We have been fans of of the Degrassi franchise in our household for some time now. My husband and I come from the generation that grew up with the original series, and we welcomed Degrassi: The Next Generation as a positive TV show we could share with our kids. The series deals with all of the common and less common foibles of adolescent coming of age, always in a very frank and respectful way that affords us opportunities to discuss those “what ifs” with our kids well in advance of them having to confront the situations in their own lives.
Now in its tenth season, the show’s name has been shortened to the simple Degrassi and perhaps to the surprise of longtime viewers, the writers have found new ground to cover again this year. Degrassi fans will know there has never been a topic too mundane or too controversial for this series. Whether it be friendships and dating, family issues, physical and mental health, disabilities, sexual orientation, sexual bias in sports, the show has pretty much covered it all. Or so we thought, until it was announced that Degrassi would introduce a transgendered student among its cast of characters this year.
Enter Adam Torres – born Gracie. Adam was born in a girl’s body, but he has known since early childhood that he is a boy in his mind. Adam’s character has been in several episodes already this season but in episodes 15 and 16, together called “My Body is a Cage,” Adam’s transgender identity is openly explored for the first time.
All is not happiness and light, however. Adam must deal with a mother who wants her little girl back, and when he is outed at school he suffers both bullying and the indignities of being classified a student with special needs. He struggles with expressing his true self when those around him would prefer that he be something completely different. He tries to live up to those expectations, but discovers that even passing for a girl will create the suffering his mother hopes he can avoid.
As with all Degrassi episodes, there are sub-plots that continue the action around other characters. In “My Body is a Cage,” Anya discovers her mother has been ill and is having some tests done at the hospital. Although not at all related to gender identity, this sub-plot does fit extremely well with the theme of the human body as a cage that can sometimes hold its occupant hostage. Both stories are dealt with in the frank and sensitive manner that is a hallmark of the Degrassi franchise.
The character of Adam is played by Jordan Todosey, who portrayed Lizzie in Life With Derek. She is very believable, both as the awkward boy trying to gain some self-confidence as he establishes himself in a new school, and as the boy trapped in a girl’s body who is trying to play the role society has set for him. Clare (Aislinn Paul) and Eli (Munro Chambers) do a great job of asking Adam about his situation without being too intrusive, and of supporting his choice to live as a boy even though it isn’t the easy path or the socially acceptable one. Jean-Marc Genereux of So You Think You Can Dance makes a guest appearance in the two episodes, as the ballroom dance instructor.
Degrassi airs nightly from Monday to Thursday throughout the month of August, but will return to a weekly format in September. It can be seen in Canada, where it is produced, on MuchMusic. It also airs in the United States on Teen Nick.
“‘Degrassi’ tackles transgender storyline.” Canadian Press
“Jordan Todosey.” IMDB
“Proper etiquette when dealing with the transgendered.” IAmTransgendered.com