It was a picturesque October afternoon last year, with weather typically and obnoxiously L.A. A smattering of perfect white puffy clouds hung in the sky just to remind me that those still exist in the world, though usually outside the magic and mischief of Southern California. I entered the elevator leading to the exclusive, invite-only floors of Soho House, where I was to meet the gentleman who had sent me his first communication starting with, “Cadence, I hope you don’t mind me writing you out of the blue, but I am an actor…”
Just an actor, an everyday actor, who was already well on his way to becoming a household name. Just an actor named Eddie. Just an actor who I would come to know, respect, and love.
I will never forget that first meeting. Eddie was already waiting, a glass of water on the table amid a mélange of books, magazines, notebooks, scratch paper and other accoutrements of his process. I was well aware (as I do my research before attaching my name to anything) of his reputation for deep focus, extensive exploration, and unforgiving immersion into a role. The preparation was both admirable and almost unbelievable. Upon seeing me with my signature fire-red mane, black-and-white print dress and four-inch Mary Jane heels, he jumped up and embraced me like he was reconnecting with an old friend, thanking me profusely for meeting with him and doing my part to help him take on what I can now say is one of the most quintessential trans portrayals in cinematic history to date.
The next few hours spanned a myriad of topics, from discussing The Danish Girl book, his entry into the film adaptation, the history of the script, his conversations with Lana Wachowski (with whom he had shot Jupiter Ascending, and who greatly shifted his views on the ideas of transgender narrative), avoiding stereotypical and archetypal portrayals, and ultimately also the bull’s-eye that he now has on his back for being a cisgender actor playing a trans woman.
He paused. He took a deep breath, and, putting his hands together, he listened to what I had to say. We both agreed that there are valid and inarguable problems regarding trans representation in the media. It’s a shameful fact that trans people are often secondary casting choices (if choices at all) for their own stories, so I knew that ultimately no argument would convince all of what I knew after that first meeting, a motif I now feel completely justified in repeating: “Eddie, there isn’t an actor alive today that I believe could do a better job bringing Lili to the screen than you.”
So it was with little trepidation that last week my partner of almost 15 years and I entered a quiet screening room located in an otherwise inconspicuous medical building to finally get to see the finished piece. I knew that it would be emotional, as already from the trailer the two of us had broken into tears. We sat quietly as the room darkened and the first images of the vast and unique landscapes of the Danish coast, so delicately photographed, appeared on the screen along with the hauntingly guiding score. The next two hours we held each other ever closer, exchanging glances and seeing the light glistening off our tear-soaked faces. We squeezed each other’s hands, recognizing elements of our dialogues with Eddie, elements carefully and consciously woven into the fabric of Lili and Gerda’s tale.
I remembered the concern and agony on Eddie’s face at a later meeting, where my partner, Trista, had joined us, as we told him about those delicate, dangerous, and vulnerable first steps. That fateful night in 2011 when I sat in the bathtub with Trista sitting on the floor next to me, having what began as a typical conversation for a couple comfortable in our familiarity and intimacy. But this night was different, as I decided, with a broken voice — literally and physically naked — that I had come to that point where I would risk all that I had left, the most valuable thing in my life, the love of this woman sitting next to me, to bring my authenticity to light. That was the moment when I told her that I, her perceptually male heterosexual partner of 11 years, was in fact a woman.
I could have heard that proverbial pin drop in that bathroom, similar to the anticipation I saw in Eddie as he leaned forward, eyes wide, mouth slightly agape, hanging on to our telling of the moment. It took Trista no more than that moment to look at me, tears already welling in my eyes, and say, “I love you, and I don’t care what body that means.” It was in Eddie’s reaction in that moment where I believe something crystalized, something that came full circle to me upon the finale of The Danish Girl. Ultimately, that night in the bathroom, I wasn’t the only one beginning a transition. We both were.
Over the last four years, I have gone through just about everything there is to go through. I upended my life, returned to school, became ever more active in the social justice movements of trans and intertwining and intersectional issues, and have seen considerable successes both personally and professionally. I am now living a blessed life that I every day thank the powers that be for — but ultimately, it is in greatest part something I must never forget to thank Trista for.
Ultimately, the story — my story, Lili’s story, the trans story — isn’t solely ours. For those of us who are privileged to have that most crucial element of a successful transition; the support and love of someone near and dear to us, the story has an ensemble cast, with no part less important than the other. The Danish Girl is as much (if not in certain cases more) the story of Gerda Wegener as it is of Lili. It is a story of love, and what that love can accomplish when it is pure and true. It is a story of seeing someone for who they truly are instead of who we wish them to be, and loving them unwaveringly for it. It is a story of summoning seemingly endless pools of empathy to facilitate a life authentic. It is a story of summoning superhuman strength and standing by someone, even when it puts you at odds with the rest of the world. This is a story of the supporting role without which there would be no lead.
CADENCE VALENTINE is is an accomplished organizer, public speaker, and activist on issues facing the transgender community and is currently earning her master’s in social work at California State University, Northridge.