Catching Up with Candis Cayne

11.8.2009

By Joshua Miller

Even before she became the first transgendered woman in history to have a recurring role on a prime-time series, ABC's Dirty Sexy Money, Candis Cayne was an industry veteran. With several movies credits to her name, including To Wong Fu', Wigstock, and Starrbooty, the blonde beauty has also starred in advertising campaigns, won the Miss Continental Pageant in 2001, and had a SKYY vodka cocktail named after her.

As Cayne prepares to join the cast of Nip/Tuck and perform a weekly stint at the Abbey in West Hollywood (recently voted "The Best Gay Bar in the World"
by MTV's LOGO), we caught up with her to chat about how she got her name, the challenges and triumphs of her transition, and being a stepmother.

Out: How did you decide on the name Candis Cayne?
Candis Cayne: My drag mother was Lana Cayne. I wanted to keep it in the family. But looking back, if I knew then what I know now, I would probably have my parents choose my name. But it was something that I just couldn't change at that point.

Did you tell your parents before you decided on your transition or did you start transitioning and then think, It's time to tell my parents.
I had started hormone therapy and was at the point where I couldn't go back. Then I came to the conclusion that it was time to tell them. They took it amazingly. My dad actually said, 'It makes more sense, you being a woman than a gay man.'

How did your twin brother take your transition?
He was fine with it. I have been fortunate enough to not lose any family members from my transition. It had a lot to do with the fact that I was raised very grounded and I remained that way. And they all realized that I was the same person I was 20 years ago, I had just grown up, grown wiser, and grown a pair of breasts [laughs]. But seriously, it was more comfortable for them that I had not changed mentally, just physically.

When you decided to move forward with your transition did you feel disconnected with your blood family? Did you feel more connected with your gay 'family'?
There definitely was [some of that feeling], not because of anything my birth family did but because when I started the process it was kind of an internal thing. I had to dive into it and not have any influence around me. It was weird for me because I was performing in drag at the time. I was really worried about my gay audience more than my family, because I was afraid that they weren't going to accept me as transgender. I decided to transition in front of them and talk about it openly.

Did you experience knowing somebody else who had transitioned publicly and lost some of their following?
No, because in downtown New York there [wasn't anybody else]. There was a handful of main drag queens who were working. So when I started I really didn't have that example and I knew that the trans world was always really separated from the Chelsea boys and the downtown scene. But I knew that because I was a good performer I had that edge, and if someone felt uncomfortable with the transition I knew they would still respect my performance.

In New York there are trans performers and personalities, like Amanda Lepore, who are a bit more animated. Who did you look up to during your transition?
My biggest inspiration was Paris. She was always well-rounded, well-cultured, and well-spoken. She dressed impeccably, she was elegant, and she had class. That was someone I looked at and I knew that's what I wanted to become. Even though I was known for wearing next to nothing, it's all about how you carry yourself. There were a couple years where I didn't go back home for family functions, I stayed in New York City. I made excuses not to go back to Maui -- if you can imagine that [laughs]. When I told my parents about my transition I wrote them each a separate letter, explaining to them personally what I was feeling, and they flew to New York a month later.

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