Ian Alexander doesn’t remember what happened to the princesses at the end. They had run away from the castle to become knights. The rest is vague, but it hardly matters.
Notably, Alexander was 11 when he reimagined those classic fairy-tale gender norms in his longest written story to date, the idea first emerging from an outdoor fantasy imagination game he created with his best girlfriend.
“I definitely had a crush on her,” Alexander tells INTO. “And I think (the story) was definitely my repressed feelings about my gender. You know, abandoning the castle, cutting my hair.”
Now 16 years old, Alexander continues to tell stories in written form, but also in film and on TV. In 2016, after responding to a Tumblr post seeking a female-to-male transgender teen, he was cast as Buck, a suburban high schooler whose father is grappling with his son’s queer identity, in Netflix’s sci-fi thriller The OA. The role was one of a kind –so rare, in fact, Alexander was the only Asian-American trans actor on screen that season, according to GLAAD –and it required no professional acting experience.
Save for community theater, Alexander hasn’t had any proper training, but “my parents tell me that I would be very dramatic and tell them, ‘I’m gonna be a movie star someday.'”
His lack of professional experience may even be one of his most marketable qualities, as he’s able to offer, he says, “an authenticity that brings a different level of emotions; it’s less of a performance and more of a reality.”
Alexander infuses his own trans experience into his next role as well, portraying Vic, a trans character in the forthcoming film adaptation of out novelist David Levithan’s YA book Every Day, a love story transcending the gender binary. In theaters Feb. 23, the film tells the story of 16-year-old Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) and her boyfriend, who is a disembodied soul, named “A,” inhabiting the human form via Justin (Justice Smith) and a myriad of other bodies, including Vic’s.
“There’s this heartfelt moment between A and Rhiannon where they discuss not every person’s gender matches their body, and for Vic that is the case,” Alexander says.
Initially, Alexander felt the role didn’t reflect the trans experience –or his, anyway. Vic’s character was described as “biologically female but gendered male” in the script, but after Alexander asked for a revised description, and even had a hand in the rewrite, the more-inclusive language came to instead acknowledge that “sometimes someone’s mind doesn’t match up with their body.”
For Alexander, he first confronted his feelings for the same sex at 11, before realizing that “maybe this isn’t all I have to discover about myself.” He would Google “female-to-male transgender” and stream YouTube videos on an iPad, discreetly hiding it from his Mormon parents. Acting hasn’t changed much about his everyday life. He comes home in the afternoon, does Every Day press in the evening. He paints and makes buttons inscribed with “Queer Power” and “Bite Me,” and shares his art and writing with Patreon subscribers. Any contributions made will help fund his impending move to Los Angeles to pursue a bachelor’s degree from USC School of Cinematic Arts.
In the meantime, his mom operates as his manager. “I think some people tend to forget that behind the screen, there’s just a kid. I’m just a regular high school student,” he says. And to some of his peers at his Washington D.C. school, who are oblivious to the fact that Alexander identifies with he/him pronouns, think he’s “that girl who was on that show once.”
On Twitter, where he has amassed nearly 40,000 followers, Alexander is a fiery sociopolitical force with a profile tag that reads: “NO TRUMP NO KKK NO FASCIST USA.”
“I try to bring light to issues that I feel are important to me as a person,” he explains. “I am sort of naturally an advocate, and if I see something that needs to be addressed, then I’ll talk about it. With social media, I feel like I have a platform.”
Alexander’s activism and general concern for others who feel or have felt marginalized isn’t limited to his social feeds, though. With Every Day, Alexander hopes to share the “simple” but important message that “love is greater than the boundaries society puts it in.” He sees many more transgender roles in his future, and though he doesn’t want to be typecast, he wouldn’t mind only portraying trans characters.
“Why can’t more characters be trans? Instead of having a trans actor play a cis role, why not just have the character be trans,” he says. “Not necessarily to fill a diversity quota or to follow a trans storyline, but to have the character just happen to be trans (without his or her transness) being the focus of the story. Having casual representation is really important.”
Further reflecting his boundary-breaking convictions is a portrait he’s currently painting that, much like his princesses-turned-knights story, explores gender norms. It’s for his AP Art portfolio, and as an extension of his sexuality and transgenderism, his theme is gender identity. Showing “the limits and divisiveness of the gender binary,” the painting is half typical female, half typical male.
As for those princesses, perhaps Alexander doesn’t remember the end because there never was one. Maybe, like his own career, it was all one big, marvelous beginning.