No one's ever had a career quite like Ts Madison. After working in the adult film industry — starring in films and running a lucrative production company — she's since transitioned into Hollywood, appearing most recently in a scene-stealing role in the movie, Zola, and in The Ts Madison Experience, a reality series she executive produced on WE tv. Madison's also currently shooting Bros with Billy Eichner and will appear in The Perfect Find, a new romantic comedy starring Gabrielle Union and Niecy Nash.
Madison credits this new phase of her career to three things: going viral on Vine ("New weave! 22 inches!"), the tenacity she has displayed throughout her entire life, and RuPaul.
"If it wasn't for RuPaul," she says on this week's LGBTQ&A podcast. "RuPaul was like, "I want her on my show. I want her in this space. I don't care whatever pushback that you think that you're going to give me. This is my show and I want her here." He helped her, mentored her, didn't try to force her to hide her past or into a mold that didn't fit. He didn't see her as a "detriment", a word Madison often heard when the public was first discovering her videos on Vine.
This was right around the time that Laverne Cox was appearing on the cover of Time, when trans people in the media were few and far between. "I love Laverne...But it was a very difficult time to go through when she was on Time magazine as 'The Transgender Tipping Point' and then I'm over here and it was just, 'This is right. This is wrong.' When in all actuality, none of it was wrong."
But RuPaul didn't see her that way. He and a few others extended Madison a hand. World of Wonder, the production company behind RuPaul's Drag Race, created a hit web series around her. Slowly and surely, displaying the same hustle and grit that she applied to her adult film career, Ts Madison has created a new lane for herself in the entertainment industry.
"I've never come in through the front door. Never," she says. "It's never been through the front door and my existence right now in this world — because there's somebody else behind me somewhere — my existence will be used as an example and then they'll be able to come in through the front door."
On this week's episode of LGBTQ&A, Ts Madison opens up about her unlikely career trajectory, why she owes so much to RuPaul, and the pushback she continues to receive in Hollywood.
You can read an excerpt below and listen to the full interview on Apple Podcasts.
JM: You really shot up and rose to mainstream attention on Vine, which has since shut down. The initial response to you on Vine was not positive, right?
TM: Oh, it was not. At that time, I was maybe in my eighth, ninth, 10th year, of creating adult films online. So I was always looking for an outlet to promote my material and I stumbled across Vine. I followed a couple of hashtags and the hashtag was #VineAfterDark. I clicked on it and I was like, "Ohh. Nudity."
Here's the thing, Jeffrey. There were a lot of Vine creators who were Vine famous for making funny videos. They had After Dark videos too, but they were cis people, cis-het people. So, I'm like, "Let me invade the space." Before I even posted my very first Vine, I studied all of the After Dark stuff. There was no trans content there, so I was like, "OK. Well, maybe this would be another outlet for me to promote what I'm selling." So I put my first video up there and I did it in a funny way. "New weave! New weave! 22 inches! Yes!"
It was an accident and it was only a space of me trying to promote a product. A straight guy, he stumbled across it — God, what was that little boy's name? He started making videos about me. And then the sales of my site started to expand because people were like, "How does this fat woman have a penis?" They weren't even in the space of thinking I was trans. They thought that I was a fat woman with a penis.
JM: This was around 2013?
TM: Yeah. 2013. Yes. 2013.
JM: That’s the same year that Orange Is the New Black came out, when a lot of people go to know of Laverne Cox and transness at a big level. People watching you on vine probably didn’t have language to even see you and label you as a trans woman.
TM: They didn't. There wasn't any language and because people associate trans women with so much masculinity and masculine features…to those people that were looking at this, they saw a woman, but then the genitalia, they saw a penis. It was very much so like, "How could this even happen?"
So, here's when the conversation started to really go insane. And here's the thing, people really felt that it was a detriment to our community. I love Laverne. I have extreme respect for Laverne. But it's one thing to hear trans, but another to see it. And even though it seemed as though I was a detriment at the time in our community, people had the opportunity to see it.
JM: Is "detriment" how people were describing you?
TM: Yes, because in the backlash that I started receiving from the community was like, "Oh, she's a detriment to our community. She's not a representation of our community.”
And I’m a clap-back girl. I will tear your ass up. I was making my own money. I've always been very successful in making my own money and I make my own rules, so I don't care. I wasn't even thinking about a community. I was thinking about keeping my lights on in my home.
JM: Even though you were getting mocked on Vine, you also didn’t let that stop you. You kept posting videos on there.
TM: Because my goal was to make my sales and it was working for me. People were buying. They were going to my site looking like, "Oh my God." And it was not just local conversation. It was a worldwide conversation about me.
JM: What percentage of sales increased? 50%?
TM: Oh honey, listen. It was such a huge increase in sales. Child, I made so much money during that time. It was ridiculous. Yeah, I would say about 50% or 60% increase. I made good money, but an influx of an additional like $5,000 or $6,000 or $7,000 a week. A week.
At that time, I didn't feel that I had a responsibility to my community. I remember me saying, "I've never seen the community show up and pay a bill. I've never seen the community show up and feed and house me when I needed somewhere to live. I've never seen the community show up and take care of me when I needed to go to the doctor. Don't show up now talking to me about what's best for the community when I'm a part of a community that I was out here trying to survive. The community didn't give me a job. Fuck y'all."
At that time, that's the way that I felt.
People didn't understand. And I want to make sure that I say this, I love Laverne. I got to know Laverne. I communicate with Laverne. But it was a very difficult time to go through when she was on Time magazine as "The Transgender Tipping Point" and then I'm over here and it was just, “This is right. This is wrong.” When in all actuality, none of it was wrong.
JM: At that time, you were not just performing in adult films, you were running a production company, monetizing a website. You had turned it into a full business. It's similar to what folks are doing today on OnlyFans, but before those platforms existed.
TM: Before they existed. You know what's funny to me? Some of the same bitches that were talking cash shit about me back then…when times fell hard, when the pandemic came through, I had never seen them naked, but guess what? They're flourishing now. And I'm like, "Oh honey, I've been there, did that, got a t-shirt, made a meal, and keep going. Y'all just now getting into something that I've already conquered, honey. All of you are my daughters."
JM: When did you take your sex work business online?
TM: Oh, that happened back in 2004.
JM: That feels really early.
TM: When the internet was fresh and new, fresh and new. It was already being dominated by white girls and Asian girls and stuff like that and there had been a few Black girls or whatever that were on there. However, they had a machine behind them.
When I came into the business, I didn't have a machine. My best friend who's in heaven now — praise God that she's in heaven, my heavenly warrior — she introduced me to it. I was like, "How are you at home not going to work and you have this beautiful house and trinkets of deceit? Honey, all of these Faberge and Franklin Mint and Baccarat crystals. You have all of these things in here and you don't go to work?" She says, "Honey, you got to work smarter and not harder."
She introduced me to that because I didn't know anything about making residuals off of being naked. She became my gay mother, my porn mother. And once you introduced me to something, it's mine from then on out. You how Whitney Houston covered "I Will Always Love You" and it became hers? She introduced me to the adult film game and then I found a niche area, dominated that, and it became mine. I didn't erase her, but I went to different heights.
I was hell-bent on me not being broke anymore in life. Me not having to worry about where I'm going to live, how I'm going to pay my bills because I came from that time of me having to really worry. And this was a place of security for me.
JM: Money aside, there are safety concerns to doing sex work in person. You didn’t have to worry about that online.
TM: Yes. I was online, I was safe. I was able to buy a home. I bought a house. That was the first thing I did when I made enough money. I careered it and not just a career, but it was a security. Do you know how it is for trans people to go through the world without any security? For people to judge you and to rake you over the coals…I'm like, have you guys forgotten how hard it is out here to be two spirits combined into one? Have you not forgotten that there are people who will not hire you because of what you are? Have you forgotten how difficult it is for you to occupy cis places as a trans person? So why are you breathing fire down on me for trying to secure security for myself?
Even now, when I think about it in this space that I'm occupying now…because child, I haven't taken my clothes off in years. And I get to say, “Why did you judge me? Why were you attacking me? Why when you as a queer person or a trans person understands how difficult it is to occupy cis spaces and this was my form of creating a secure space for me? Money-wise, living-wise, health-wise, safety-wise, I was securing a place for me, but you were so concerned about how we are perceived in cis spaces and overlook that this girl is really trying to secure her security. But you worried about how straight people perceive you? Please."
I felt wronged. I felt wronged because this really wasn't a choice. A lot of things happened to me by force. I was forced into having to do that and a lot of girls are forced into that. Even the girls who are occupying high-level spaces now will tell you...they may not elaborate on it but they'll tell you, "Yeah. There was a time that I was involved in a little sex work and I can't deny that." No, you can't because it's just true. It's true.
JM: With the t-word, tranny. Is it more or less required to attach that word to yourself if you’re working in porn as a trans woman?
TM: Right. Now, I'm not in the adult film industry anymore so I don't use it and I understand that there are girls who don't want to be called that... I get it. I respect it. But when people try to use that as a slur to me, it's never been a slur to me. Tranny had been a part of the way I monetized. I made money from that: tranny, shemale, all of these were hashtags that were used when you wanted to look up a T-girl that's in the business.
However, I did understand that lots of girls are not in the business and so it could potentially be offensive. That's a word that people have used as a slur and also men have used to objectify trans women. So I was like, "Alright, cool." I'm not going to say I went with the flow, but I understood it. I also let people in the world know there's many words that you can use to offend me. That's not one of them.
JM: Because that is the word that bought you a house.
TM: Boom. Boom. Yes.
JM: I also think it's secretly subversive that you still have Ts as part of your name. Do people outside of the community realize that it means trans?
TM: No. And the reason why I will not get rid of it, it's because I took ownership of it with all that I do. I want people to understand, I am not cis nor do I want to be a cis woman. There are lots of people who like to use that, “You'll never be a real woman.” Sweetie, I want you to understand this is why the Ts has never dropped. I am confident and secure in my transness, darling. I've taken ownership of those things and I live a very, very, very, very comfortable life. You don't live like me, honey. You don't. And I am Ts. I walk in the door letting you know, I am Ts Madison, honey.
JM: You didn’t just work in adult films, you were notorious. I think the assumption would be that someone like you would not be welcomed into Hollywood. To the question of how did Ts do it and crossover, it sounds like a key component was going viral on Vine.
TM: Yes. The virality that Vine gave me and the tenacity that I had to continue to be my authentic self. I haven't changed who I am. I just kept my clothes on. I am still loud, live, and in color. I still will cuss your motherfucking ass out if necessary and I still stand up for sex positivity for girls that are working girls. I demand that when you see the girls trying to take care of themselves, you respect it for what it is.
I think that a lot of people who are doing sex work now, it's in a different phase. It's in a phase of... Oh God, y'all, don't cuss me out when y'all hear this. It's in an easy phase now. It's easy now. “Oh, I can go into that and make money.” As opposed to 20-years ago, when it was like, "Girl, we're not giving you fags a job." Or "We're not letting you trannies come in here." Or "You transvestites, we don't want you working in here confusing our customers.” I remember going to work and they called me in the HR officer and told me to stop wearing fitting dresses because I was confusing the men.
I'm like, "I don't got nothing to do with those men being confused, bitch. I came here to come to work. I don't have anything... I sit behind a cubicle. I walk from my car to the doors to the clock-in machine, to the cubicle. If I'm causing a disturbance because I have a big ass and y'all went out there and told those people that I'm a man... Y'all didn't have to tell those people that. You didn't have to even say anything about that. Yes, I have breasts and I have hips and I have body, but girl, you told them that I was a man. So that you've done these things and then you want to terminate me because now I'm the problem.”
JM: You’re describing multiple experiences, not just a one-time thing. This was recurring.
TM: Multiple experiences, yes. I'm a 44-year-old trans person, honey and I've been trans for 25 years, girl. Living in it for 25 years and you could not imagine 25 years ago, the way things were in the workplace. There are still difficulties now but it was real, real messy then.
JM: I also want to make sure we’re not only painting a rosy picture of your experiences in Hollywood and these mainstream spaces now. I assume there have been challenges.
TM: If it wasn't for RuPaul...I have to say this. If it was not for RuPaul pressing. Because RuPaul was like, "I want her on my show. I want her in this space. I don't care whatever pushback that you think that you're going to give me. This is my show and I want her here." And see, this is the responsibility of other queer people and queens that occupy spaces, it is important when you occupy positions of power that you reach into your community and you give opportunities to the girls who haven't been given those opportunities because sometimes you're missing out on a gem.
Yes, I have received pushback. I've never come in through the front door. Never. It's always been either a side door, either somebody let me in on the side, either somebody crack the window, which is God. I've always had to find the back entrance. It's never been through the front door and my existence right now in this world — because there's somebody else behind me somewhere — my existence will be used as an example and then they'll be able to come in through the front door.
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.