Have you seen Other People? It’s on Netflix, and I highly recommend it. It’s terribly sad (no spoilers) but also filled with a lot of joy — largely from the character of Justin, aka Justina Carrera, played by Josie Totah.
Other People is a semi-autobiographical story from former head writer of SNL Chris Kelly, who is also openly gay. The true scene-stealer of the film isn’t Jesse Plemons, who plays the fictional version of Chris, or even the always hilarious John Early, but Totah, the teen actor who puts on an incredible show for their entire family (programs, spotlight, and little sister assistant included).
Today, Totah (who is also known for playing Myron Muskovitz on Glee as well as Michael Patel on the recently canceled Champions) came out as transgender in TIME magazine, sharing that people have always assumed she identified as a gay boy.
“On the playground, I was the type of kid who wanted to sing with the girls, not play soccer with the boys,” Totah says in TIME. “Then I found myself playing that role once I got into the entertainment industry, and people kept assuming my identity. Numerous reporters have asked me in interviews how it feels to be a young gay man. I was even introduced that way before receiving an award from an LGBTQ+ rights organization. I understand that they didn’t really know better. I almost felt like I owed it to everybody to be that gay boy. But that has never been the way I think of myself.”
Totah specifies that her pronouns are she/her/hers and goes on to explain that she has always felt female.
“But it crystallized about three years ago when I was a 14-year-old watching the show I Am Jazz with my mother,” Totah says, explaining that the docuseries about trans teen activist Jazz Jennings helped Totah come out to her mom and begin hormone replacement therapy.
“I looked over at her in the middle of the show and said, ‘This is me. I’m transgender. And I need to go through this,'” Totah said. “My mother, who is immensely supportive and gracious, said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ Three days later I was meeting with my pediatrician, who referred me to a specialist, who put me on a hormone blocker. From that point on, I hit the ground running.”
Totah says she’s about to go to college, but will still be acting and hopes to “play roles I haven’t had the opportunity to play.”
“I can only imagine how much more fun it’s going to be to play someone who shares my identity, rather than having to contort myself to play a boy,” Totah says. “I’m going to gun for those roles, be it a transgender female or a cisgender female. Because it’s a clean slate — and a new world.”
Totah says that when her friends and family refer to her as Josie, she feels seen.
“It’s something everyone wants, to feel understood,” she says. “And, as a semi-religious person who went to Catholic school, I have come to believe that God made me transgender. I don’t feel like I was put in the wrong body. I don’t feel like there was a mistake made. I believe that I am transgender to help people understand differences. It allows me to gain perspective, to be more accepting of others, because I know what it feels like to know you’re not like everyone else.”
While on Glee, Totah says she was in awe watching co-star Lea Michele.
“She was fabulous. And it was fun to see her and the other girls wear dresses and put on lavish musical numbers. But it was also hard, because I wanted that to be me,” she said. “It’s a feeling I’ve experienced in nearly every project I’ve worked on.
In an interview about Other People, Totah told a reporter Kelly gave her the chance to develop the character based on what she liked. Watching her slay that performance is possibly the closest we’ve come to seeing Totah be herself on screen thus far, and so maybe that’s why it’s impossible to watch without a huge grin or happy laughter the entire time.
“I was finishing filming Glee when I was in the audition,” Totah said. “They said, ‘You’re going to have to dance and dress up. Are you okay with that?’ I said, ‘Give it to me!’ … This character really shows that it’s okay to be whoever the heck you are!”