Even before she became the first transgender woman in history to have a recurring role on a prime-time series, ABCs 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 couldnt change at that point.
Did you tell your parents before you decided on your transition or did you start transitioning and then think, Its time to tell my parents. I had started hormone therapy and was at the point where I couldnt 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 werent 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 [wasnt anybody else]. There was a handful of main drag queens who were working. So when I started I really didnt 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, its all about how you carry yourself. There were a couple years where I didnt 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.
Was your transition a natural progression for you or did you have to fight yourself? I dont think, when youre in this position, that you fight yourself as much as you fight your fear of the unknown. Because no matter how many people you see around you doing it, you dont understand it until you actually do it. For me, it was like finding a missing piece of the puzzle. I could breathe for the first time. I always felt more comfortable when I was going out at night then I was during the day. I always knew ever since I was little that I was supposed to be this way, I just didnt know what it was or how to do it.
Was there ever a point in your transition that you thought you might have made a mistake? A couple of bad relationships [can] discourage you, but for the most part but I never thought that I had made a mistake. A lot of transgender women feel insecure about how they are feeling about themselves, that they put up with a lot of bullshit, but those are things that every girl has to deal with. I remember the night I finally decided to go through my transition. I was alone in my little tiny New York studio apartment. I looked in the mirror and it sounds weird, but I saw this violet aura around me, and it was like a light bulb went off, and thats when I knew I wanted to grow old as a woman, not a man. The next day I called Paris and said, Girl, give me a shot! [Laughs.]
How long ago did you meet your boyfriend, Marco? I met Marco 10 years ago and we had a connection but he wasnt ready to get in a relationship -- he was still hitting up the Roxy until 7 in the morning and DJing the circuit parties. And I wasnt into that -- I was in bed by 3.
What was his sexual orientation before you met? Marco is straight but he worked at Splash as a bartender and his close friends were all the Chelsea muscle boys. A couple years later we met back up and still had that connection and realized that we were meant for each other.
Jumping forward, Marco now has a daughter, though she lives with her mother. What is it like being a stepmother? Its interesting because stepmothers always get the raw end of the deal. Theyre not as respected as the [birth] parents. But we have a great relationship.
At what point did you realize you were living the trans dream and how lucky you are? Whats funny is that I never really say that and I should. I have always been very driven and wanted to move forward, and [I'm always] moving on to different projects and wondering what the next step of my life is going to be. I am so used to fighting an uphill battle with my life that its rare that I actually get to sit back, relax, and realize that I really am very lucky.
Chaz Bono recently came out as being transgender and while other transgender actors and actresses were jumping on the press wagon to talk about being transgender in the industry, you didnt. You were even approached by Larry King. What held you back from talking about it? I did the press wagon the day it broke, and it comes to a point when youre beating a dead horse. I felt like I had already proven myself as a human being and so I didnt want to talk about it. I dont really have a sad story, which is hard for a lot of people to understand. Of course there were a couple of years in high school which were difficult but other then that I had it pretty easy. First and foremost I want to be a successful actress, entertainer, and performer. Just me being on TV shows like Dirty Sexy Money moves the community forward. I dont feel like I have to talk about it.
One of your upcoming projects is the next season of Nip/Tuck. How did that differ from Dirty Sexy Money? It was weird because for two years I was going to a certain set and working with the same people. It was the first time I went to a new set and it was really a nerve-racking experience. I had to put my nerves aside and realize that I was there for a reason and I just did my work. It was such an amazing experience and everyone was amazing with me.
Do you play a transgender woman on Nip/Tuck? I do, but there is an interesting twist. But you have to wait until January to see the episode! Marco and I are also filming a pilot called Yes We Can. Its about his life as a DJ in the scene and mine as a performer and actress trying to make it in Hollywood. Its really funny! Marco and I shot the first two days together and within the first 10 minutes he said a line that was really funny to me and I started cracking up. But after that it was just completely natural for us.
What is it like performing at the Abbey? It is kind of interesting because I have always told Marco that this would be the most amazing place to do a show. One day I was having dinner with [party promoter] Jeffrey Sanker and I was approached to do a show. Its amazing because it is so open and well-known and it is just such a gorgeous spot. In New York it was a lot easier to go out in the street and perform outside, which is one of my favorite things to do in my show. It doesnt stop me from doing that here. But at the Abbey people cant really see it live, they have to watch it on the screen when I perform outside of the building. In New York there was a lot of fun energy in the crowd, here it is a little bit more laid back.
To see Candis Cayne learning the rumba with Dancing With The Stars's Bruno Tonioli, head here.For more info on Cayne, head to her MySpace page.For more info on Joshua Miller, head to his website.Send a letter to the editor about this article.