By Aneesh Sheth
Having presented myself in a feminine yet androgynous way for nearly 8 years prior to actually transitioning and living full-time as a transgender woman, I understood the depth of emotion the character felt when needing to hide who she truly was at her job. The morning on set that we were to shoot the scene in which I presented as androgynous, I joked with the director, “this is traumatizing for me”. Dressed in a baggy sweatshirt that I had dubbed as part of my “frumpy barbie” look, my hair pulled tightly in a low pony tail and not a drop of make-up on, a sudden rush of the emotions I once felt prior to transitioning came upon me. I remembered the experiences I survived, the adversity I faced and the challenges I overcame. In half a day’s shooting, I had relieved the experiences up to my transition all over again. I remembered the self-hate, the way I’d look at myself in the mirror and think I will never be a woman not matter how hard I try.
Similar to the experience the protagonist in the film faces, I too experienced a sort of closeted persona during my years in college. I attended a musical theatre conservatory where my teachers urged me to chop my boyishly long hair and present myself in a more masculine way as to be able to better direct me on how to be a trained male actor. On days when we were able to create characters to present in class, undoubtedly I came to class dressed as a woman, creating a character around her. Such behavior mainly confused my teachers as they tried to convince me that living a life in a more masculine manner would enable me to access my masculinity needed to be a well-rounded actor. Not to put any blame on my incredible acting teachers who have also contributed to the successful career path I am on now; they simply weren’t sure how to handle a student who presented as an androgynous figure.
In the end it did not matter how I presented in acting class, for the actor-self was far different from my true self. Any work I was given became a way to enhance my craft no matter what the role. It was from my training as well as the experiences I have faced in my life that have allowed me to access the emotional life of a character I am playing. All in all, the trauma from having to be filmed as androgynous didn’t last too long. My strength of who I am, my courage and my dignity had been put to the test and it is through that test I have learn to become more and more fearless.