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Theo Germaine: The Nonbinary Actor Changing Hollywood

Theo Germaine
William Rusan

With roles on The Politician and Work in Progress, this actor is breaking the mold.

With breakout roles in The Politician (Netflix) andWork in Progress(Showtime), actor Theo Germaine shows two vastly different approaches to trans storytelling on TV.

In Work in Progress, Germaine's gender is part of the plot; their character's pronouns are clarified in the very first episode when the main character initially gets them wrong. In The Politician, we see the opposite. Germaine plays James Sullivan, a student at the school who's whipsmart, with a quiet intensity, and also just happens to be trans. James is essential to the plot of the show; his gender is not.

Both examples are vital as we see more characters across the gender spectrum on TV, though The Politician feels particularly noteworthy in an industry that's still hesitant to cast trans people in roles that are not explicitly trans.

Theo Germaine talks about each of these characters on this week's episode of the LGBTQ&A podcast, as well as how they've been thinking about their gender since they were three, "my first memories are The Lion King and gender dysphoria."

Read highlights below and click here to listen to the full interview.

Jeffrey Masters: We see your character misgendered in the first episode of Work in Progress. Has that decreased in your life as your public profile's grown?

Theo Germaine: Oh my God, how do I even answer that? I think it's a great question about gender and people's assumptions and things like that. My history with gender is that I was someone who started experiencing gender feelings basically as soon as I started having a personality when I was a toddler. I was like, "Oh, something's up and I don't know what's going on."

JM: And even then, you assigned those feelings to gender?

TG: Yeah. I joke and tell people my first memories are The Lion King and gender dysphoria. I remember being three years old and being in daycare and we were all lying down on our mats and trying to nap, and I remember not being able to nap because I would always just sit there and think about gender.

It was very rudimentary. I was like, I don't really know what's going on, but my brain is starting to pick up on gender and men do this and women do this and something is wrong and I don't know what's going on.

I started hormone replacement therapy when I was a teen and I had top surgery when I was a teen and it was very much like, "Yeah, I'm a boy," totally was FTM-identifying. And then I was like, "Wait, the universe is huge and I think something else is going on besides this."

People sometimes think I'm a man, sometimes they think I'm a woman. Today, I think I get misgendered less, but it depends on if somebody knows me or not. I feel like I exist in this really weird space of gender because I'm kind of in public life and I'm kind of not in public life.

JM: I recently heard you say you were OK with he/him pronouns on top of they/them. Is that a recent change?

TG: No. I used "he" exclusively for a long time and then I was in college and I wanted to use "they." But I was in college and all of my environment was like, "Hey, you have to pick one or the other."

And I was like, "Ah, I don't know what's going on." I stuck with using "they" exclusively and now I really like both. I think that my history is being a very masc person and existing on one half of this big spectrum. I love being called "he" and I love being called "they."

JM: It seems like your gender history encompasses everything, or at least that you've been perceived that way.

TG: Basically, yeah. It's strange and sometimes it puts me on guard, especially at night because I've had issues where I have been harassed or assaulted on the street because people assume that I'm every single gender. People will think that I'm a gay man and they will do something because of that. Or people will think I'm a butch woman and they will try to do something because of that. Or maybe I feel really femme that day and I'm dressed a certain way and then people will act inappropriately as such.

There is still this very specific idea of how people should look. I'm a white person and I'm an AFAB person, and so that puts me a little bit in a category of androgyny. That just how I look and that's not what all non-binary looks like. It's just one of a thousand ways of how it looks.

There's a lot of people who think being nonbinary or being gender-other is a trend. No, it's not. There are certain words that we're using now, but gender fluidity has existed since the beginning of time.

JM: This might sound gross, but if Hollywood views being trans as trendy, are you able to play into that to help your career?

TG: I think that sort of thing is a conversation that I've had with a lot of other people in the industry. Then it just makes me think about capitalism and capitalizing on your identity to try to get some sort of success, and I don't want to capitalize on this part of myself to try to gain stuff.

But I am going to talk about it and I am not going to quiet about it.

JM: As your understanding of gender continues to evolve, are you seeing an evolution in your sexuality as well?

TG: I remember being five and being like, "Yep, I like boys." And in the first grade, I was like, "Yeah, girls too." And I just was kind of like, "Yeah, yep, that's how I feel," and then it wasn't until later that I was like, "Oh, people don't like this."

I honestly think that's because there was a certain part of my life that was so sheltered that I didn't learn it was wrong. Does that make sense? I didn't learn it was an issue until people started to make it an issue.

Homophobia is something that didn't really start to come up for me until I got into middle school and people started making all of these...middle school students can be so cruel. They inherit everything that they've learned from their parents and they spit it out at you. It got really hard in middle school and high school, but I just was like, "Yeah, I know that I like everybody." And I've always just been that way.

JM: We have so few transmasculine people on screen and you're seen as a heartthrob. Are you aware of people's crushes on you?

TG: My face is turning really red.

JM: Is that a yes?

TG: There are some people that have said some very nice things to me and I get really embarrassed and I'm very grateful for people's compliments. Also, I feel excited that people are like, "Wow, that's a cute person." I know how I look. I know that I'm not the most masculine person and I know that sometimes I occupy a space that's a little like, "Oo, what's going on?"

I think that people should just normalize their feelings about non-binary people.

JM: What's it like to be playing an out trans person in high school on The Politician when you did not have that experience?

TG: It's weird. I've been thinking about this a lot. I wish that I could have been out in high school, but it wasn't really something that was an option for me. And it's kind of a dream.

But I also think a lot about how the male characters that I play are informed by masculinity and their conditioning and what their experiences are in this universe. When I was auditioning before these things happened, I was just go, go, go trying to submit to every single possible thing that I could. And yeah, nothing was like those two opportunities. I just was like, "Hey, you're not allowed to get discouraged and you're not allowed to stop because this is what you want to do and you have goals." I had a goal where I was like, "I want to be a series regular on a TV show by the time I'm 40."

And then it happened really early and I was like, "Shit. OK, I've got to reassess my goals."

JM: What do your goals look like now that you've already achieved that?

TG: I have some things that I'm writing that I really want to come to fruition. I really want to get into the science fiction and fantasy realm in TV and film because I am a nut about all of that stuff.

I think that I'm on a spot where I'm kind of reassessing what is my vision. I think that a lot of it includes how I can be a good citizen with this success that I have and how I can use it to educate and how I can use it to help other people out.

Listen to the full podcast interview on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

You can listen to LGBTQ&A's recent interview with Abby McEnany, who stars with Germaine in Work In Progress, here.

LGBTQ&A is The Advocate's weekly interview podcast hosted by Jeffrey Masters. Past guests include Pete Buttigieg, Laverne Cox, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Billie Jean King, and Roxane Gay.
New episodes come out every Tuesday.

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