entertainment

Heartstopper's Yasmin Finney: 'We can have a trans story that is normalised'

The 18-year-old rising star explains in the Attitude May/June issue why trans TV characters don't have to be defined by being trans.

2022-04-13

Words: Alastair James; Photography: Jordan Rossi

The significance of a British TV show having a Black transgender actress playing a Black transgender school student is certainly not lost on Yasmin Finney.

The young actress, 18, takes on the role of Elle Argent in Netflix's Heartstopper, and in doing so is providing representation that remains sadly lacking in mainstream media. 

As Yasmin appears on the cover of the Attitude May/June issue alongside her co-stars Joe Locke, it Connor and William Gao, the rising star comments on how rare it is to see a casting call for a trans woman of colour. 

"When does that ever happen?" she asks.

The character of Elle is one of the best friends of series lead Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), and Yasmin admits there haven't been many many on-screen roles where she's felt represented as a Black trans woman.

Yasmin wears jacket top, skirt, and earrings all by Moschino, necklace, stylist's own and ring by Christian Dior, shoes by Schuh (Photography: Jordan Rossi; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Yasmin’s hair by Silas Maiden; Yasmin’s makeup by Emily Wood at A-Frame Agency using Danessa Myricks; Fashion Assistants: Sacha Dance, Bella Azura Dupee)

"I am on the screen. That in itself is powerful enough", she tells Attitude. "That in itself is inspiring to people. And I have to realise that and get out of my head and be like, ‘Listen, girl, you smashed it, you’re on the show, you’ve got an amazing support system around you, like, you’re doing really well.’"

Yasimin continues: "It’s really going to be a moment. And I know that for the young Yasmin watching, this would be like, 'Girl, I see myself on screen.’

"The fact that Heartstopper has given me the platform and also opened the door for other Black queers to come out here and be put in front of casting directors: it’s just everything. And the young Yasmins, and LGBTQs out there that will watch Heartstopper and feel normal, that’s all I could ever ask for.

"I just love showing people that you can do it. Even though I was bullied, and even though I have been through a lot, you can always come out the other end. That’s the most empowering thing for me. And especially Elle, she’s just such a queen."

The character of Elle is different from other trans characters in the media, who are often explored in the context of gender dysphoria or transphobia, or both. Although those themes are present in Heartstopper, they’re not the primary focus.

Joe wears denim jacket and jeans, both by Fiorucci, tank top, by Dsquared2, rings and necklace, all by Pawnshop Kit wears jacket, by Abercrombie & Fitch, tank top, by Dsquared2, necklace, by Pawnshop, jeans, by ASOS; Will wears denim jacket and jeans, both by Calvin Klein Jeans, tank top, by Dsquared2 Yasmin wears denim jacket and jeans, both by Calvin Klein Jeans, bra, by Calvin Klein underwear, necklace, by Pawnshop

"We can have a trans story that is normalised", declares Yasmin. "In season one, she’s shown as this girl who has transitioned from a boys’ school to a girls’ school — that’s the only way we know that she’s trans."

But Yasmin doesn’t think we should compare trans narratives. "In reality, we’re all fighting for the same thing. I feel like every trans story is beautiful, whether they go into gender dysphoria or depression [or not]. I think the fact that Heartstopper doesn’t highlight those things doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

"All trans stories are important. And even though Elle is portrayed to be this beautiful, confident girl, of course she’s gonna have gender dysphoria. She’s trans, at the end of the day. We all have it."

Yasmin adds that in a possible season two of Heartstopper, she "wouldn’t be mad if we went into a little bit of gender dysphoria, because it’s normal."

Yasmin wears denim jacket and jeans both by Calvin Klein Jeans, bra by Calvin Klein Underwear (Photography: Jordan Rossi; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Yasmin’s hair by Silas Maiden; Yasmin’s makeup by Emily Wood at A-Frame Agency using Danessa Myricks; Fashion Assistants: Sacha Dance, Bella Azura Dupee)

She goes on: "I’m just hoping that we really delve into trans-ness a bit more. But yeah, there’s a lot of very exciting things coming to season two. If it’s possible!"

Heartstopper's Elle is sure to become a fan favourite when Heartstopper arrives on Netflix on 22 April, and Yasmin says of the character: "I liked her vulnerability, her shyness, her confidence, and her ability to be unapologetically herself.

"We both moved schools, although she went to an all-girls school and I just went to another [mixed] school. I don’t think I would be as confident to move to an all-girls school, so I have to give it to her.

"She’s got the confidence, honey, she’s such a bodacious, strong, empowering character. And I hope that when the audience sees her on screen, they’ll see themselves represented, and they’ll see someone they can look up to."

Heartstopper premieres on Netflix on 22 April 2022. The Attitude May/June issue featuring the cast of Heartstopper is out now.