Anyone who's seen the short Casting Pearls might be surprised to find the film's star, trans actress Calpernia Addams headlining cable's latest reality dating program. After all, Casting Pearls openly mocked the schlocky genre that seems to reveal in catfights and demoralizing contests. But with the LGBT cable channel behind it, Addams couldn't turn down the offer to star in TransAmerican Love Story.
It may be for the real-life tragedy of love lost that Addams is best known for. As described in her autobiography, Mark 947: A Life Shaped by God, Gender and Force of Will and immortalized in the 2003 film Solider's Girl, Addams' boyfriend Barry Winchell was beaten to death by fellow recruits who'd discovered she was transsexual.
'Barry [ was ] a participant in one of the most defining moments of my life, so he'll always be sort of frozen in time in that moment. I think about him for a second or two probably every day, and I have ever since it happened almost nine years ago. But he's just like a fond memory or like an angel hovering over my shoulder now. I don't compare anybody I'm dating now with Barry. I wouldn't expect a man I date now in my mid-thirties to act like or do anything like Barry and I did in our early twenties.'
Witnessing the impact of Solider's Girl, Addams set out to form a production company to provide positive images of trans people. She moved to Hollywood, co-founded Deep Stealth Productions ( www.deepstealth.com ) , and was soon consulting on and appearing in multiple television shows like CSI and, later, the Oscar nominated film, TransAmerica. From that role, Deep Stealth moved on to producing the short film Casting Pearls, which played frequently on Logo and paved the way for a collaboration.
Addams ( www.Calpernia.com ) explains, that she and her friend and business partner Andrea James pitched Logo a scripted series. The channel liked their idea, but with the writers strike and budget constraints in mind, they suggested the dating show instead.
'At first, I had reservations,' Addams admits. 'We actually made fun of reality TV in our short film Casting Pearls. There's a general level of concern that reality television tends to make people look … horrible, grasping [ and ] sad.'
For example, Addams blasts I Love New York's star: 'I'm sure that what New York puts on screen is somewhat of a character. That character, I think, is the basement of humanity. I won't judge Tiffany as a person, but I will say that the character I see on television is horrible.'
In the end, Addams says, 'The bigger concern [ was ] what is this doing for trans people's portrayal in the media?' She decided Logo's reputation made the difference. 'This is made by LGBT people. The producers, the directors, even down to the office staff, people are trans and bi and gay and lesbian; so there's just an awareness of the issues and it's from top to bottom. Nothing guarantees a perfect understanding of transsexuality. A lot of gay people still don't get us but … heterosexual media has tended to exploit us a lot more for the freak factor.'
To avoid that kind of treatment, Addams insisted that Love Story be upfront about her gender. 'The guys know that I'm trans. They know they are going to be on television and out about dating me. The show is really just about a girl dating guys … and what it's like for straight men to date me. It's normal.'
Recognizing that dating is difficult for everyone, Addams suggests that trans women face particular struggles. 'I never learned any of the heterosexual dating rituals mothers teach their daughters. I never dated women at all, so I never even sort of saw it from the other side. A lot of trans women share that experience, so that once we transition we start dating this weird animal that we know nothing about. Then … you have to deal with the men's misconceptions and preconceptions of what a trans woman is.'
'These last two or three years have been like the dawning of opportunity for trans actors and actresses,' Addams contends. But she's still nervous about the future. 'We, as trans women at least have been so hypersexualized that we're being accepted pretty quickly and we're being allowed to be sexual, which is kind of interesting, but kind of dangerous that we'll be oversexualized.'
Although she appreciated the dating assistance, Addams confesses, 'It was humbling to have myself put up as some object of desire … as, 'She's hot, she's beautiful, she's sexy and you should want her!' I'm just like, 'Oh, God I hope I live up to that!''
She's a little embarrassed that the men of TransAmerican Love Story all end up being a bunch of white guys. 'Just know that we really did look across the board in terms of age and race and experience. We cast with diversity in mind. [ But ] there's a pretty tough screening process for dating shows. I told them I've dated a five-foot-six Puerto Rican guy from New York; I've dated a six-foot-six Danish guy; I've dated all different shapes and sizes and educational backgrounds. The core things that are important to me are a kind and gentle heart and a sense of humor.'
Having gone into the show not knowing if she would really connect on a personal level with the suitors, Addams was surprised. 'Actually, I did get emotionally invested in the guys. I cried almost every single time I had to send someone home. It was a real experience for me. We all sort of mutually agreed to enter into this situation of heightened reality. The circumstances are managed by the show producers but our reactions are real.'
Neither audiences nor the guys will get to see the biker side of Addams on Love Story. 'I wrecked my motorcycle last Thanksgiving … so I didn't have a bike while we were doing the show. You just never know what's going to happen. I love to ride so much, it feels like flying to me. It's my alone time that I need desperately; at the same time, I think—if you have a motorcycle you have to kind of be ready to die.'
But the viewers and guys will see Addams whip out her fiddle in a scene or two, and even debut a dance single on one of the episodes. 'It's really inspired me,' She reveals. 'I can't promise that I'll have a whole album but I'm going to be putting out some more music.'
Trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall writes the weekly syndicated column, TransNation. He can be reached at email@example.com .
© 2008 Jacob Anderson-Minshall
TransAmerican Love Story airs Mondays on the Logo channel at 9 p.m. CT. For more information, see www.logoonline.com .