As the owner of America’s first transgender management company, Ann Thomas is fighting a battle most people haven’t considered.
While many trans actors, writers, and directors in Hollywood are pushing for trans stories to be told and for trans people to tell them, Thomas — and her company Transgender Talent — has another goal: global domination. She doesn’t merely want trans stories to be told in places where they are already accepted, she wants trans folks to star in the shows that go out to international audiences, ensuring people in every corner of the world get to see real-life trans people.
Her journey to this goal began with a groundbreaking scene on Glee in 2015. In an episode in the final season, Unique (Alex Newell), a trans student, brings a choir of hundreds of trans people to sing with her to the show’s William McKinley High in a move to support the newly transitioning Coach Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones). Thomas was one of those choir members.
She recalls looking around the room and realizing she’d never seen that many trans people in one place. She also noted a unique networking opportunity and began collecting information. Soon she had a private Facebook group with about 100 trans actors in it.
“I realized there is no way for Hollywood to find us,” she says. “So that’s when I created the company. Because we needed a safe place for transgender people to go and list with. By that time, I had heard a mountain of horror stories about bad experiences in Hollywood from people who tried to get into it.” Initially, much of her work consisted of reading scripts to discern if they were even suitable for auditioning trans actors. But as she’s gotten to know more about how Hollywood functions, her goals have shifted, and so have the projects that appeal to her for her clients.
“Those videos are tightly controlled. Content is tightly controlled,” she continues. “You’ll see about eight countries will take anything that says trans on it, and they’re fine with it. Don’t care. That’s eight out of nearly 200. So, what about the rest? Some of them are really big markets.”
“What do you do then? What’s going to make a bigger impact?” Thomas asks. “Is it to have a trans story be told and be cut out of the episode or the movie and have it as a chopped-up piece of crap that you end up seeing on the screen there? Or do you want to have a trans person play a role that’s not trans and at least have somebody there? And then the viewers don’t know it necessarily, or they look and go, ‘Huh, that’s an interesting-looking person,’ and then they Google them afterwards.”
Thomas believes it’s getting trans actors in front of the most eyes that makes the biggest difference.
“The thing is that we have to go to the lowest common denominator of what’s acceptable on global screens,” she says. “We’re not to the point where we can shove transgender stories [down] people’s throats.”
Instead, she’s casting trans actors in cisgender roles, ensuring trans actors are attached to big projects, and raising clients like Zoey Luna (Dear Evan Hansen) and Emmett Preciado (Good Trouble) out of indies and into blockbusters. And she has no intention of stopping until there are trans TV and movie stars seen in every country around the planet.
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2022 Entertainment Issue, which is out on newsstands April 2, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.