Watchers of long-running Canadian teen-soaper Degrassi: TNG know that each episode is titled after a song. So it makes sense that this one, devoted to the character of Adam, should be named after Arcade Fire's "My Body Is A Cage."
Also: SPOILER ALERT.
The character of "Adam" is introduced as a boy, a new student who's initially withdrawn and later becomes friends with some of the smart kids. It turns out he's changed schools in order to "start over," despite his mother's ambivalence. However, in this episode, his FTM status is revealed, first when he drops some tampons in front of a friend and later when a bitchy girl accidentally feels his breasts and exposes him to the rest of the school.
While Adam's coming out to his friends is perhaps one of the easier coming-out experiences, to say the very least.
But harassment and abuse follows at school.
This, in combination with his mother's insistence that he "be Gracie" in front of their grandmother, leads Adam, in despair, to start self-harming and dressing as a girl at school. Ultimately, of course, lessons are learned and Adam decides to be true to who he is. Even his mom comes around and participates in a cathartic girl-clothes bonfire.
Of course, that's not the end of the story: Degrassi storylines always evolve through all four years of the characters' high school experience. Indeed, in a special report on the episode, one of the show's writers mentions that they make a point of not relegating queer plotlines to a single "very special episode" but instead integrating them into the school's fictional universe.
For all those good intentions, there's still a definite, perhaps unavoidable, after-school-special feel to the episode: the obligatory expository scenes in which Adam explains he's a boy trapped in a girl's body and what this means. The rather neat resolution of the family tensions is also convenient — although one assumes there will be further complications at school.
As soon as word of the plotline hit the net and it was announced that Adam would be played by 15-year-old actress Jordan Todosey, some people wondered publicly why the show hadn't done something really revolutionary and hired an FTM actor. (As it is, in a post-Boys Don't Cry world, FTM probably feels less risky.) Asked this, the writer's response is simple: they were open to it, and Todosey was the best person for the job. Besides which, he adds, the character is transitioning, so a female actor made sense. (Curiously, the character was initially conceived as an androgynous lesbian.) While one can't help but think that, as writers, they could have placed the character in any stage they chose — and that they surely could have found a young actor in the early stages — it's true that Todosey does a good job. While it's hard to believe everyone simply accepted her as a male, her body language and mannerisms are convincing, and the contrast is especially stark when you see her out of character. The character, too, is reasonably filled-out: the writers talk about having read the online diaries of trans kids to capture their feelings (and GLAAD consulted on the script); while the character as written definitely checks all the boxes (anger, macho posturing, etc.), it's certainly no more cursory than, say, the parallel plotline of Anya dealing with her mother's cancer.
It will be interesting to see how the story is handled in future episodes: whether Adam is embraced as easily as he was by the school's administrators and his friends, or whether transphobia becomes an ongoing issue, particularly as relates to dating. There's an opportunity here for a lot of discussion and to reach a wide and youthful audience and that, in Arcade Fire terms, future episodes are more "Modern Man" than "Wasted Hours."
Adam Torres [Teen Nick]
Degrassi's First Trans Character, Adam: Interview With Actress Jordan Todosey [YouTube]