Finding Room for a Trans Story in Diva World

VH1 Daytime Divas Explore Younger Side of being Transgender

VH1’s new summer hit Daytime Divas — based on a Star Jones novel that dramatized her time on The View — is going where very few scripted televisions shows have dared to go. One of the major storylines is the evolution of the character Heather (played by actress Fiona Gubelmann) and how she comes to terms with her young son, born Brad Jr., and his inner, authentic self, a little girl named Ella. Heather is a conservative Bible-thumping, scripture-reciting suburban working wife and mother.

Daytime Divas showrunners-producers Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler, along with creators and writers Amy Engelberg and Wendy Engelberg, connected with The Advocate to talk more about the storyline.

The Advocate: You come out of the gate swinging with a transgender character that happens to be a young kid. Why was it important to add this element to the show?
Amy Engelberg: That happened while we were writing the pilot episode. [Wendy and I] thought a conservative person in real life has gay children, has transgender people in their family. So we wanted to see what happens, and we found the first thing is she’s a mother, so she’s going to protect her child no matter what and she’s got to find a religious reason to justify it.

What’s interesting about this is because she is so public, she’s a public figure with a transgender child, and she has a fan base that’s conservative, so she has to tread lightly in a certain way because she doesn’t want to alienate her fan base. I’m really proud of this storyline because it’s very progressive for a conservative.

You brought in trans activist and author Janet Mock to play herself; what was that experience like working with a real-life person who has shaped the narrative surrounding this subject?
Engelberg: Janet really helps Heather’s character open up about her child, and this character goes through a big transformation in some of her politics throughout the course of the season.

Chessler: Heather struggles with this very much and on many levels. She deals with her own acceptance, and her husband who is much less accepting. The issue is such an up-and-down journey, and it’s sort of like a coming-out story, in a way, because she’s kept it as a secret, and when she does tell someone it’s a very hard thing to discuss, and certainly when Janet appears in episode 7, that’s what kind of helps her assimilate.

Alberghini: What I actually found very refreshing about this storyline and the character of Heather is she was actually pretty accepting of the child from the beginning, not publicly because I don’t think she felt she could be, but there are moments between the characters that show you that she continues to love and supports her transgender child.

Chessler: I was on set the day that Janet came in to do her scenes, and she was nervous because playing yourself in some ways is the hardest thing because it brings a level of self-consciousness, and Janet has such an important personal persona. She came in ready to work and had advice for us. The cast embraced her because they were just so impressed by her.  

Daytime Divas airs Monday nights at 10 Eastern on VH1.

KELSEY MINOR is a two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist and freelance reporter with The Advocate. You can follow him on Twitter @theKELSEYminor.

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