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A transgender Chinese actress has made history by becoming the first such person to appear in a UK television drama series. Photo: SCMP composite/IMDb/Xiaohongshu

Transgender China actress makes historic debut in UK television drama

  • Jaylin Ye plays the character Karis in Netflix show, critics praise her performance as ‘downright hilarious’

Actress Jaylin Ye has made history by becoming the first Chinese transgender female character to appear on British television with her debut in the Amazon Prime series Dead Hot.

The six-episode comedy thriller follows friends and amateur detectives Jess and Elliott as they investigate the disappearance of Peter, Jess’s twin brother, and the love of Elliott’s life.

Ye plays Karis, Elliott’s college friend, who joins the team in the third episode.

Her performance has been praised as “downright hilarious” by reviewer Shannon Connellan on the global entertainment platform Mashable.

Jaylin Ye takes a break from filming for the critically acclaimed British TV drama, Dead Hot. Photo: Xiaohongshu

The series premiered in the UK and Ireland on March 1 and became available in the US and Canada on Tubi from March 27.

Last summer, Ye spent about six weeks filming in Liverpool, northwest England, for her first-ever appearance in a television series.

This marks the first recorded instance of a Chinese transgender female character in a British television series.

The trailer, featuring Ye, even played on the big screen in New York City’s Times Square.

“As an immigrant, a Chinese and a trans woman, I feel that this step is historically significant, proving that people like us can reach the mainstream,” Ye told the Post.

“You’re China’s own Hunter Schafer,” an online observer commented on Ye’s post on Xiaohongshu.

“I love this show. You are fantastic in it,” said another.

Ye, in her 20s, was born and raised in Guangdong province in southern China.

She earned dual bachelor’s degrees in Chinese studies and graphic design at a mainland university.

From a young age, she sensed she was “somehow different” and was bullied for being a “sissy”.

Ye, originally identifying as non-binary, later came out as a transgender female in August 2022. Commencing hormone therapy last year, she expressed gratitude for the supportive queer community in Britain.

Hormone therapy marks the beginning of one’s journey towards gender transition and gender-affirming surgeries are not a prerequisite for individuals to be recognised as transgender.

She told the Post that embracing her female identity brought her immense confidence and comfort.

In 2018, Ye graduated from the University of Manchester in the UK with a master’s degree in marketing and returned to Guangdong, where she worked at a local international school.

However, she soon realised it was not the life she wanted.

In November 2020, Ye seized an opportunity to move back to Manchester and worked in the fashion industry as a makeup artist and model.

The actress, who hails from southern China, landed her role in the drama with just one audition. Photo: Xiaohongshu

Acting was initially just a hobby when she belonged to her university’s drama club.

In 2021, she began taking weekly acting workshops and signed with her first agency.

“You need to stop daydreaming. You’re not professionally trained and you do not look particularly good,” her mother told her, like many East Asian parents, habitually dismissing her child’s dreams despite her love.

“I told my mum that my face appeared on the big screen in Times Square. She asked, ‘What is Times Square?’,” Ye said.

Her achievements eventually got her mother’s support, though her father still believed she should pursue a more stable career.

In March last year, with her natural humour, she secured the role of Karis in Dead Hot after just one audition.

The casting director later told her that her audition tape was the only one that made everyone laugh.

Initially, Karis was written as a cisgender woman.

“The Amazon team did not know I was transgender at first. I’m grateful I got the role because of my performance, not my identity. This is more significant to me because, as an actress, I don’t want to be limited to transgender roles,” Ye said.

A scene from the comic thriller which was filmed in the English city of Liverpool. Photo: Xiaohongshu

She looks forward to continuing her efforts to increase the representation of Chinese and transgender communities and hopes to further explore her potential in the US.

“My roots are Chinese, and I will always strive to incorporate Chinese elements into my work. I have a big dream that, one day, when I stand on an awards ceremony stage, I will tell everyone that I am native-born Chinese,” Ye told the Post.

“I want to convey the message, ‘Come on, let’s be real, there are millions of queer people in China’,” she said. “Maybe I’ll write a book someday about my story.”