Trans-for­ma­tive

B.C.-raised trans­gen­der ac­tress makes his­tory on Gen­eral Hospi­tal

Windsor Star - - YOU - AD­INA BRESGE

Af­ter more than 14,000 episodes, long-run­ning soap opera Gen­eral Hospi­tal is still break­ing new ground with the re­cent de­but of the show’s first trans­gen­der char­ac­ter to be played by a trans­gen­der cast mem­ber.

But with the progress that’s be­ing made in day­time tele­vi­sion, Van­cou­ver-raised ac­tress Cas­san­dra James says it’s time for the rest of Hol­ly­wood to catch up. “Film and TV re­flects cul­ture, it re­flects the world that we live in. And if it’s not do­ing so ac­cu­rately in terms of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, then we have a prob­lem,” James, 25, said from Los An­ge­les.

“I’m happy to be chang­ing that.” Not a reg­u­lar soap viewer be­fore join­ing Gen­eral Hospi­tal, James braced her­self for a “brave new world” of soft lights and high drama.

Much of the se­rial’s cast, crew and de­voted fan base have stuck with the show through decades of dizzy­ing plot twists — from as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts to alien en­coun­ters — over its 55-year ten­ure on the air.

While some of the sto­ry­lines may seem larger than life, James said there are el­e­ments of her Gen­eral Hospi­tal role that ring true to her ex­pe­ri­ence as a mem­ber of the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity. James said she feels for­tu­nate to have been sup­ported by loved ones dur­ing her tran­si­tion, un­like her char­ac­ter, Dr. Terry Ran­dolph, who strug­gles with ac­cep­tance by her fam­ily on the show.

In one scene, Ran­dolph tells a child­hood friend tran­si­tion­ing isn’t a de­ci­sion she made on a whim, but rather was a way for her to rec­on­cile “the dif­fer­ence between the phys­i­cal and the emo­tional.” One of the show’s male leads trips over his words as he tries to sup­port Ran­dolph, as­sur­ing her that it’s “awe­some” she can fi­nally be her true self.

James said she thinks this could be a “teach­ing mo­ment” for many in the soap opera’s broad au­di­ence, some of whom may not have en­coun­tered a trans­gen­der per­son out­side the small screen. More poignantly, she said she re­ceives mes­sages from fans thrilled that they’re fi­nally able to see them­selves re­flected on their favourite TV pro­gram.

But these kinds of ben­e­fits are harder to re­al­ize when so many trans­gen­der roles are taken by such cis­gen­der per­form­ers as Scar­lett Jo­hans­son, James said. “I be­lieve that my cis co-work­ers in the in­dus­try need to be do­ing bet­ter,” she said. “It’s just the cul­ture that we live in. The pen­du­lum swings — and re­ally, vis­i­bil­ity could not be more im­por­tant than it is right now.”

Jo­hans­son had come un­der fire over her cast­ing in Rub & Tug, a biopic about pros­ti­tu­tion ring leader Dante (Tex) Gill, who was born a woman but iden­ti­fied as a man. The back­lash in­ten­si­fied af­ter her team re­ferred a me­dia in­quiry to rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Jef­frey Tam­bor, Jared Leto and Felic­ity Huff­man, who have por­trayed trans­gen­der char­ac­ters. Jo­hans­son with­drew on Fri­day, “in light of re­cent eth­i­cal ques­tions raised sur­round­ing my cast­ing.” James said the fact that Jo­hans­son’s state­ment was vet­ted by in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als speaks to the need for Hol­ly­wood to in­crease trans­gen­der rep­re­sen­ta­tion both in front of and be­hind the cam­era. It’s not that James be­lieves an ac­tor’s gen­der al­ways has to be per­fectly aligned with the char­ac­ter’s. Act­ing, she said, is about em­body­ing an “imag­ined re­al­ity.” But in or­der for that re­al­ity to be ren­dered au­then­ti­cally, trans­gen­der peo­ple have to be part of the cre­ative process. “We’re not be­ing al­lowed to tell our own sto­ries, and who bet­ter to tell our own sto­ries than us?” she said. “It’s re­ally about al­low­ing us in the room.”

“Who bet­ter to tell our own sto­ries than us?” says trans­gen­der ac­tress Cas­san­dra James. “It’s re­ally about al­low­ing us in the room.”

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