For the past five years, executives in Hollywood have begun taking stock of trans people and lives in an unprecedented way. Historic even. From Euphoria and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to Transparent and Pose, there's undoubtedly been a proliferation of trans characters on screen. And behind the scenes, trans creatives are taking on increasingly senior levels of creative responsibility and producorial power — think Our Lady J, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, Janet Mock, and so many more. But among all of this progress, there's still something of a disconnect. For the most part, Hollywood requires trans creatives to pick a lane — either write or act, but for the love of goddess, don't try to do both.
Enter Rain Valdez. On the face of it, there's nothing she can’t do. She writes. She acts. She produces. And through Now > Ever, her artist collective-turned-production company, she’s bringing along an entire cadre of trans and queer writers, producers, and performers with her. After two seasons of producing on Transparent and a recurring guest star role on TV Land's Lopez, this month Valdez is launching Razor Tongue, a series created by and starring herself. Following a storied LGBTQ+ festival run at Frameline, Toronto Inside Out, and OutFest, Razor Tongue is ready to make a splash with a wider audience.
Dubbed a “no-bullshit web series,” the project explores the complexities of finding a voice of self-love in a world filled with misogyny and discrimination. Valdez stars as Belle, a trans woman who exposes the damaging behaviors of certain men for her own personal fulfillment. She’s antagonized by Ariel (Alexandra Grey), a woke AF radio personality, into publicly calling out someone she loves (Sterling Jones), ultimately becoming the epitome of toxic “call out” culture.
With wit, hilarity, heart, a touch of drama, a season 2 of Razor Tongue already in the works, and an upcoming appearance on CBS's Why Women Kill, Valdez is poised to become television's first trans creator-star. Ahead of Razor Tongue’s premiere, which you can watch exclusively on Out.com below, we sat down with the everything-woman to hear more about the series, the state of trans Hollywood, and how she's made it all happen.
What does Razor Tongue mean to you? What inspired you to bring the character of Belle to the world?
I think there is a Belle in each and every one of us. We all have a razor tongue. It's that strength and wit that's buried deep within our consciousness. Some of us have to call it out and some of us use it very freely. I wrote this in the midst of the #MeToo movement and having worked on Transparent, I had to confront my place in all of it. I really had to interrogate my complacency and I decided to take a stand in support of my sisters Trace Lysette and Van Barnes when they came forward against their offender. Let me be clear, where I stood was a no-brainer because I knew what was happening pretty early on during my employment, but the whole experience made me angry and triggered so many things. Creating Belle and having her out in the world helped me come to terms with all the harassment, microaggressions, and misogyny I had to endure all my life. She's a symbol for me. She represents the times when I'm able to speak up and stand up for myself. She's also a reminder that I no longer have to endure certain kinds of behaviors anymore, a reminder that when I feel like I shouldn't have been spoken to that way, then I shouldn't have been spoken to that way. My hope is that a lot of women will be able to relate to her and find strength and healing.
The journey to make Razor Tongue can't have been easy — it's a giant endeavor to produce and fully fund a project like this. What lessons did you learn along the way?
I've always been that girl — "If I say I’m gonna do it, I'm gonna do it!" But this time was so different because it became quite clear that I wasn't going to be able to do this alone. I have a lot of people who believe in me and my voice, and there's a lot of community enthusiasm surrounding what I do. But I learned very quickly that wouldn't be enough. I had to figure out a way to turn that belief and enthusiasm into money and it wasn't easy. In order to crowdfund, I had to put my ego and my doubts aside. I had to let go of the idea that I shouldn't have to ask for money or that I didn't deserve to ask. But if I wanted Razor Tongue to happen, if I wanted to be a true leader who pays her crew, letting go of my doubts was essential to the process. Allowing me to ask for help and advice. Allowing my producers Alessandro Nori and Carmen Scott to take the lead in other areas. And it allowed me to ask for money and get creative about it. Geena Rocero and I hosted a Kamayan-style dinner where we charged a $100 per head. It's hard to raise money, but I learned to make it fun.
You worked with a predominately trans and queer cast and crew to make this show. How did it feel to be on such an inclusive set?
Razor Tongue employs 80% queer, trans, female, and POC in front of and behind the camera. I wouldn't have had it any other way. From the acting, to the crew, and the music and directing, I take pride in the fact that Razor Tongue is made for and by my community of artists. There is such a wealth of talent in this town that there wasn't even a thought to not be inclusive. We have cis folks and trans folks all doing their jobs and working harmoniously with all egos aside and it was one of the best experiences of my life. It felt like it was time, and why not us? And now we have this roster of queer talent and crew that I continue to refer to with any project I'm involved in.
One thing I love about the first episode is that it doesn't open with a conversation about being trans, but with a conversation about race and ethnicity. What informed that choice?
I wanted to lead into the series lightheartedly and with fun but also cringy and real. Because I'm trans, that seemed like the obvious choice but realistically it's not how my life is led. I'm lucky I even get to say that. The "where are you from?" narrative is something I have never been able to escape. Men love to exoticize women of color and think it's okay to do so. It's also not easy to place me and I think it's because of the lack of Asian American representation in the media. So it's a little bit of a spoof on that. The fact that I got to do that episode with Shaan Dasani who is also POC and trans was just the universe working it's magic. We first met the day of his callback and his audition was the best.
I'm fortunate that I get to read a lot of scripts and audition for roles, and I find that a lot of non-trans creators and writers are so quick to out a trans character in the first five pages of the script. Not mentioning trans in the first episode is not only intentional but also instinctive. My creativity doesn't revolve around my transness. It's not the most interesting thing about me. I am a woman of trans experience, yes, and part of the revolution is to talk about it and be as visible as possible. The other part of the revolution too, though, is to continue to establish our talent and our purpose regardless of our gender identity.
What are some of the other themes and concepts you sought to call attention to with this show?
The show isn't just about calling people out. It's also about discovering self love and what it means to have a voice, about confronting the consequences of situations you hadn't been in before until you actually take a stand for something. I thought a soapy comedy but with queer people would be a fun concept. I love characters that are nuanced, have a lot of complexity, and are raw. At the end of the series, Belle is forced to interrogate what exactly it is that she stands for. Is she a fraud or isn't she? Everyone will be able to relate to that and I'm excited to explore more of that in Season 2. And if I may let my ego speak, I also just wanted to call attention to my skills as an actor, writer, and producer. And that someone like me, a Filipina-American trans woman can be a lead in a show and it not have be about that.
In the midst of creating all of this brilliant work, what do you do to take care of yourself and nurture your creativity?
I find it so easy to bury myself in writing or in a project and produce the hell out of it. In a way, it's kind of my comfort space. What I'm having to learn is that if I want other things in life, if I want self care, love, and family, I have to trick myself into producing that too. Being a marginalized artist with some success has been the best thing that's happened to me but also has been the worst. When you live out and proud as a trans woman, you are constantly putting yourself in the line of fire. So, prioritizing self-care along with a spiritual practice is crucial. For me that's consciously surrounding myself with friends, family, and love. I have a lot of love, but I have to remember to bask in it. In this town, it's easy to forget.
The hookup scene between you and Sterling Jones is fire. Was that scene as fun to shoot as it looked? Why was it important to you to include such a spicy scene in the series?
I was actually very nervous about it because it was my first onscreen kiss, where I got to make out, rip clothes off, and pretend we're about to have sex. Also, Sterling is one of my best friends, so I was a little reluctant about his casting even though he was the best choice and the producers were all on his side. So, because of the friend thing I initially didn't think we'd have chemistry but it turns out I was wrong! Discovering the Belle and Austin dynamic with Sterling was a lot of fun for me. We had a lot of conversations about how important it would be, not just for the story but for the audience, to see. Whenever Belle is with Austin, we never talk about her transness. His attraction to her isn't dependant on her gender. It's important to me to combat all the fetishizing and stigmatizing media with content that desires, subjectifies, and romanticizes trans women. With Belle and Austin, it will always be this push and pull of their attraction to one another and how fun and messy it is. Same thing with the Ariel character played wonderfully by Alexandra Grey. It was important to just have her play a messy, complicated, vulnerable character that isn't trans.
What does the future hold for Belle? Do you have plans to continue Razor Tongue into future seasons?
I would love to shoot Season 2. It's already written. The world is bigger, Belle gets crazier, and the episodes are a little longer — so we'll need a bigger budget. In the last episode of Season 1, Belle outs herself on the podcast so in season 2, we will be exploring her life more as a trans woman and how she navigates that in this world. We also have Alexandra Billings attached to play a pivotal role in Belle's life. Season 2 is another dream I'll have to make true somehow, some way.
You can stream Razor Tongue below, available on YouTube: