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’s Transgender Actress Just Wants Respect 

’s Transgender Actress Just Wants Respect 


Now in its third season, HBO's hit series Hung is already a must-watch in many LGBT households thanks to racy storylines, a smoking hot lead (Thomas Jane as reluctant male gigolo, Ray Drecker), and a savvy feminist undercurrent (hearing Jane Adams' madam character Tanya explain that porn is bad because of the male gaze is one of TV's finest moments). But this Sunday, viewers will have something new to love: Jamie Clayton as a transgender client of Ray's named Kyla.

Clayton, who was the co-host of Vh1's first makeover show, TRANSform Me, has been a fashion fixture for years (featured in Interview and Love magazines) but her acting debut on Hung is something of a surprise. She's sweetly charming but assured and a perfect foil for Drecker's blue collar Detroit roots. Clayton appears on a two-episode arc, the first of which was written by lesbian director Angela Robinson (of D.E.B.S. and The L Word fame) and Hung scribe Julia Brownell, making for one of the few times in which a transgender actress has been cast to play a trans woman on screen.

Though she won't divulge personal details, Clayton chatted about her role on Hung and how she got here.

The Advocate: It's really rare for trans actresses to actually get cast on TV of any kind, especially non-reality. And usually when there's a trans character, non-trans actresses get cast for those roles. How did you get involved with Hung?

Jamie Clayton: They actually found me through an article that was written about an acting studio that I attend. There was a big article in the New York Times, and writers were reading this and when it came time for them to start auditioning people for the role, they contacted my agent and I submitted an audition and before I knew it I was in LA fitting wardrobe and on set filming.

The show is not trying to be overly PC with your episodes. Do you think some of the language used on the show is there to help show an evolution on the part of some of the characters?

Definitely, I think that as much as the storyline is about as much as watching Kyla's story evolve it's also about Ray. It's about watching him evolve. So I think that the language that's included, they're very real reactions. These are characters in Detroit ... I think the writers just wanted to stay true to the characters and true to the storylines, and I think its great because I think that by the end of the episodes you see Ray comes around and embraces Kyla 100%.

You transitioned over a decade ago. Do you still get people calling you a "tranny?"

No, not so much that. [Laughs]

Is that because you pass or that people have evolved and stopped using that language?

No, I think it's because I don't associate myself with people that do use that language.

There's a scene where you're at a high school reunion and you so enjoy being yourself with these people finally, and Ray notices the change when people realize who you used to be. Have you had an experience like that?

Nothing like that specifically has happened to me, but there are a lot of similarities between Kyla and myself. That's one of the reasons I was so moved and touched by the story. Because, like you said, ultimately Kyla's goal of going to the reunion was to get these people to see her the way she has always seen herself. Obviously she was unable to do that when she was in high school so she sort of wants to go back and reclaim that moment and sort of do a time-machine moment and reclaim that moment and have a good experience. It does sort of backfire on her. But ultimately the way it ends up is so sweet -- the moment that she has with Ray. Part of Kyla's journey is coming to the realization that it doesn't matter what everybody else thinks about you; in the end, it's what you think of yourself.

What I really liked about that is that you touch on something that, yes, is a transgender experience, but it's also a universal human experience. We all go to our high school reunion hoping that they will see us for the person we are and not who we were in fourth grade.

Yes, definitely. All we want is to be accepted and loved, and that's what everybody wants.

You also help Ray sort out his own preconceived notions about gender. What are some of the biggest misconceptions about what people think it means to be a trans woman?
I think personally that the biggest misconception is that we're all the same. I think what people need to realize is that, with trans people, we're like everybody else. No group of people are all the same. All women are not the same, all men are not the same, all children are not the same. It's the same thing with trans people -- we're all so different, we have different goals, different dreams, and different aspirations. For me, at the end of the day, I want to be judged for my work, not for what I've been through and past experiences, necessarily.
Do you think it's getting easier for trans actresses to get cast in roles?

Well, I'm pretty new to the acting game. This is my first big role. I've been taking classes for about three years now. I'm excited. I definitely want to have a really diverse career and I hope that people out there see what I've done on Hung, they realize that, yes, she's transgender but she's also a great actress, and she's damn good at what she does. So I'm hoping that I'll get the opportunity to audition for all different kinds of roles.
It doesn't hurt that you're gorgeous.
Thank you very much, that is so sweet.

In addition to acting, you've done modeling and also worked as a makeup artist. Do you still do all three of them or are you focusing more on acting?
I'm definitely focusing all of my attention on acting. Modeling comes up by default, and I love it, of course I think that it's great, but I'm definitely focusing all of my attention on acting.

You are still doing your Aesthetic Empowerment Workshops?
Yes, the main makeup work that I'm doing is a series of workshops where a friend of mine, Ozzy Salvatierra, and I teach people at Callen Lorde Community Health Center how to take care of their skin with skin and makeup workshops. We do those once a month and that is where any energy that I have in makeup goes to -- helping people feel better about themselves. [Editor's note: Callen Lorde is a medical center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS-impacted clients.] We get men, women, everybody; here are no judgments with Aesthetic Empowerment. It's about looking better so you can feel better, so that you can face the world.
You talked about dating in a New York Observer article about four years ago. How has your dating life changed since then?

I'm currently single, but I prefer now to keep my private life private.

So you're not as frank as you were back then?
Definitely not.

In one scene on Hung after you tell Ray, "I'm not a man, I'm a woman," he asks, "When did that start?" When did you first know that you were different?
Wow, that is such an interesting question. Different is such a good word. For me, ever since I was little, I always felt that something was off. And I just didn't have the resources to -- I just didn't know what it was. I mean there are those stories of other trans people when they say that they knew from the time that they were very young, well, I didn't because I didn't have a good reference point. I just felt sort of off. And it wasn't until I moved to New York when I was 19 that I started meeting other trans women and I was like, Oh, you can do that? That's what it is! And then like a big light bulb went off, and I was like, That's what it is.

That must have been a very exciting moment.
Yeah, I finally felt some clarity. I finally was able to identify what I was going through for so long and not knowing who I was and how I fit in the world and society at large. Finally I was like, Oh my goodness, that's what it is.

Your co-star, Thomas Jane, has been very frank about his own experiences with men and women; he had a great quote earlier this year about how when it comes to sexual orientation you can't make an informed choice until you experience both sides of the fence.
I never talked to Thomas about any of that stuff. All I know is when I was working with him on set, he was so great and so patient with me, he was so fantastic.

What do you want people to take away from your appearance on Hung?

I really want everyone to take away exactly what [the main character] Ray Drecker takes away from it. If people watching have a bit of apprehension or are a bit uncomfortable, I want them to keep watching and follow the storyline through and ultimately walk away from it feeling the same way that Ray Drecker feels: that Kyla is a woman and she deserves to be treated with love and respect and she deserved to be treated like everyone else.
What's next for you?
Well, I'm still in acting classes, which I absolutely love. I'm still perfecting my craft, and I have been auditioning, and really, really, really looking forward to booking many diverse, different types of roles. So my fingers are crossed. I'm really happy with [my role on] Hung.

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Diane Anderson-Minshall

Diane Anderson-Minshall is the CEO of Pride Media, and editorial director of The Advocate, Out, and Plus magazine. She's the winner of numerous awards from GLAAD, the NLGJA, WPA, and was named to Folio's Top Women in Media list. She and her co-pilot of 30 years, transgender journalist Jacob Anderson-Minshall penned several books including Queerly Beloved: A Love Across Genders.
Diane Anderson-Minshall is the CEO of Pride Media, and editorial director of The Advocate, Out, and Plus magazine. She's the winner of numerous awards from GLAAD, the NLGJA, WPA, and was named to Folio's Top Women in Media list. She and her co-pilot of 30 years, transgender journalist Jacob Anderson-Minshall penned several books including Queerly Beloved: A Love Across Genders.