But although transsexual characters have appeared regularly on television since at least 1975 - when Archie Bunker unknowingly gave one mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in the back of his cab in All in the Family - they're treated as curiosities at best. When Helen Shaver played a college professor for a few episodes of the 2001-2002 CBS series The Education of Max Bickford, she was the first - and apparently last - regular transsexual character in prime-time history.
"You can often find stock transsexual characters on television, usually during ratings sweeps, " says Adams. "The two most popular are the Freak of the Week - a killer, psychopath, murder victim, prostitute - psychopath, murder victim, sex worker, or the Tragic Tranny - suffering from some horrible disease caused by their sex-change operation."
The rare character who falls outside those boundaries will still be used mostly as a punch line or punching bags. On Fox's Ally McBeal, where gays and ethnic minorities were inevitably treated with politically correct kid gloves, the title-character lawyer squirmed and made faces when she had to share an elevator with a transsexual woman.
There's nothing cartoonish about Normal. It not only charts the volcanic emotional upheavals triggered by a revelation of transexuality, but documents some of the pragmatic difficulties when a grown man must learn to walk, talk and dress like a woman - a process painfully familiar to most transsexuals.
"I did feel like I went through puberty at age 24, " remembers Addams of her own transition. "Learning to wear a bra, makeup, date boys, all that - everything other girls learn at age 13. And we're alone. Most of the time society hates us - people think we're freaks or whatever - so you're doing all this alone. And it can be really hard."
But Normal is fundamentally a love story, not a documentary on transsexuality, and not everything in it gets high marks for accuracy. Doctors who treat transsexuals say it focuses too much on surgery and not enough on psychotherapy. (Transsexual patients must undergo a year of psychiatric treatment before they're eligible for surgery.) And some transsexuals say the movie's happy ending, in which a marriage survives the husband's transition to become a woman, is unlikely.
"It didn't really tell the real story of the heartache, anguish and pain of losing everybody in your life, " says Broward's 68-year-old Arnold, who hasn't seen her children or grandchildren since her own transition six years ago. "Nine times out of 10 you lose your family."
It's not just family bonds that are torn. A transsexual who elects to "go full time" - that is, begin living as a member of the opposite sex - also puts friendships and careers at risk. The notion that genitals don't always equal gender still makes many Americans uncomfortable, a full five decades after an ex-GI named George Jorgensen returned from a Copenhagen clinic as Christine and first brought transsexualism to public light.
"We threaten a lot of people, " says Andrea James, who operates a website (www.tsroadmap.com) offering help to transitioning transsexuals. "We stand outside the binary gender system, and for a lot of people, that complicates life too much. Even the gay community is uneasy with us."
Addams can certainly attest to that. When her boyfriend Barry Winchell was beaten to death by other soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky., four years ago, gay activists often referred to her as a male drag queen rather than a transsexual woman. Because if Winchell was dating a woman, then how could his murder be called gay-bashing?