In the wake of the meteoric rise of Laverne Cox just a few short years ago, many writers and critics marked the moment as the “Transgender Tipping Point” a moment where transgender folks were finally being seen in mainstream culture. And suddenly, the media went into a frenzy over telling transgender stories in ways that we’d never seen before.
However, as more transgender narratives began to dot the media landscape, from new web series shows to bathroom legislation, what was not discussed enough in these conversations were the people who paved the way for this moment to even happen. People who were daring, brave, and alone when they began fighting decades ago, not only for a movement but for their own dreams.
People like the incomparable Alexandra Billings.
While Billings’s profile seemingly rose out of nowhere in 2014 due to her role in the Emmy-award winning series Transparent she has been in the business for decades. And it is the arch of her long career, stretching back to the early 1980’s in Chicago, that is one of the reasons why we can see such a large cultural shift today.
When Billings transitioned decades ago, she saw no one like her on the stage or on the silver screen that gave her a possible model for breaking into Hollywood so she made one herself.
As Billings’s recent stage show “She, He & Me” came to a close in Los Angeles, we asked another Emmy-nominated trans actress, Jen Richards, to sit down with Billings for a frank conversation about Hollywood, identity, and the strength of being vulnerable.
So, she took a bunch of Facebook posts and put them all together and, I swear to God this is how it happened, she and I are both musical theater whores, so she took a bunch of her favorite songs, paired them with the Facebook posts…
Cis people can’t know this, how there is sometimes trauma simply opening the door and walking across the street. But what I believe is that time will change, and the dominance of straight white cis men will fade, is already fading, and “the other” will rise. And all these qualities, which were detrimental before, will become gifts. I think these kids who are transitioning at five or six will grow up feeling much more empowered than we ever thought possible
It’s very unique and very deep. We’ve tried to stay away from each other, like we’ve really tried. We finally succumbedshe’s kissing me on the head right nowwe succumbed to this love that felt inevitable and blinding. So, for both of us, it was less about gender and much more about what’s happening between us. And that’s always been true for me. I find all different kinds of bodies and shapes and humans attractive for very different reasons.
I’m done. I’m done with what you think, done with what they think, and done with what my wife thinks. I like these sides of me. I’m starting to like the way I look and sound. I like taking up a lot of space now, and I don’t attribute my aggression, my power, or my intelligence to be “manly.” It’s stupid, it doesn’t make sense to me.
However, disclosure is.
I have been on dates with men who didn’t know I was trans, so I feel more susceptible to that particular form of danger. And for other trans women, it’ll be the exact opposite. They may not have issues with disclosure, or even date men, but they might encounter a more consistent and heightened harassment in public spaces because they’re visibly trans. I’m curious because when we started this conversation, you described yourself as, based on the way you look and sound, you think you broadcast yourself as trans, but I don’t see you that way at all.
It could be because I take up a lot of space, but I also know what it feels like to be ostracized. I understand the difference between “Oh my god, here comes Elaine Stritch,” as opposed to “Oh my god, here comes a trans person.”
Listen, I have to go darling.
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