Yasmin Finney, actress: ‘Being a trans woman is part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am’

At just 19-years-old, Yasmin Finney has made television history with the Netflix series ‘Heartstopper,’ which is now in its second season, and ‘Doctor Who’

Yasmin Finney
Yasmin Finney, seen outside JW Anderson during London Fashion Week, on February 19, 2023.

Audiences have become accustomed to televised fiction that’s filled with sexual contortions. But Heartstopper — a much-lauded series that swaps cocktails for milkshakes and raves for movie theaters — is just what Netflix needed. The second season will be released on August 3.

Alice Oseman, the artist and writer behind the series, began the work as a webcomic. The love story she wrote between Charlie and Nick immediately captivated fans. But while feeling very sorry for the leading couple, it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen every time their friend Elle — played by Yasmin Finney — appears.

“They never say that she’s trans. [The show] only mentions that she swapped a school for boys for one with girls. This was very empowering, because it’s not a show that emphasizes that Elle is trans, as if that defines everything she is. [Being trans is shown] as being positive, as cool and natural, which is what being trans is,” Yasmin tells EL PAÍS from her London home.

Wearing no makeup, with short hair and dressed in an oversized sweatshirt, she repeats two things throughout our conversation: her age (19-years-old… ouch!) and the importance of the world seeing trans individuals as something completely natural.

Being part of a series that’s going to make history is a gift, but being part of another groundbreaking show is, without a doubt, not just a matter of luck, but a recognition of her talent. Finney is also part of the return of the iconic BBC series Doctor Who, playing the role of Rose — the first permanent trans character. This achievement goes hand-in-hand with Heartstopper, a show that’s (finally) offering younger generations content that they feel reflects their lives. Older audiences, meanwhile, get to take a look at the past, to tearfully rediscover an adolescence that, unfortunately, not all people have experienced.

Will Gao and Yasmin Finney in 'Heartstopper.'
Will Gao and Yasmin Finney in 'Heartstopper.'

Question. How necessary was a series with happy queer romances?

Answer. It’s so refreshing, it’s like a glass of water that quenches your thirst. When you’re a young queer person looking at content like this, you feel like you’re finally represented. It’s impossible to watch the show without looking back and remembering the absence of this type of content growing up. So I immediately realized how important it is. Undoubtedly, Heartstopper has changed things. I think it’s a huge game changer.

Q. Until now, wasn’t it almost impossible to come up with plots in which the trans character wasn’t immersed in the drama?

A. Elle has been a source of inspiration for many people, precisely because she represents what a trans person should be. I’m not going to deny that being trans is hard — especially at a certain age — but I think that, when you watch the show, since it’s not something she comments on, you don’t even realize she’s trans until you look up the character on the internet. Elle represents a teenager who’s trying to find herself, who has a great group of friends… She’s having fun like any other girl — trans or not — would have.

Q. However, you’ve commented that the world of dating as a trans person can certainly be very complicated…

A. But I think that happens to all of us, right? For the record, I’ve only had one relationship, but I was very lucky. I know being trans can be a touchy factor for some people, but I make sure honesty comes first, because I’ve built my entire life and career around my identity. It’s part of who I am. Anyway, love is always a crazy thing. Also, I think there can be jerks in any community and in any relationship.

Q. On your TikTok account, you posted a video about femininity and how it was femininity that found you. Why do so many people criticize trans women who bet on traditional models of femininity?

A. It’s so easy for [a trans woman] to conform to a stereotypical way of being, like acting super feminine. But I think there are many shades of gray: you can be how you want, be what you want and wear what you want. The world is built on individuality… That’s what has made it move forward. I’ve never tried to feminize myself: that’s just how I am. Being a trans woman is part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am. I have much more to contribute than my identity.

I think I’m excited to show people a different side of me. To this day, I’m still figuring myself out.

Q. During the second season of Heartsopper, Elle is gaining confidence in herself. But how is Yasmin doing in this new phase? What would we see in a second season of her life, full of projects and dreams?

A. I’m confident, but at the same time, I’m just like any other 19-year-old. People need to remember that being in the spotlight doesn’t mean I don’t go through things that people my age go through, like puberty, bullying, or acne. But I’ve been given a platform, and I’m going to use it.

Q. When talking about family, we want to talk about your chosen family. But first: how is your relationship with your biological family?

A. My family is strictly Catholic and I don’t talk to half of them, [only to] my mother, my sister, her husband, my nieces and nephews. My mom raised me alone with no money in Manchester. I’m very lucky that she’s accepted me so much and that we speak so honestly. It’s easy not to talk about feelings, and I think the main thing — and this is something I first learned from my chosen family — is to be open, tell each other how you feel. You have to forget what they have done to you, you have to forget all the bad stuff, because they’re your blood. But be careful: I’m not saying you need your family, that’s definitely not true. It’s just a nice add-on.

Q. What can you tell us about Doctor Who?

A. I play Rose, a very pure character. The show is amazing: it’s alien sci-fi content, with queer representation. People have to get used to seeing us on the screen. I act alongside Ncuti Gatwa — he and I did a campaign for Tiffany & Co. He goes from set to set: he’s been in Sex Education, Barbie, Doctor Who… He’s done so many things, he’s probably exhausted, but he’s still powering through it. And that’s the main thing. You think it’s all glitz and glam, but behind the scenes, you’re working hard to get that shot. That’s just the reality of TV and film. He’s got something amazing going for him, I can just feel it. I’m so happy to be a part of it.

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Note: This photoshoot and interview were conducted before strikes began across the film industry.

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