The Lives of Transgender Americans Have Never Been More Visible
When we were young and growing up in the 1980s and ’90s (the Wild West days of trans representation), the only folks we saw who were like us were the subjects of talk shows: gender warriors in compromised positions, fighting to keep their dignity in the face of coarse questioning, disgust, prurience, and pity. In that desert of trans visibility, at least these fragments were a clue that there were others out there.
Though there’s still plenty of room for improvement, things have come a long way since then. The recent progress we’ve seen in trans representation has given us whiplash. From our roles as producers on Transparent and our Emmy-nominated Web series This Is Me to Zackary’s role as a cast member on I Am Cait and Rhys’s trans history series We’ve Been Around, we have been honored to participate in the creation of trans content across multiple platforms. This “Trans in Hollywood” portfolio is close to our hearts because it reveals the building blocks of a movement — one in which trans people are not only represented on screen, but also contribute as authors, creators, and craftspeople behind the scenes in what are arguably the largest vehicles of human empathy: film and television.
While it was our fantasy for this feature to be exhaustive, it was logistically impossible to include every trans person who’s been blossoming in entertainment. The numbers of trans people working in film and TV is growing higher every day. And there will be many more still. This is just the beginning.
-Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker, Guest Editors
Left to right: Candis Cayne, Rhys Ernst, Zackary Drucker, and Laverne Cox.
Photograph by Emily Shur. Styling by Leona Mizrahi. Cayne's hair: Joseph Orozco. Cox's hair: Kiyah Wright for Exclusive Artists Management. Cox's makeup: Deja. Other hair and makeup: Jeffrey Paul for Exclusive Artists Management. Prop stylist: Ali Gallagher. Cayne: Dress by Alberta Ferretti. Shoes by Vince Camuto. Ring by Alexis Bittar. Necklace by Jack Bella. Enrst: Suit, shirt, and bow tie by Sharpe Suiting. Drucker: Dress by Rhea Costa. Shoes by Christian Louboutin. Earrings and rings by Circa 1770. Cox: Dress by Rhea Costa. Shoes by Stuart Weitzman. Earrings and ring by Circa 1770.
The Cast and Crew of 'Transparent'
Read more here.
Photography by Emily Shur.
Top Row: Rain Valdez (director’s assistant), Sophia Grace Gianna (actor), Cat Pontell (camera department), Rhys Ernst (producer), Mariana Marroquin (actor), Trace Lysette (actor), Zackary Drucker (producer), Alexandra Grey (actor), Natasha London (costumes).
Bottom Row: Van Barnes (assistant to Jeffrey Tambor), Silas Howard (director), Hailie Sahar (actor).
Jill Soloway, Writer/Director
Photography by Emily Shur.
For her Amazon show Transparent, Jill Soloway bought 250 copies of Julia Serano’s transfeminist manifesto, Whipping Girl, for her cast and crew to read. It’s little wonder the show has been so revolutionary in terms of trans representation and trans cast and crew hiring practices, because it began with a radical notion — and the ambition to crank it all the way up. “We’re so at the beginning with this kind of revolutionary idea about gender,” she says. At the outset of the series, she says she and producer Rhys Ernst had discussed this, and he said, “Gender freedom for one means gender freedom for all.” Adds Soloway, “And freedom for one means freedom for all. [We were] at zero with that idea. I think it can explode to 100. We are at a history-making place.”
Alexandra Billings, Actress
Photography by Emily Shur. Photographed at Cactus Cube Studio on August 16, 2016.
What can Alexandra Billings, who plays Davina on Amazon’s Golden Globe-winning Transparent, tell us about the new season?
“Maura [Jeffrey Tambor] and I make up after she was a real jerk in the last season,” the actress says. “That’s all I can tell you. I feel like I’m going to get fired.”
We’d bet against that, since her character offers much needed direction and empathy to Maura, as well asguidance to many of the show’s viewers.
“[Being trans in Hollywood] means that there’s hope for us, and there’s hope for the marginalized,” says Billings. “It’s less about trying to make money and more about trying to be compassionate and get along with each other and be kind.”
Photography by Emily Shur. From left: Chandi Moore, Caitlyn Jenner, and Ella Giselle. Jenner Hair: Courtney Nanson. Jenner Makeup: Kip Zachary for Cloutier. Giselle and Moore Hair: Patrick Chai for Exclusive Artists. giselle and moore Makeup: Anton for Exclusive Artists. Photographed at Cactus Cube Studio on August 12, 2016
Candis Cayne, Actress
Photography by Emily Shur. Styling by Leona Mizrahi. Hair: Joseph Orozco. Jumpsuit by Alberta Ferretti.
Candis Cayne made history on ABC’s 2007 series Dirty Sexy Money as the first transgender actress to play a recurring trans character in prime time. But being a trailblazer can take a personal toll, and on I Am Cait, Cayne was able to open up to Caitlyn Jenner — and show the flip side to her glamorous, proud persona. “I had to represent our community. There couldn’t be a loose brick in this wall!” she says. “So it was cathartic for me to talk about the problems I’ve had being in this industry and the misogyny in our gay community against trans women.” But Cayne says she senses a shift in the air. “For the first time in my life… I feel like the wind is at my back. Everything is opening up for us now.”
Photography by Emily Shur. From left: Tony Phelan, Joan Rater, Laverne Cox, Imogen Binnie. Styling by Leona Mizrahi. Hair: Joseph Orozco. cox: Dress by Maison Rabin Kayrouz available at Barneys. Shoes by Suart Weitzman. Ring, earrings, and bracelet available at The Ruby.
Laverne Cox, Actress
Read more here.
Photo of Laverne Cox. Styling by Leona Mizrahi. Hair: Joseph Orozco. Dress by Maison Rabin Kayrouz available at Barneys. Shoes by Stuart Weitzman. Ring, earrings, and bracelet available at The Ruby.P
D’Lo, Erika Ervin, Elliot Fletcher
Photography by Emily Shur. Hair: Patrick Chai for Exclusive Artists. Makeup: Anton for Exclusive Artists. Photographed at Cactus Cube Studio on August 12, 2016
D’Lo, actor, writer, comedian:
“Being trans in Hollywood means being part of something beautiful and new,” says D’Lo. “We’re seeing more multidimensional, intersectional realities on the screen.” This is a change the actor, writer, and comedian is himself contributing to: His new Web series, Private Dick, about a transgender Sri Lankan-American private detective, premieres October 3. “I don’t know that if it were any other time, people would care to listen,” he adds. “But these mu-fuckas have been fighting, like really steamrolling, and not letting it be something that people who don’t know our reality get to dictate.”
Erika Ervin, model, actress:
From 2006 to 2008, Erika Ervin lobbied to improve the Affordable Care Act for the trans community. “There is a correlation between our medical necessity and our civil liberties,” she says. “One of the benefits to getting health insurance is to cover transitioning as if it were any medical condition.” Ervin has also appeared in American Horror Story: Freak Show and stars in the upcoming film Chimera.
“I make a living as a tall, Amazonian woman,” says Ervin, known professionally as Amazon Eve. “I travel around doing comic-cons and sign autographs in places like Corpus Christi, Texas. I try to put my best foot forward for us.”
Elliot Fletcher, actor:
Just a few years ago, Elliot Fletcher was the first openly transgender graduate of his traditional high school in Los Angeles. Now the 20-year-old has moved to Tinseltown, where he’s found roles acting on ABC’s The Fosters and MTV’s Faking It.
“I try to focus less on my trans identity because it’s not everything that I am,” says Fletcher. “But it is cool to be one of the only out trans guys in Hollywood.”
Shadi Petosky, Showrunner/Producer
Photography by Jeaneen Lund. Photographed at Cactus Cube Studio on August 16, 2016
“Being in L.A. when Jared Leto gave his terrible Golden Globes speech and was applauded and awarded made me want to crawl under a rock,” says Shadi Petosky, showrunner for Amazon’s animated Danger & Eggs, a frenetic adventure series about a daring girl and her best friend, an anthropomorphic egg. But things have changed a little since then. For a start, Petosky has a show on Amazon, “which I never thought was possible for a trans person,” she says. As someone who grew up nose-deep in indie comic books and animation as a way to simultaneously hide and find herself, she finds it especially rewarding to carve a space for herself in children’s programming. In the process she has noticed that trans people who’d given up on Hollywood are now returning as doors begin to open. “I was the only trans person at every party I went to for years,” she says. “Now there are three of us at any event.”
Geena Rocero, Model/Producer
Photography by BJ Pascual.
Look up supermodel Geena Rocero’s 2014 TED Talk about coming out as trans and one thing leaps out: The video of her appearance has been viewed a staggering 3 million times. That’s advocacy. “It took me a long time to get to that moment to finally share my journey, my culture, and get rid of internalized shame and heal myself,” she says. “Now I get to explore my full self with all the gifts that I share with the world.” Since the talk, Rocero has launched Gender Proud, an awareness campaign and media company that focuses on telling stories about what it means to be trans and gender-nonconforming. “We have to ensure that we don’t fall into the trap of respectability politics when it comes to the stories that are being told,” she says. “I can’t wait to see trans Marvel superheroes, trans in James Bond, trans in Pixar, and trans romantic comedies.”
Photography by Jeanine Lund. From left: Angelica Ross, Sydney Freeland, and Jen Richards. Photographed at Cactus Cube Studio on August 16, 2016.
Kate Bornstein, Author/Gender Theorist
Photography by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.
“There’s been a lot of excitement in my life this year,” says playwright, author, and gender theorist Kate Bornstein. “I got to dive back into acting, spending all of February on a theatrical tour in England. I spent a season as a cast member of I Am Cait. I made deep new friendships with smart, brave, loving trans women, and I got to contribute to making reality TV a tool for social activism.” She’s also been working on a new edition of her first book, Gender Outlaw. “That book has come to mean so much to so many people for the last 20-plus years,” Bornstein says. And having also just finished filming a cameo in queer actor-producer Damon Cardasis’s upcoming film Saturday Church, she has begun work on a new book. “When I started my journey in the early 1980s, trans meant I was a one-in-a-million freak — basically there was Christine Jorgensen, then Renée Richards, then me,” she says. “But now trans has become an international family of people who are encouraging and empowering each other to live more authentically along a planet-wide spectrum of gender identities.”
“Every individual is unique, and we each have our own special experiences,” says Laith Ashley De La Cruz, a model who appears in the new Oxygen model reality series Strut. “However, there are universal experiences and struggles we all share.” De La Cruz, who grew up dreaming of playing in the NBA, has already helped to challenge prejudice by appearing in the acclaimed 2014 Barneys campaign “Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters," photographed by Bruce Weber. He’ll do so again, not only on Strut, but as one of 40 trans subjects photographed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders as part of the photographer’s upcoming survey of trans leaders. His portrait (shown here) will be on view at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles as part of “IDENTITY: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders The List Portraits,” through February.
Dominique Jackson, Model
Photography by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.
For Dominique Jackson, who is signed to Slay Model Management in Los Angeles, television reality shows like Strut can be a tool for empowerment — “especially for women and trans women who are underprivileged and marginalized.” Jackson, who documented the hardships she faced growing up in Trinidad and Tobago in her memoir, The Transsexual From Tobago Revised, has appeared off-Broadway in Incongruence and walked the runway for designer Stevie Boi. Now she’s ready for a bigger platform. Says Jackson, “Being trans in Hollywood means visibility, which leads, hopefully, to normalcy.”
Mya Taylor, Actress
Photography by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.
After rising to fame in Sean Baker’s iPhone 5-shot indie hit, Tangerine, Mya Taylor has not let opportunity pass her by. She won a Gotham Award for Breakthrough Actor and signed with a hotshot agent at ICM. She even got to play trans legend Marsha P. Johnson in the short film Happy Birthday, Marsha. Yet Taylor knows the road is never easy. Her experience as a sex worker was a direct consequence of the discrimination she faced looking for employment. “I had applied for 186 jobs in one month, and at the time I wasn’t doing great with money,” she recalled in an interview with Out last year. “I had gotten a jaywalking ticket, and the state wouldn’t let me get my name changed legally until that was paid. So, whenever I applied for a job, they’d see a male name that didn’t match up with what I looked like. Translate that to the street with those other girls. They’ve tried to get jobs — they’ve really, really tried. So they resort to sex work, because it’s fast, and it’s easy money.” Now, Taylor wants to show the world that she can play cisgender roles, too. She says with a laugh, “I mean, that’s what I look like.”
Scott Turner Schofield, Actor
Photography by Olivia Hemaratanatorn.
“I’ve wanted to be an onscreen actor since I was a small child,” says Scott T. Schofield, who stars in the CBS soap The Bold and the Beautiful. “Being trans was a hurdle at first, and now it’s a value-add to my skills.” As the first transgender actor to play a major, recurring role on a daytime drama, Schofield is well aware of the weight he is carrying. “It’s a win for us to have finally put a trans actor on the most-watched TV show on the planet,” he says. “And it’s a win for the viewers, who think they don’t know any trans people, who haven’t had their minds opened to the very special things that transgender people have to teach the world.” For an actor who spent years circumnavigating the industry’s closed doors by creating his own projects, the transition to mainstream entertainment has been revelatory. “Now, every day I go on set feels like redemption in the face of the discrimination I’ve lived through.”
Nick Adams, Trans Media Advocate
Photography by Jeanine Lund.
As the director of GLAAD's Transgender Media program, Nick Adams collaborates with Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes players — writers, casting directors, showrunners, network executives, and publicists — to facilitate factual and authentic transgender storytelling. It’s necessary work, considering that a mere 16% of Americans say they know someone who is transgender.
“For 84% of Americans, everything they know about transgender people is coming from the media,” says Adams. “Therefore, it's important that Hollywood tell stories that reflect the true, lived experiences of transgender people. It needs the voices of trans people to help them do that.”
Adams recalls one particularly rewarding moment in 2010, when he was consulting on Degrassi: The Next Generation, and helped introduce Degrassi High’s first transgender student, Adam, to the series. After garnering a Peabody award and an Emmy nomination, the show facilitated another breakthrough: “A young 13-year-old transgender boy came to the support group I run for trans youth and said that he was able to come out as trans to himself and his parents because he saw Adam on TV,” says Adams. He cites this as one of his greatest personal accomplishments.