First Lady

3.17.2008

By Julia Serano

Since the 1990s, Candis Cayne has been dazzling queer audiences with her one-woman shows -- an outrageous and entertaining mix of comedy, dancing, and improv. Now she's finally broken into the mainstream on ABC's Dirty Sexy Money, playing Billy Baldwin's love interest, Carmelita, the first recurring transgender character played by a transgender actor on prime-time television. Trans writer and activist Julia Serano recently sat down with the newly minted California girl.

Out: For the uninitiated, tell us a little about your character.
Candis Cayne: I really think she is the most normal person on the show. And they've written her that way, which is amazing to me. She has her wits about her, she's honorable, she's moral. She's a mistress, though -- you know, there always has to be something. [Laughs] She and Patrick [Baldwin] have the most honest, real relationship on the show. I think that she has been through a lot, and I think only trans people understand what that means -- there's a sad wisdom to her.

Did you have any initial reservations about the role?
When I first read [the part], I was like, 'Ooh, a mistress.' I was a little worried, but that's the reality of how trans roles are written. There is a truth to that, though. There are a lot of trans women who are prostitutes and mistresses because of the sheer fact that they can't go out and get a normal job in society. Or they have wanted to start relationships with men -- like every other human being wants that personal relationship with another person -- but somehow can't because the men who are attracted to transsexuals are afraid of how their families would deal with it or how people will see them. For the most part, it's really hard to get into a relationship with a man who is strong enough to admit that that's what he likes.

I think that's part of what makes the scenes between Carmelita and Patrick so groundbreaking, because it's not a clich'd kinky-sex-on-the-side type thing. He is sincerely in love with her.
Exactly. So many times [in other shows and films] we see that [the man] doesn't know, and he's about to kiss this 'creature' whose coming for him, this succubus. So it's cool that [Dirty Sexy Money's writers] are writing it like that. They don't allow the audience to have a negative reaction.

I've also noticed that the media have tried to make a big thing of the fact that Billy Baldwin has been doing these love scenes with you, and he's been really cool with it, like it's no big deal.
He's so open and really nice and wants to be out there. He came to my last show here in L.A. and sat by the door and greeted everybody and was like, 'I'm here for Candis,' you know what I mean? It was really, really cool; he's a great guy.

Trans characters are often portrayed as mousy and embarrassed about being trans. But your character is refreshing because she's so unapologetic and unashamed about who she is.
That's so important to me. And I'm getting such a good response on MySpace from this. Trans people and their families saying, 'Thank you for not treating this like you're a victim.' I always say that -- I don't go through my life like I'm a victim, and nobody's allowed to treat me that way. I think that's important.

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