BY CHARLSIE DEWEY
On Jan. 24, Candis Cayne helps mark an important step for the media industry as she takes on the portrayal of a trans character on the Prime Time CBS crime drama CSI: NY. Her portrayal marks an important milestone because not only will she be playing a trans part, but because she is a transsexual actress. ( To her credit, Alexandra Billings has also made advances for the trans community, appearing on such shows as Grey's Anatomy. )
Cayne is an actress, dancer, singer and all-around showwoman who has been gaining attention since she moved to New York in the early '90s to become a performer. Her credits include television, film, print ads, commercials and videos. Windy City Times spoke with Cayne over the phone to discuss her growing fame, the importance of positive visibility for the trans community and why she is so happy in her life and her choices.
Windy City Times: Why do you think having a trans character on CSI: NY, and Prime Time television for that matter, is so important?
Candis Cayne: For me personally, there are hardly ever any trans characters played by trans actresses. You know lately there have been a lot of trans characters, but they've been played by men or women; they haven't been played by trans actresses. So I think that's an important step in the right direction, because I think we do it best. I think it will open up even more awareness…they [ members of CSI: NY ] were very accommodating in wanting to get it right, the writers, director, producers. If something didn't feel right for a trans character, I would say 'this wouldn't really happen, in reality this wouldn't happen'. They were all very accommodating and rewrote things and everything.
WCT: So, it helps with the authenticity of the portrayal?
CC: I think it does help having a person of transsexual orientation on a set like that because they can tell you their feelings, because they went through the same process. For me it's an exciting experience because for so long I played drag roles and then I transitioned and I hadn't worked for a long time because people didn't know where to put me. Finally it's starting to happen where I'm starting to get calls for roles. It's really an exciting thing for me.
WCT: Do you think the industry is becoming more open to using trans actors and actresses?
CC: I think they are. It also depends on the actor. I go on set and I am really comfortable with who I am and what I went through. I'm able to talk about it and be very open about it. It's not a big secret for me. I think that makes people who are interacting with me are comfortable enough to talk about it and be more open to it.
WCT: Did you see Transamerica and, if so, what was your reaction to that film?
CC: Well, I liked it. There were parts I liked and parts I didn't like. I liked Felicity. I thought she was a great actress in it, but there are certain things, again in the writing, that don't make sense. I think you can say a lot more with words than pictures, especially when it comes to situations that are inappropriate in the trans world. A perfect example—standing and peeing— [ exemplified ] my big problem with that movie. No matter who you are and what step of your transition you're at, a trans woman would never stand to pee, no matter if it's eighty below zero outside. She's going to squat and she's going to do it the way her mind tells her she's supposed to do it. It was little inaccuracies like that which made me not love the movie, but like it. … This is all groundbreaking, a new thing. So, of course, people are going to make mistakes, people are going to ask awkward questions. You just have to be open about it and not defensive, not take yourself too seriously.
WCT: What about the new trans character on All My Children?
CC: I haven't seen it yet, but they actually have contacted me about talking to the actor who is going through that. In the New Year I am probably going to be getting together with him and discussing the transition, which doesn't bug me because they want to portray this character starting the transition. You can't get a post-operative transsexual or one who's halfway through the transition to play the character because they want to start from the beginning. I think it's a great step, and that they're actually writing a character like that into a daytime soap opera. I think that it would be great if they do it correctly.
WCT: The New York Times called your one-woman show a 'must-see.' What was that like?
CC: That was amazing. It's like out of left field, on the cover of the Metro section. It was a really cool experience. It felt really great to be acknowledged.
WCT: What else do you have coming up in the near future?
CC: I did a really funny, silly movie with RuPaul called Star Booty Reloaded. That's in post-production. I have some other things I'm working on that I can't really talk about, but I have projects ahead.
WCT: How do you feel about being a spokesperson for the trans community? It seems that a lot of lesbian and gay performers who are coming out lately are stating that they don't want to be gay or lesbian spokespeople. How do you feel about that role?
CC: Well, you know there aren't really any—so I have to take on that role if it lends itself to me. I'm not going to go and be like 'I'm the spokesperson,' because I might not be one transsexual's spokesperson but I might be another. I just feel like if the community goes that way, I would definitely step up and [ be in ] that position, because I've always prided myself on making myself a positive role model, because that's how I was raised and that's what I know. I would never assume that I am the role model.