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 shes finally broken into the mainstream on ABCs Dirty Sexy Money, playing Billy Baldwins 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 theyve written her that way, which is amazing to me. She has her wits about her, shes honorable, shes moral. Shes 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 -- theres 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 thats 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 cant 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 cant 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, its really hard to get into a relationship with a man who is strong enough to admit that thats what he likes.
I think thats part of what makes the scenes between Carmelita and Patrick so groundbreaking, because its not a clichd 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] doesnt know, and hes about to kiss this creature whose coming for him, this succubus. So its cool that [Dirty Sexy Moneys writers] are writing it like that. They dont allow the audience to have a negative reaction.
Ive 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 hes been really cool with it, like its no big deal.
Hes 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, Im here for Candis, you know what I mean? It was really, really cool; hes a great guy.
Trans characters are often portrayed as mousy and embarrassed about being trans. But your character is refreshing because shes so unapologetic and unashamed about who she is.
Thats so important to me. And Im getting such a good response on MySpace from this. Trans people and their families saying, Thank you for not treating this like youre a victim. I always say that -- I dont go through my life like Im a victim, and nobodys allowed to treat me that way. I think thats important.
Youve done a lot of media appearances to promote the show. As trans people we get the typical set of questions, like When did you first know? How did your family react? and Did you have the surgery? What has it been like navigating all of that? Has it felt intrusive?
There are certain questions that are OK, to an extent. People are curious and they want to know, so I never shoot anybody down for questions that they have. It is a little odd that you are asked the same five questions everywhere you go. Its like, Didnt you see the first interview? [Laughs]
Whats been the most surreal question youve been asked?
I dont know. Do you like men or women? Thats so funny to me because your sexuality and your gender are two totally different things and they dont correlate at all. But how do you explain that in a two-minute interview? I wish it would get to the point where theyre like, Where do you get your hair done? [Laughs]
Do you see a time not too far off when trans actors or performers wont be barraged with all of the trans questions?
Its a hard question. I think trans people are where gay people were 20 years ago. Now nobody asks Carson Kressley, You like to be with men? [Laughs] When did you first know? All of that is just so in everybodys mind, but it wasnt [always]. I think that it will eventually happen -- it will just take a few years.
In the 90s you were in films like Wigstock, Stonewall, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. Then after your transition you stopped acting. Was that a deliberate decision? Or was it just too difficult to find acting jobs as a trans woman?
Before, I was doing drag, and it was during that whole drag revolution and RuPaul, and there were all these parts coming up. I started my transition around then. So I felt that I wasnt draggy enough for the drag roles and I couldnt get the female roles because I had been in the industry too long and everyone knew my background. I had to make a tough decision at one point and say its better to be happy in my personal life than my career. And I knew Id be happy living as a woman, so I made that decision. And there were years that I didnt work [as an actor].
But it wasnt for lack of trying.
Years ago I was like, Im going to try it. And I had casting people say, Well, I could never let you audition for a Crest commercial, because that would be a major lawsuit if they ever found out. And I was like, How? Im a person with nice teeth. [Laughs] It makes no sense how people think.
As if the deception myth applies to toothpaste commercials too.
Exactly! Like, Im finding that its hard for me to get an agent, even with a network show behind me. Basically what theyre saying is that it would demean the agency to the point where the other actors would think, Well, Im being represented by an agency that would represent a transsexual. But I knew that that was going to happen. Ive been fighting that battle my entire life, before I even started my transition. So I know that its going to happen, and I know Im going to find the right person. And I know that the path that I take will eventually lead to the place where Im supposed to go."