As part of The Advocate's ongoing Pride Month series about Asian-American experiences, transgender actor Leo Sheng talked to activist/athlete Amazin LeThi about the many overlapping social issues he's navigating in 2020, from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling's ongoing remarks about transgender people to attending Black Lives Matter protests during a pandemic.
Discussing current events on our Instagram Live channel, The L Word: Generation Q star shared his experience as an Asian queer person landing a lead role on a major television series, and how he's continuing to educate himself about racism and gender to better support the community.
He addressed J.K. Rowling's latest transphobic remarks over the weekend, pointing out that it was an example of powerful, white, cisgender people willfully disengaging with anti-Black racism and redirecting people's attention. "Her choosing this time to rehash some of her transphobic, trans-exclusionary beliefs was strategic in a scary way."
Sheng and LeThi explored how we as a community can be better allies to transgender people, particularly with recent headlines about trans athletes being banned from school sports, and the continuing epidemic of violence toward transgender women.
"As we know and as we have to learn, from either our own education or from Black and Brown trans people educating us, is the trans liberation movement was heralded by Black and Brown trans people, particularly Black and Brown trans women," he said. "When we talk about how do we support trans people, what we're seeing year after year are dozens of reported — only reported — Black and Brown trans women being murdered."
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring to the surface anti-Asian racism in America, a uniquely troubling experience to Sheng as a transracial adoptee of white parents.
"In many ways, this was unfortunately what it took for a lot of East Asian folks to wake up and realize that White America is not here for us, no matter how 'well' we act, no matter how 'well behaved' we may be," he pointed out.
Sheng also shared his experiences about Generation Q, where he hopes the story will go in Season 2, and the importance of allowing transgender actors to play transgender roles in movies and on television.
"We have so long seen cis women playing trans men, and whether or not that's a byproduct of the time these movies or TV shows were made, I think it still very much speaks to the fact that people are only recently understanding that gender isn't a costume. It may be a social construct and it may have derived from Western categories, but the way we experience it is still very real."
Watch the full interview below.