Love Transamerican Style
By Clint Catalyst
Known by many for the cataclysmic romance that Showtime adapted into the movie Soldier's Girl, Calpernia Addams was thrust into the jagged-edged terrain of media scrutiny in 1999 when her army boyfriend, Barry Winchell, who was sleeping on base, was murdered by another soldier. A musician and burlesque performer at the time, Addams abandoned her artistic endeavors while mending her heartbreak and tending to the trial of Winchell's killer. Almost a decade later Addams is looking for love again, this time on TV in Transamerican Love Story, a competitive-dating reality show.
But first, her name. 'I worshipped Carolyn Jones as a child,' she says of the actress who played Morticia on the '60s TV series The Addams Family. She adopted Calpernia Addams as her stage (and legal) name. 'Calpernia was Morticia's aunt. She enslaved a minister and danced naked in the town square before being burned as a witch in 1706. So we have parallel career tracks.'
Unlike the U.K.-produced reality skein There's Something About Miriam -- which featured six contestants wooing a 21-year-old model named Miriam without revealing her identity as a trans woman until the finale -- the Logo show Transamerican Love Story is groundbreaking because each of the eight potential suitors was aware of Calpernia's gender status before filming began. There are no 'tucked beneath the skirt' punch lines or last-minute surprises.
'TV shows or movies about transgender people have skewed toward stories about their transition and adversities,' says Brian Graden, president of Logo and of MTV Networks Music Group Entertainment. 'So, ironically, telling a traditional romantic story may be the most groundbreaking aspect of this show.'
Though the show is a milestone in the treatment of its star, the show promises to be noteworthy for refusing to take itself too seriously.
'It's been tricky for me,' says Addams, 'because not only am I a trans woman, but I also have the heavy history of Soldier's Girl. After [the movie's release] I felt like I needed to be the absolute classiest, most intelligent figure I could be, to respect Barry's memory. But now, finally, years later? I'm ready to bust out. I'm ready to be sexy and funny. I'm ready to say things that I want to say that not everybody is going to agree with.
'The cool thing about Transamerican Love Story is that it's meta -- it's postmodern. So in the series [host Alec Mapa and I] kind of laugh at the genre and its conventions. We're all in on the joke.'