from perfect but unquestionably human. While characters like Katherine “Kat” Hernandez, played by Barbie Ferreira, show us what it means to come into confidence as a young woman, characters like Jules Vaughan are showing viewers a much deeper insight into trans representation on screen.
Oftentimes when LGBTQ+ characters are featured on screen, they often are filling the role of a sidekick. A character of tropes, either the gay flamboyant hairstylist or the lesbian best friend to the straight protagonist, and with trans and nonbinary characters this one-depersonalization is often worse. Lacking a sense of true depth, trans women, specifically, are often only shown facing some arduous fight for acceptance by family and community, contending with debates about their womanhood, or frankly, not shown at all. But Euphoria’s Jules Vaughan breaks these molds entirely.
While Jules does possess the classic queer character arc of having a history of non-acceptance and understanding in her childhood from her mother, Jules throughout the majority of the show is not only “accepted” by her community but valued for her uniqueness and seen as a full person. Jules, while grappling with the different experience that it means to have as a trans woman, is still shown dealing with the common issues of teendom, such as navigating relationships, romance, and the age-old theme of finding oneself. Jules, although trans, never loses the other aspects of what it means to be a teen thus fully reflecting what a queer teen experience looks like.
Jules is allowed to freely exist in her body, allowed to show vulnerability as she deals with navigating the validation of men while also being attracted to women. Jules’ validity as a woman of trans experience is never questioned or debated, and her freedom as a woman is not only constantly shown but is backed up time and time again by her community throughout the series. It is this freedom to display self in a myriad of ways that is so revolutionary.
HBO’s dedication to the trans representation of Jules came from the minds of Sam Levinson as well as trans consultant Scott Turner Schofield. Schofield was integral to the creation of the character, making sure that Jules was not only an accurate representation but also didn’t feed into negative tropes surrounding trans and nonbinary identities in media.
Jules serves as a constant reminder that to be trans is not a never-ending search for acceptance, definition in gender, nor limited to the image of cultural conformity that we often see pushed on to trans characters in media. Euphoria’s Jules Vaughan is a testament that trans folks can live in the freedom and expansiveness of their authenticity, however that may show up, on and off the screen.
Season 1 and 2 of Euphoria is available to stream on HBO Max.