Supergirl‘s newest superhero has arrived, and she’s here to fight more than just the bad guys.
As the first transgender superhero, actress Nicole Maines, who portrays Dreamer on the CW show, wants to break the mold of trans characters on television.
“What I’m really excited for is to see the evolution of trans characters and see more diverse stories be told, so that every time we’re on screen we’re not really playing the part of educator and having to explain the experience to the audience, because it will have already been normalized,” Maines, 21, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Then a trans character is free to portray whatever kind of arc fits their character.”
Maines’ own journey began at a young age, when she noticed differences between herself and her identical twin brother, Jonas.
“Growing up with him, I could see him identifying with all of our boy toys and everything and he would be really comfortable in his skin and in his gender,” the Maine native recalls. “And at the same, I wasn’t. I thought it was the most natural thing in the world, so I went up to my parents at 3, 4 years old and I asked them when I would get to be a girl because I just expected that I would be.”
With her parents’ support, Maines began transitioning. “I had been on puberty suppressants and hormone suppressants, so I did not through male puberty,” she says. “And watching Jonas get his voice got deeper, his features became more masculine and defined, that was really surreal. It was like, dodged a bullet, Nicole!”
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Maines had acting dreams in middle school, but thought she should come up with a more practical career plan. So she decided to attend the University of Maine in pursuit of becoming a video game designer.
Still, she still hoped acting would work out.
“I studied digital arts and graphic design, and then at the same time I was studying, I was still doing auditions,” Maines says. “It was really a matter of whatever comes first, but I’m so happy it was acting!”
The newcomer landed her Supergirl role after sending in an audition tape she made in her Maine home. And then the world found out about her joining the Supergirl cast at San Diego Comic-Con in July.
“Walking on stage, that was just one of the biggest rooms of people I’ve ever been in, and that they were all cheering and clapping for a trans superhero, for a trans actor, and that was so special for me,” Maines says. “It’s not that long ago that the reaction to that announcement would have been very, very different.”
She also felt a great responsibility to live up to the hype. “You want to do it right,” Maines says. “You want to meet and exceed expectations. You don’t want to just be a diversity hire. You want to be a valued addition to the cast.”
Now as Dreamer — whose day job consists of serving as Kara Danvers’ (Melissa Benoist) mentee at CatCo Worldwide Media — fans are seeing her storyline come to life. “I was really, really relieved to see how well people received her,” Maines says.
Being part of the DC Comics universe, Maines even has her own real-life super power dream.
“If I had a super power, I’d want to be able to fly just so I could float around my apartment,” she says. “Or I’d really like telekinesis because then you’d be able to slam the door on somebody.”