Riley Carter was the first actor to play a regular transgender character on a British soap, as Kyle Slater in EastEnders.

Now he’s back on screens as inmate Troy Walker in Channel 4’s new prison drama Screw.

PinkNews caught up with RIley Carter to talk about trans representation, his experience of the industry and the importance of humour. 

PinkNews: How accurately do you think your character’s journey on Screw reflects the lived reality of being a trans man in a men’s prison?

Riley Carter: From the start, [writer Rob Williams] was interested in trying to get a fair portrayal. I had conversations with him regarding how to word things. One of the lines I say is about stuffing socks in my underwear, and originally the line was about putting fruit down my knickers. I was just like: that’s so tacky, I wouldn’t have walked around with a banana down my pants. I understood what he was trying to do, but I told him that a sock is more realistic and explained what packing was. That’s why it’s great to be able to have that input. When writers and directors and producers are willing to have these conversations it shows they care and are committed to portraying these characters in the most realistic kind of light. 

PinkNews: Was it hard to hear some of the language from prejudiced characters like Gary [who misgenders and uses slurs against Riley’s character]?

Riley Carter: Obviously it’s not nice, but we know it happens. It’s important to show these things. I don’t personally like it when I watch something that’s so PC it’s not a true reflection of reality. People have these conversations and they don’t do it in a polite way. They will be like the Gary character: completely dismissive, calling us ‘transformers’ and all that kind of thing. I think it was good that you had a diverse range of opinions within the officers. Because yes, it’s quite crude to hear, but I think it is a fair reflection on reality. Sometimes it makes people think, “Oh, crap”, looking at the Gary character, and then they go, and “Actually, I’ve acted that way before”, and it can change their opinions, it can change their thought process. That’s why it’s important.

PinkNews: What’s been your experience of the industry as an openly trans actor? 

Riley Carter: When I went to university to study acting I was in my own little world, trying to be stealth. I was new into my transition and my main focus was just trying to get on with life and, in a way, avoid those feelings and emotions that are attached to it. When I got the role on EastEnders people knew, suddenly, who I was, my identity. They had those questions in their mind regarding my body. It was, at times, quite intrusive. But now I see the bigger picture. I have a great life. I’ve been really fortunate, in comparison to a lot of people. I’ve never received or had to deal with harassment, bullying, things like that. 

When roles do come about, it’s not just about being a trans person. It’s about being a character who happens to be trans, to normalise that we’re just people. Rob was very determined to get a trans actor to play this role, rightly so at this point. I believe actors should be able to play all types of roles. A few years down the line, when it’s not an issue, let everyone play what they want to play. But right now, it’s important for us to be able to be represented within our own roles.

Riley Carter. (Supplied)

Yes, I am trans, but it doesn’t always have to be about that. If I was playing a cisgender character you’d know I’m trans, you could look at my credits, look at my Twitter, you will see it’s there:  I’m transgender. 

I’m proud that I’ve been able to have these opportunities so that young kids can look on the screen and go, “Oh, my God, that someone who’s actually transgender, they’ve come out the other end! There’s hope.” 

Whether that’s about being an actor or being able to pursue your dreams, or just being able to live a happy life. I’m still on a journey in that respect. Your journey doesn’t end when you go on testosterone, or have a mastectomy, if that’s your route, it’s about a journey within yourself. I think it’s important for people to recognise there are successful people who have had to face this tough road and have come out the other side.

PinkNews: How has Troy’s storyline has been received so far?

Riley Carter: People are enjoying it. They haven’t sent comments like: “I enjoyed the series, but not episode two”. People are invested in it and that’s nice. It’s good to show how people blow things out of proportion sometimes, how they make the trans thing the issue. I’ve experienced that, as I’m sure many people have, where it’s like an escalation of rumours. And actually, in this case, it’s something completely irrelevant. 

It’s amazing to have this representation on TV, and theatre, on radio. It is important to show transitions and the more medical, psychological things, and that does happen, but I also think it’s good to incorporate a bit of humour, and a bit of life, because we are more than just trans people. It’s a small part of our identity.

Screw is available to watch on Channel 4 with new episodes every Thursday. 

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