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‘Transparent’ Actress Trace Lysette on Speaking Up About Sexual Misconduct on Inclusive Set

I was on a production call for a series that I’m helping to produce when my colleague, Evette Vargas, told me the news that Amazon had taken action regarding Jeffrey Tambor following a several-months-long investigation into reports of sexual misconduct on the set of “Transparent” that I made public after initial allegations by Van Barnes were brought to light. For a brief moment I let myself feel relief, but I was in work mode and I didn’t have any more energy to expend on this event or to express any joy. I have lived my life putting work first, pushing myself to overcome obstacles to get the job done. The real resolution and closure to me will come when and if we are allowed to make season five of “Transparent,” and what I can do for myself and my community to move beyond this immediate moment and not let it define me.

I’ve spoken publicly before about my journey to Hollywood and the challenging circumstances that many trans women, myself included, are forced to power through — rejection from our families, survival sex work, unemployment, attempted suicide and anti-trans violence, to name a few. We are used to surviving by any means in a world that has not made space for us. Growing up, I never saw images of trans people succeeding.

I recall the magic being on set for season one of “Transparent.” The trans inclusivity of our set was unparalleled at the time. For someone like me who came from living a complex and compartmentalized life of not fully embracing my trans identity out loud and proud, it was a very liberating place for me. I’d managed to carve out a space for myself in a society that has systematically attacked women like me. I had survived and arrived. It was a dream come true to even be working among so many out trans people in this field on a show that would humanize us, and on the legendary Paramount lot no less.

This dream was tainted that day on set during season two. The world I came from was a world of hiding my transness; I had been liberated by this project only to be sexualized and victimized again. When the physical altercation with Jeffrey happened, I realized I wasn’t at a point in my life where I was powerful enough to speak out; it was for me, familiar. I stayed in the work. Reflecting back now, I realize underneath all of that I felt sadness — sadness for this body that had carried me so very far, and was oftentimes my only resource. It had carried me to an extraordinary place, a seemingly safe space, only to be abused again.

In spite of this event I hope people can still understand how important this show is. I also feared that the people employed by “Transparent” — trans and cisgender alike — would be placed in jeopardy. When I went public with my story, it was not about attention; it revealed itself to be the safest option.

Trans people face an immense stigma, and it’s especially hard for us to speak out because we don’t think people are going to listen. I had worked on other sets before and not experienced this kind of situation. “Blunt Talk,” “Drunk History,” “Law & Order,” among others, were safe spaces. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d experience something like this on one of the most inclusive and progressive sets in Hollywood history, but sometimes life tests you when you are most comfortable.

As Hollywood evolves with the #MeToo movement and power becomes more evenly dispersed, women, people of color and trans people have started to gain momentum in this industry. Trans folk are finally being recognized for our talent, and Hollywood is having an evolution, but trans people need to continue to be a part of that.

I am inspired by witnessing my trans siblings succeed. Daniela Vega will be presenting at the Oscars and Yance Ford was nominated for best documentary, both historic firsts. I’m held up by my “Transparent” colleagues Alexandra Billings, Zackary Drucker, Rhys Ernst and Our Lady J, who have made their mark and continue to do the work. We were blessed to see an Emmy nom for “Her Story” featuring Angelica Ross and Jen Richards; my friend and sister Laverne Cox has her Emmy nods as well. Mya Taylor won an Independent Spirit Award. Candis Cayne and others blazed a trail, and Rain Valdez, Jamie Clayton, Janet Mock, Alexandra Grey, Shadi Petosky, Hari Nef and Silas Howard among others will widen that path for others to walk it.

As a trans woman, I have always had to rise up and take the high road. I refuse to live in the victimhood or be defined by it.

Since the news broke, I have become activated. I was fortunate to speak at the Women’s March in Las Vegas alongside many powerful voices that spoke to and reaffirmed my greater purpose. I was at Sundance with GLAAD talking about LGBTQ images on film. I’ve attended meetings for Time’s Up and continue to travel the country speaking on college campuses about my journey and my hope for the future. I am dedicated to inclusive projects with respected names in the industry — both in front of the camera and behind it.

One epiphany I’ve taken away from this whole experience is that I won’t have the luxury of just being an actor. Those of us with access have to speak up and be the storytellers too. It’s an awakening I was hesitant to take on, but we need to be in charge of our narratives — we need to be creating and in positions of power — producing, directing and acting. The real closure and safety will come when power and creative control are evenly distributed among the many different walks of life that make up the beautiful quilt that is our collective humanity.

 

Trace Lysette is currently cast in the TV movie “Fabled,” directed by Jennifer Morrison.

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