Equality

‘Transparent’ Star Puts Trans Issue in Perspective

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I recently ran into Alexandra Billings (“Transparent”), the first trans person I ever met or interviewed. Since the President has made transgender people an issue of national concern by Tweeting: “The U.S. Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” it’s an opportune time to revisit the “T” in LGBT.

Billings, who plays Davina on the Amazon series, transitioned from male to female in the 1980s when, “not only was it unheard of, it was illegal,” she said.

I met her in 1990s while I was working at the LA Times, when a magazine editor, whom I’d met at an event we both were covering, asked me to do a cover story on the transgender actor.

Click image to see red carpet interview with Alexandra Billings. 

I had no experience with the subject, but I was interested in learning more, because I had heard that a high school friend had a “sex change,” as it was referred to then. So I accepted the Advocate assignment, and met Alexandra Billings at the glamorous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

It was a fitting place for an interview with the actor (actor is considered a gender-neutral term in the entertainment industry).  She was playing a Nancy Reagan-esque character in a Larry Kramer play in Chicago, and came gliding into the ornate hotel, site of the first Academy Awards ceremony, with a regal air of old Hollywood. Then, as now, she’s a fashionable dresser and way better at accessorizing than me.

She explained that if I wanted to show that I cared about my high school friend and his feelings, I should stop referring to him with the improper pronoun. I realized I needed practice–we’d known each other so long. Old habits, you know.

Judith Light, Jeffrey Tambor, "Transparent" creator Jill Soloway.

Judith Light, Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway.

Now that it’s nearly 20 years later, it seems that kicking a trans soldier out of a job for no other reason than because they’re trans wreaks of injustice, a waste of time, and a waste of tax dollars.

Billings says she’s angry and feels hurt by the President’s Tweet, because she doesn’t believe “he gives us a second thought.” That he merely “knew he would make a lot of people happy and he did.” But she also believes he’s given trans people a “gift.”

“He’s opened a portal to a conversation nationally and internationally … now we get a chance to show ourselves in a whole new light.”

Since my first interview with Alexandra in ’99, the talented singer-actor-performer moved to Los Angeles. She’s appeared in films, on stage, and teaches acting classes when she’s not working on “Transparent.” The most poignant moment of that interview so long ago is still a powerful reminder to me about judging others. Alexandra—Alex to friends—told me she was in a relationship with her best friend, a woman. They have since married.

Alex and Chrisanne are now, I suppose in some people’s eyes, a lesbian couple. Alex doesn’t bother with labels, she just knows that Chrisanne has been there for her “forever”–they knew each other in high school. She is her rock, her love, and the person with whom she chooses to spend her life.

I got to chat with both of them at a recent sneak peek of Season 4 of “Transparent” before the Tweet happened (see attached video).  Alex joined costars Jeffrey Tambor, Judith Light, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, and other cast and crew, including show creator Jill Soloway, as Chrisanne looked on proudly from the audience. Alex’s frequent posts on social media hint at the tight bond they still have after all these years together.

They are still having fun, and, interestingly enough, fit the image of a solid, devoted all-American couple pretty well.

More on “Transparent.”

 

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications.
As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections.
Laurie Schenden’s international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages.
Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and is currently producing a documentary for her own company, Saving Grace Films.

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