What are your pronouns?
Where do you work?
I work at a dog-walking/pet-sitting company. I love it. I’ve loved animals my whole life. I’d much rather work with animals all day than people. I really don’t have the temperament for retail or any kind of customer service job. So talkin’ to dogs all day is great, and getting paid for it is even better. The problem is it’s not super flexible for my acting schedule because I have the same dogs every day, and if I can’t walk those dogs, I have to find another person in my company to walk them. So if I can’t, I can’t go to auditions. So I’m trying to find a different job, but I am really happy at my job, so it’s a conflicted thing. I love my job, but it’s kind of getting in the way of my acting career. But I love dogs. They’re so good. All the animals are good. It’s hard, but I still think it’s better than a lot of other jobs I could personally have for myself.
Do you have any hobbies or special interests? What do you do for fun?
I guess it’d be mainly acting, and I’m a drag performer. So I do that as much as I can. My roommate’s a much more successful drag performer, so I thankfully get to do a lot of their shows. I don’t get paid a whole lot from that, but I do try to pick more things up when I need the money. I’ve found that drag combines all my favorite parts of performing, and then adds all the gender stuff on top of it, so it’s really just my favorite form of performance and…cathartic-ism. A lot of times I’ll just create numbers because I need to get something off my chest. It [can] really help me get through a lot of stuff. So that’s, I guess, what I do with my time when I’m not walking dogs.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
It really depends on the situation, because if I’m at Starbucks and they mis-gender me, I’m not going to spend a whole conversation correcting them. I move on when it’s customer service and stuff like that – if it’s someone I’m never going to talk to again, why would I bother? But then if it’s someone I’m going to see again, you know, friends of friends that I’m meeting, and they keep messing up – if it’s someone that I think is worth keeping around in my life, I’ll correct them. But if I don’t, that probably means I don’t much care for you and you don’t matter enough for me to put in this effort. It’s painful no matter who is mis-gendering me, but it also takes an enormous amount of energy to correct someone and then possibly have this whole ensuing conversation about pronouns and my gender and the validity of that. And I don’t want to do that most of the time, so unless I think it’s worth having that conversation with you, I’m probably not going to have it. Because it’s just a waste of my time.
If I’m at a party, I’m going to make sure people are using the right pronouns for me. If I introduce myself to someone I usually say my name and pronouns and hope that they’re going to give me their name and pronouns back. I think that’s something we should all be normalizing, whether we’re trans or cis or non-binary or whatever. We should all just be telling each other our pronouns so we can all refer to each other correctly. So, again, I’m not going to push the issue if it’s someone I’m probably not going to see again, but I do try to stand up for myself until it gets too exhausting and then I give up and I’ll probably go home, because I’m tired.
Have you had difficulties with changing your name and the way it affects you moving through the world, being recognized how you want, or being mis-gendered?
On so many different levels. On a personal level, my parents have gotten a lot better with the name. The pronouns are still hard for them for whatever reason, but they don’t deadname me very often anymore which is nice. At this point not a lot of people in my life even know my deadname, which is fantastic, and I was talking to someone who I’m doing a photo shoot with tomorrow who I haven’t talked to in like four years, and they [said], “Oh, do you prefer Bear or your deadname?” And I was like, “Oh my god it’s been a long time since we talked. I don’t use that name at all unless it’s for legal situations.” They were like, “Oh cool, good to know.” So it’s usually not a problem, except for when I use my ID, or when friggin’ restaurants don’t ask you your name and just use the name that’s on your card. That’s always the worst.
But today, I went to do my audition, I had to check in with security, and I handed them my ID, and they looked really confused, and I saw they were checking a list, and I [told them it was going to be under Bear]. And when they were making my nametag the guy looked at me like I was crazy, because my name is Bear. Because my name is Bear, and that’s what I chose, people like to give me a lot of shit. Or Uber drivers like to [say], “Oh, you don’t look like a Bear, ha ha ha,” and I’m like, “Wow, great, never heard that one before. You’re so funny.” Or people will repeat it a lot [and say], “Are you sure?” And I [say], “Yeah. Like the animal? It’s a four-letter word? It’s really easy.” I thought I made it really easy for myself, but apparently I didn’t. So yeah, it’s a mess. But I am very lucky that most people don’t even know my deadname, and those that do don’t deadname me much anymore, and I’m very, very thankful for it.
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
In literal terms, I consider myself trans non-binary. I do just consider my identity to be really aggressive and obnoxious, honestly. I quite enjoy it. But I do want people to know that I’m trans. I’m certainly not trying to hide it in any sense of my identity ever.
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
On days when I’m dog-walking I’m just in my most comfortable, warm, weather-appropriate clothes. I’m not trying to do anything. But on days when I’m going out as myself, I try to make it clear that I’m not cis or one or the other. My aim is always to confuse. It’s been to confuse. Even before I knew I was trans, I’ve always wanted to confuse people with my clothing and makeup choices, I suppose. It’s been a whole evolution. I don’t know how I ever thought I was cis. But, you know, we all did it once. [laughs] Yeah. Confusion is usually what I aim for. My favorite is when kids point at me and ask their parents questions. I know a lot of trans people find that rude, and I understand that, but for me it’s really validating, because I want people to [say], “What are they?” and [I say], “Yes! Correct! Yes!” So that’s usually my goal.
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
I mean, when I was really little, like 4 or 5, I definitely knew I wasn’t a girl, but it wasn’t super important. All I knew was that I wanted to be my brother. I have a brother who’s 5 years older than me, and he was the coolest person in my world. When his favorite color changed, my favorite color changed. I wanted to do everything he did. I shopped exclusively in the boys’ department from the time I was 5 till I was 12. And now I’m back to shopping in the boy’s department because kids’ clothes are cheaper and they fit me better, honestly. I am small. And I was always confused as a boy until boobs happened, and my parents usually were really embarrassed, but I always thought it was really funny. I just never corrected anyone. I never outright said, “I’m not a girl,” because I don’t think I needed to say that, but I definitely knew that what being a girl meant wasn’t what I fit into. And then it just became less important, and I realized being a girl means you can act however the fuck you wanna be, because that’s what all genders mean. There’s no rules on how to be anything. Then my friends started coming out as trans in high school, but I didn’t really start questioning my gender until the summer after my freshman year of college, and then I officially came out as non-binary when I started my sophomore year of college.
Honestly I think high school was more helpful [than college]. I had one friend who was older than me come out pretty early on as genderqueer. I had two friends about the same time come out as trans men, and they medically transitioned around the same time which was really fascinating.
Mainly because they were at such different socioeconomic places that the other was – I feel really lucky that I got to see how different it is to be a trans person with a lot of money and to be a trans person with very little money. Because it’s a very big difference. So I really think high school was more important. I did minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies, so I think I took my first Gender Studies class my second semester of freshman year. So I think I had it all swirling in my head from high school, and then I started really questioning it in college, just because I had the space away from everything else. But I feel like I educated my college a lot more on stuff than my college educated me, to be honest. [laughs] I guess the main problem I had is my school paints itself as this super liberal progressive place, and “liberal” is certainly the right word for it, “progressive,” I don’t know. And just as I was there longer and longer, and especially now, I just see so much of the façade of what it was, how they don’t actually care about anyone, and they don’t do anything to help their minority students, and it’s a mess, and institutional education is a problem in America. That’s a whole other conversation. The end.
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
Yes. I’m super lucky. I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, and specifically this town was a liberal artsy fartsy hippie town, and I was super lucky that my parents just didn’t enforce any kind of gender roles on me or my brother. The baby doll I had was because when my brother was little he wanted a baby doll, so I had never asked for one, it was handed down from my brother. The reason we had a toy kitchen was because my brother wanted a toy kitchen. Whatever either of us wanted to do we were allowed to do. I was definitely considered a tomboy as a kid. As I said I wore only boys’ clothes, I just wanted to be dirty and play sports and do whatever, but I never thought that that made me a boy. I was just like, Yeah, again, girls can do whatever they want and still be girls. That doesn’t change anything. But I’m super lucky that my mom, even though she didn’t really want to, she let me shop in the boys’ department and she bought me those clothes. Not a lot of parents would do that.
Something that was eye-opening about college was meeting other people who didn’t grow up in liberal places like I did, and didn’t have parents that accepted their non-conformity in whatever way that was. And I really realized how incredibly lucky I am to have the parents and the family that I have that have accepted everything about me. Even before I had words for it. They always [told me], “Whatever you wanna do, we’re gonna support you. Just don’t hurt other people.”
Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?
I guess a lot of it is just both from the cis and the trans community, and even the non-binary community, this feeling of not being “trans enough.” A big problem I’ve had within the non-binary community is that people will [say], “I’m non-binary transmasc [transmasculine], I’m non-binary transfemme [transfeminine],” and I’m sitting here like, Well the whole reason I say I’m non-binary is because I’m neither of those. I don’t consider myself masculine or feminine. Sometimes I lean one way or the other, but – I thought that’s why we were all identifying as non-binary. Not to mean people can’t be non-binary and transmasc or transfemme, because of course they can, but there was a time when I felt like everyone was being forced to pick sides again. And I was like, No no no no no, I’m just non-binary. I don’t want to be associated with any gender at all. I don’t see it on myself, I don’t see it in clothing or items, I just want to look cute and be cute and do stuff. So that’s been my main issue, is [this idea of], “Yeah, non-binary, but we’re still gonna force you into a binary again.” I feel like that’s a big issue in the trans community, is creating more binaries, even when we don’t mean to. Or this whole issue of saying, “All non-binary people must be trans,” when not all non-binary people are comfortable identifying as trans. That’s just creating another binary of, if you’re not cis then you have to be trans. Says who? You can be non-binary and not be trans. I’m just sick of more binaries being created within our own community. It’s frustrating.
In your own words, how would you explain the differences and/or similarities between gender identity and sexual orientation?
They’re separate. They’re completely separate spectrums. Gender identity is your gender, how you feel that you are in relation to your society’s gender norms or the way that you aren’t in relation to your society’s gender norms. And then your sexual orientation is what gender norms you’re attracted to, honestly, is the way I would see it. Because gender norms come in all variances of genders, and I think people are more attracted to specific traits than they are actually specific genders. That’s my own personal thing. Sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to, gender identity is who you are, in the simplest terms without getting too wordy. I think they can affect each other, but they don’t cross. They’re parallel to each other, but they never meet. You know? They’re never going to be the same thing. Trains! They’re trains.
How do you feel represented in media and society at large?
I don’t? I guess we have more? I’m told we have more? I guess I don’t watch anything that has non-binary characters in it other than Adventure Time.
I mean, not non-binary, but one of my best friends was one of the first transmasc people on TV, and was on The Fosters – Cole – and that was a big deal. But that’s the last time I remember really seeing a young trans person actually doing gender stuff. I know there’s a non-binary person on Billions, and I’ve heard them in interviews, and – at least with their first few interviews, I did not agree with a lot of what they said. I think my main problem with that is: they can say whatever they want about their own gender, but the problem is people are then going to take that and think that it applies to all non-binary people. So I just wish they had picked their language better, or realized that they were going to be the first non-binary person that a lot of people were meeting going on Ellen, you know? Knowing that you’re going to be the representation means that you have to be more careful about the language you pick. And as someone who wants to be a non-binary actor, performer, and would like to have more of an activist spot, that’s something I would like the ability to be aware of. Just to be aware of the privileges that I hold as a white, skinny, able-bodied, non-binary person who does conform to certain American beauty standards. I know where I stand in the non-binary community compared to a lot of other people. And if I ever get that platform, that’s something that I would really need to be aware of and check myself on and that I think everyone needs to be checking themselves on in general, whether you’re non-binary or not. But of the non-binary people that I’ve seen speak out, that’s the main issue I have, is you just have to be so careful knowing that you’re the first introduction [for] so many people, and that when these people meet other non-binary people in their real life, they’re going to now have these notions, and you want them to be good and not too specific. There needs to be more trans people in the media in general.
Sabrina! There’s a trans person on Sabrina, and I’m excited to see where that goes. That’s the only thing about Sabrina I’m excited about, because that show’s terrible. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix. It’s bad. It had the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard in my life, it was a chore to finish. My girlfriend and I had to finish it. We were like, if we start this, we gotta finish it. But I have to watch the second season, because they’re going to do a whole non-binary thing with Susie, because the actor who plays them is non-binary, and now I gotta see that. But god, that was some of the worst dialogue and acting I have ever seen. But it looked cool. Aesthetically I was a fan. If no sound came out of anyone’s mouth, I would’ve really liked it. And if there had been more Salem. What the heck? How do you underutilize the best part of Sabrina? We have been watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch, because it’s much better. Honestly, it 90% holds up. It’s pretty great, compared to other [older] shows. I’ve re-watched How I Met Your Mother, Parks & Rec, and 30 Rock many, many times. They all started around the same time, and they all have some transphobic jokes in the first couple of seasons. But How I Met Your Mother is the only one that continues to have transphobic jokes in every single season until it ends. I watched it a lot in high school, so I wasn’t aware of it, and then I re-watched it a couple years ago and I was like, “Oh, nope. I can’t watch this ever again. This is bad.” So Sabrina the Teenage Witch is my gender. [laughs] Anyway, media’s a mess, and more trans people need to write, direct, and produce things, and then cast trans people to be in them. Is how we fix things. Give trans people money so they can do that. Give trans creators your money. So that I can have a job. [laughs]
What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities, and in society at large?
Wow. The big one is: the callout culture needs to stop. We need to stop assuming that someone is an evil person that needs to be cancelled because they did one thing. We need to evaluate that one thing, and see the history of this person, and the context. I just feel like we all think the best thing to do is to always jump to the side of the person who’s calling that person out. But there’s actually a huge issue within the queer community of using callout culture to blackmail people, and having a lot of false allegations about a whole myriad of things just to ruin other people in the community. And this goes for honestly all the communities I’m in right now. It’s a mess. I feel like straight people assume that all queer people get along because we’re all queer, but there’s so much in-fighting, and “I need to be the purest queer, and be better than all the other queers.” Why can’t we all just realize that we all have things that make us problematic, and instead of cancelling each other, [we should] help educate each other and work on it and build each other up so we can all be better? I just think instead of cancelling people we need to try to educate them, and if that doesn’t work, sure, cancel them, fuck ‘em. But we can’t just be jumping to conclusions. Because that’s just going to cause more problems. And it’s just been driving me nuts. Not all trans people come from the same fucking place of privilege and access to education, or knowledge, or Internet. We all come from different places, and some people need more education on some things than others. And we should all be helping each other. Not tackling each other to the fuckin’ ground.
Like this whole [Jussie Smollett] issue. Everyone jumped to different conclusions, and now it’s a whole mess. [He’s an] actor from Empire who said he was the victim of a hate crime, and then it turned out he lied about it, and now people are saying that he paid his brothers to do it, and he says that’s not true. It’s this whole thing about a false hate crime on a queer person of color. But what about all the white people that got people of color jailed for false allegations? Everyone’s like, “Wow, way to screw over the queer community,” and I don’t think that’s what he was trying to do at all. I think we need to look at things from all different perspectives and not jump to conclusions about any kind of shit. Because now people are trying to say, “Oh, false allegations are such a huge issue.” Yeah, they are, but mostly by white people. He’s getting in all this trouble, and people are saying he should go to jail, and it’s like – okay, but there’s always other people that that should be happening to, so are you just saying this because he’s black? Is it because he’s gay? I don’t know. It’s such a mess.
Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you?
This is going to sound really cheesy, but meeting my partner was really impactful to how I continued to live my life in New York. Because they’ve lived in New York since they were 6 years old, and they’re the first relationship I ever had, and they’re the first gender nonconforming person that I started dating. They’re a really amazing person, and they just really brought me out of my shell and helped me realize that I don’t need to be searching for commercial success in acting, and that I should be making my own place. And they did really help me with a lot of my gender feels, just because they’ve known so many more types of people that I had at that point in my life, and they just exposed me to a lot. You know, when you’re 18 or 19 you think you know everything, and this is someone who showed me that I don’t, and there’s so much more to know, and that I can use the city to my advantage, and use it to help me grow and find myself. And also they helped me become a lot more aggressive, and assertive, because you need to be in this city. And now I carry a baseball bat a lot of places and no one bothers me. [laughs] It’s fairly new, because I left my first baseball bat in an Uber a few months ago. So my mom very kindly bought me a new baseball bat. It’s bigger now. I really want to put sparkly blood dripping down it, is what I’d really like. But I still need it to be effective. Because I mainly use it for performance stuff, but I also do bring it as a “just in case,” because I did have to use it once to scare someone away from a venue. All that I really care about is that everyone else around me feels safer, and every time I’ve brought my bat at least one person in the show has [told me], “Wow. That makes me feel really safe.” Good, that’s why I brought it. I’ve never had to actually smash anyone. But I can’t wait to smash a Nazi. God, that’d be such a good day.
Could you give me an example of something difficult that occurred in your life how you dealt with it?
I think something difficult was realizing that my school didn’t care about me or any of its students – or specifically the acting program didn’t, and that they were really just commodifying us and seeing who they thought was going to make them the most money and be the best name for their school. Because what my school doesn’t tell you when you audition is that when you get into the BFA program, it’s secretly a cut program sophomore year, and so they “dropped” me to the BA program [that] year. Which, how rude to everyone who was already in the BA program, fuck you. But before they even put me in the BA, during the whole process, I was like, you know what? Fuck this, I don’t want to be in the BFA. You’re all trying to make us into these cookie cutter actors, and I know that’s not who I am, and I know that’s why you don’t want me in the BFA program. And the thing about the BFA is that you can’t be in shows while you’re in school, but the BA you can, and so I started doing a bunch of shows my junior year. I did a show at Joe’s Pub my junior year.
It was really frustrating at first to realize that my school doesn’t care, but then [I realized] I can go do whatever I want outside of my school and not give a shit about my school’s shows, because they mean nothing to me. I’m going to get my degree, take the classes that I want to take that are interesting, because my school did still have a lot of fantastic professors that I learned a lot from. But once I realized that at least acting-wise, most of them don’t care about me except for one incredible professor, screw it, I can go make my acting career outside of school before I finish school. And I’m really really glad I did that.
Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?
My roommates. My roommates are really great. My partner is amazing, my girlfriend is fantastic. I’m really lucky that my parents and my brother love me and care about me a lot, and I can go to them with mental health problems that I’m having. I have an amazing therapist, thank god. And I have a handful of other friends, both in the city and back home, that I can just call or text any time that I know just have my back and support me 100% and will be truthful with me and won’t sugarcoat. …Everyone other than my mom is not going to sugarcoat stuff with me, and that’s how I like to pick out the people in my life, is people who are going to be real with me and tell me what’s actually going to be best for me. Because that’s how I treat other people in my life. And that’s why I hated L.A., because no one does that.
[Growing up near L.A.] is horrible. I was there for all of [my childhood]. My family still lives there. The only good thing about living in L.A. is having a dad who worked for Disney and being able to go to Disneyland for free all the time. End of list. The thing is – L.A. just has a very specific pace, and way to be, just like New York has a very specific pace and way to be, and it’s right for some people and wrong for others. And I knew from a young age that the L.A. pace was wrong, and that no one is real to you to your face. Everyone acts so nice, but I know that you’re talking about me behind my back. And I’ve always been the kind of person that, if I don’t like you I’m going to tell you I don’t like you, and that doesn’t work in L.A. even when you’re a teenager. It’s just this weird cloud that you live under that you’re all supposed to act like assholes. And I was like, I wanna be a New York kind of asshole, not an L.A. kind of asshole. My brother loves L.A., that’s where he wants to live for the rest of his life. You can have it. I just can’t see myself living anywhere other than New York, at least in America.
How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
I mean, for romantic/dating relationships, I’ve realized that I don’t think I can ever date cis people. Just because I feel like being trans, being non-binary, is something that needs to be understood on that level if we’re going to have that kind of intimate relationship. And I just don’t know if I can ever fully – and this could be my own problems – ever fully trust a cis person to see me as who I really am. I’m lucky that both of my trans partners make me feel super validated and seen. And I guess that’s honestly the same with friendship relationships – if you’re not going to see me as who I am, and stand up for me, and use my proper pronouns when I’m not around, I’m not going to bother having a friendship with you. I need to be seen. I need you to stand up for me when I’m not around. I think that’s one of the really important things that people don’t think about. “I only have to use your pronouns when you’re in the room.” No, you have to use my pronouns any time you talk about me. And that’s something that I know my parents don’t do, and it drives me a little crazy. I have to be seen as who I really am by anyone who’s going to be in my life and have a relationship with me. And I think that goes beyond gender, but I think that’s the first baseline, is you have to see gender, and my gender, and respect it.
Are you able to find adequate medical care?
I’m thankfully still on my dad’s Disney insurance, which is fantastic. I mean, I’m deadnamed and mis-gendered everywhere I go medically. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to correct anyone. [So] no, I guess not. I guess one of the reasons I don’t do medical stuff is because I don’t want to be mis-gendered and talk about my body all day. I wish that was training that all medical professionals have, like how to not automatically gender your patients and not make gender a thing. I don’t know. It’s hard. Hospitals are hard enough, I’m not going to waste the energy correcting people on my name and my pronouns.
"I don’t think I’ve ever been more badass than I was in kindergarten. ... I definitely peaked in kindergarten. ... I once came home with a black eye, and my mom [asked me what happened], and I was like, “What happened to what?” Then I looked in the mirror, and I [said], “Oh. I don’t know, maybe I got into a fight, maybe I ran into something, who remembers these things?” And my mom was like, “You’re 5, oh my god.”"
How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?
I think really the only thing that’s changed is that I’ve found words to describe my identities. Again, I was really lucky that my parents encouraged me to be whoever I am and express myself however I want. So I’ve always been who I am, just as I’ve gotten older and as language has evolved and I’ve learned more, I’ve just found more language for myself. It’s a hard question for me right now because I’m in a weird post-grad mental state of, What the fuck am I doing here? Why am I alive? Can I do any good for this fucking planet? But I’m pretty badass. I don’t think I’ve ever been more badass than I was in kindergarten. I peaked. I definitely peaked in kindergarten. That’s the problem. I was badass. I didn’t listen to any kind of authority. I did whatever I wanted. I only played with boys, and I got in trouble every single day, and I once came home with a black eye, and my mom [asked me what happened], and I was like, “What happened to what?” Then I looked in the mirror, and I [said], “Oh. I don’t know, maybe I got into a fight, maybe I ran into something, who remembers these things?” And my mom was like, “You’re 5, oh my god.” So, I’m never going to be that cool. I can try. That’s the truth, is I’m just trying to be my 5-year-old self again. That’s what I’m trying to get. I’m trying to get that confidence back. [laughs]
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d tell myself to remember to really pay attention to who my friends are, and to think more about how people make you feel rather than what you get to do with those people. Because I think I made some friendship mistakes in high school and when I started college, and I think a lot of people do. If we focused more on how our friends and our people in our life make us feel rather than the cool wild wacky stuff we get to do with our friends, but they might make us feel like shit, what’s really more important? And I’m glad that I figured that out at a fairly young age. My parents told me that I’m not old. I feel so old. [laughs]
What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?
This is going to sound really stupid, but an important frustration is: I studied abroad my first semester senior year, and unfortunately one of the people who was at the program with us was a Nazi sympathizer / sexual assaulter, and, y’know, I had to spend 3 ½ months with him, and I wanted to punch him in the face every day. But if I did, I would get kicked out, and my parents paid so much for this. So I was honestly really proud of myself for not punching this kid in the fuckin’ face. That was so frustrating. Because everything else about Italy was amazing, except for this fucking kid that I couldn’t punch in the face. I told him every day that I was going to punch him in the teeth. And he would laugh, and I [thought], You don’t understand how much I want to scalp you. I know that’s really dumb, but I think about it a lot, and I’m proud of my impulse control. Because honestly like a couple of years ago I think I might’ve just punched him in the face. But I [told myself], this is important training that your parents paid a lot of money for, this is more important than just punching one person. Again, that’s maybe a dumb answer, but that’s the answer I have.
The show I got to do at Joe’s Pub was written by a fellow non-binary playwright, and it was a mostly solo show, and then I had a band that would do songs in-between. But I had 19 monologues to learn, and the plot of the show was a re-telling of Sodom & Gomorrah, and I was a non-binary person who, because I’m refusing to accept the fact that I was raped, I’m turning into salt. So it was called Salt Kid Watches Brooklyn Burn. And I was raped my freshman year of college, so this was the most personal piece of theater I had ever done in my life, it was the biggest piece of theater I had ever done in my life, and it was definitely the hardest piece of theater I had ever done. And it was the most successful – I was at an off-Broadway theater, but it was really hard to learn some of those monologues, which I’ve never had a problem with. But some words I couldn’t get myself to memorize, because – it felt so good and cathartic to do something so personal, but it was also so painful and hard to just leave that at the rehearsal space. Because the important thing about acting is being able to leave your work at the door and go home and be yourself. But when you’re playing a character that’s so close to yourself, how do you know what you’re leaving at the door and what you’re bringing home with you? My partner did sound on the show and they got really worried about me near the end. [They told me], “I think you’re bringing too much of this home with you. I think you gotta try to separate it a little bit. I know it’s important, but I’m worried.” [And I agreed.] But that was the important success – and frustration, but mostly success. And it’s shaped a lot of how I want to continue doing theater work and what kind of stories I want to be telling and representing.
I was raised doing musical theater. I cannot sing or dance. I can, but I shouldn’t. No one should have to watch it. That’s what I was raised doing, that was the discipline I was raised in. And I’m glad I was, because I was taught a lot of really important things that I was not taught in college. But because of that, I knew that I wanted to do theater. I personally don’t like doing camera work as much as I like theater. I really like having a live audience that I can feed off of and share this story that I’ve worked so hard with. I think that’s another reason I love drag so much, is it’s full-on audience interaction – as long as everyone is consenting to audience interaction. Everyone? Consent? Drag queens? Consent? It’s a big problem, both for audience members and drag performers. What was I saying? Right. So – I could continue doing nothing but theater if I really wanted to, you’re just going to make no money. There’s no money in live theater, anywhere. Even on Broadway, unless you’re a movie star who’s on Broadway. You’re not making any money. So, a lot of people will move to television or film, even if it’s to do background work, to make money. But then I have friends whose passion is doing camera work, all they want to do is movies.
The main problem is, if you’re going to go to school, you can really only do theater programs. You can take classes that are acting for the camera, but there aren’t really any camera acting programs. So if you choose the path to go to college, you’re going to have to study theater if that’s what you want to do. I have a friend of mine who doesn’t want to do theater [so] didn’t go to college. For me honestly the only reason I’ve been going on movie or TV auditions is because I have two wonderful agents that have the connections to send me on those auditions. But most of the auditions that I find for myself are theater, because that’s where I feel the most comfortable and it’s what I like to do. But there’s not really a hierarchy, and it’s a lot of what you get your luck breaking into. But there’s a lot of theater people that are now on the TV. People flippity flop, but I think a lot of it is because most training is based in theater training. And really, acting for the camera, the only difference is you just can’t scream. And that’s the biggest problem that I have, is I’m always screaming. [laughs] I just really like attention. That’s not why I’m an actor, I promise. I could do a lot of other things, if that’s all I wanted. [laughs]
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?
The main one would be, y’know, smash Nazis. But a quote that I’ve honestly held onto since I was 14 probably is from my favorite musical, Hair, and it’s: “Kids, be free, be whoever you are, do whatever you want to do, just so long as you don’t hurt anybody.” And that’s really how I feel – aside from Nazis, because Nazis aren’t people. Hurt Nazis. If you’re not hurting Nazis, then you’re hurting people. But the point of the quote is, be whoever you are as long as you’re not harming yourself or other people that are actually people – then do it. Do it to the best of your abilities. And that’s been really important to me for a long time. And I love that musical in general, but [especially] that specific line. Do what you’re gonna do as long as you’re not fuckin’ up other people. It’s pretty easy. You’d think it’d be easy. But here we are.
Are there any other questions you would have liked me to ask, or anything else you would like to talk about?
I think one thing I’d like to say, specifically about drag, is that all people of all genders can do drag, and especially if you are not a drag performer, don’t police others’ drag; but even if you are a drag performer, don’t police other people’s drag, unless it’s literally offensive. Drag is amazing, and everyone should get to do it, and stop being jerks. Not only skinny penis-havers can do drag. Everyone can do drag, and everyone should do drag, if you want to do drag.
"All people of all genders can do drag ... and everyone should do drag, if you want to do drag."