Law & Order: SVU

Tuesday's episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, "Transitions" (Tuesday, 10 pm/ET, NBC), takes on some controversial issues dealing with transgendered teenagers — that is, kids who choose to live their lives as the opposite gender. In their investigation of the attempted murder of a repo man in a strip-club parking lot, Benson and Stabler meet the man's estranged wife and his 13-year-old transgendered son, Henry, who now prefers to be called Hailey.

"These are people who feel they were born in the opposite body they were meant to be — when they know that, and if they're young, how should parents and schools address it?" asks SVU executive producer Neal Baer. Indeed, Hailey becomes the prime suspect in the case when it is revealed that her father is not supportive of her choice to change genders.

Baer says that while Hailey's story isn't "ripped from the headlines," its intention was to address a subset of issues specific to prepubescent transgendered kids. "The question this episode raises is: 'Do you really know when you're that young?'" he asks. In his research, writer Ken Storer learned that many transgendered kids take hormone blockers to inhibit the onset of puberty, making the switch conceivably easier — physically, at least.

To play the role of Henry/Hailey, casting director Jonathan Strauss saw nearly 200 kids before picking 15-year-old Bridger Zadina. It's essentially his first role, but the newcomer from Minnesota handles the tricky material with aplomb, moving deftly from aggressive teenager to scared, confused kid over the course of the hour.

Baer says that Zadina was a true professional about the demands of the part, coming into his audition having done his own research on transgendered teens. "He blew us away," Baer says. But his enthusiasm didn't come without hesitation. "He did say, 'Wow, what am I going to tell my friends?'" reports Baer.

Also appearing in "Transitions" are Daniela Sea (The L Word) as Hailey's transgendered boyfriend, Alex Kingston (who Baer says he "adores" from his days working on ER) as the prosecutor in the case and many real transgendered teens. Zadina will next appear alongside Kelsey Grammer and John Goodman in an animated Paul Bunyan film.

Watch full episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in our Online Video Guide