Saturday, 28 December 2013

Interview with Andrea James


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Andrea James, a very prolific American artist, writer, film producer, director, businesswoman and LGBT rights activist. Hello Andrea!
Andrea: Hi Monika—thanks for interviewing me!
Monika: Having so many talents, which profession do you enjoy most?
Andrea: I enjoy writing educational information, because that fulfills my interest in teaching. Unfortunately, we live in a world where a large swath of people can’t be reached through the written word, so I also work in film and television.
Monika: In 2003, together with your business partner and entertainer Calpernia Addams, you co-founded Deep Stealth Productions to provide services to the transgender community. How successful is the company?
Andrea: I feel that our success is best measured by the nice letters and hugs we get from people who have been helped or moved by our work. We were never out to become rich selling specialty videos, and it’s not a big money-maker anyway. We often supplement the income from our work for the trans community through other kinds of production. Calpernia and I do not need a lot to live the lives we want, and that has freed us up to work on projects that are important to us.
Backstage at a club during filming of
Transamerican Love Story, October 2007.
Monika: In 2004 you produced and performed in the first all-transgender cast of The Vagina Monologues, a play by Eve Ensler. What inspired you to do this project? Did you produce any other plays afterwards?
Andrea: I have a confession. I don’t really like live theater. That project was a one-off that came from meeting Jane Fonda at Sundance in 2003. She connected us with Eve Ensler, and we put all our energy into that project for a year. Live theater is OK, and we had a few hundred people in attendance at the event.
The piece Eve wrote for our event was performed at hundreds of subsequent V-Day events by trans and non-trans people. However, the film of our event was able to reach hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. That’s why I prefer film and television and internet. You can reach so many more people that way.
Monika: You were the director of two short films "Casting Pearls" (2007) and "Transproofed" (2009). Could you say a few words about them?
Andrea: Both those shorts are about aspects of trans life we felt needed to be addressed. The first is about trans actors in Hollywood, and the second is about trans dating and disclosure. I am proud of both. They were also very helpful in taking my first steps in directing narrative films.
Monika: In 2003 you played the instrumental role in refuting the theory of J. Michael Bailey who published a controversial book about transsexualism “The Man Who Would Be Queen”, claiming that there are two forms of transsexualism: male homosexuality and a male sexual interest in having a female body. What an absurd idea!
Andrea: These “two-type” taxonomies have a long and sordid history in the oppression of trans people. The community rose up in near-unanimous condemnation of this book because it makes it impossible to discuss the very interesting and nuanced topic of trans sexuality outside of a pathological model.
I am very proud to have helped coordinate the community response with Lynn Conway. It’s great that we are now allowed to speak for ourselves more freely when discussing sexuality. The sooner we reject the medicalization and pathologization of who we are, the sooner we will be free.
Hollywood premiere of Casting Pearls
at Directors Guild of America, July 2007.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories which have been featured in media, films, books etc. so far?
Andrea: Most people writing about these topics want to use trans characters or themes as cyphers or as marketing tools. So much of the work in Hollywood is still stunt casting, or “very special episode” type storylines.
We’re still portrayed as prostitutes, punchlines, or psychopaths most of the time. I have always felt I would only be able to get things to a certain point in my own lifetime, after which others will have to take up the cause.
My goal is to encourage the next generation of storytellers, until being trans is not a big deal or a hindrance to on-camera participation in Hollywood.
Monika: As a consulting producer you took part in the first ever reality-dating television series “Transamerican Love Story” with Calpernia Addams and men competing for a date with her. Did it generate a lot of interest?
Andrea: I was very interested in a project that depicted the men who are attracted to trans women. There is so much stigma and shame around the topic, and these guys typically get misrepresented in the media as losers or perverts.
Most of the guys I have met are pretty nice, though the stigma sometimes makes them have some self-hatred about their feelings. That can lead to unhealthy and even dangerous situations for trans women. By taking the high road, I think we helped a lot of people rethink how they view trans people.
We’re not really different from anyone else. We want to be loved and respected, and showing us doing the same kinds of things as non-trans people, even something silly like a dating show, helps change hearts and minds.
Monika: In most of your productions, Calpernia is always the main actress. How do you get on together during shooting movies?
Andrea: I feel Calpernia is a great artist, and a good friend. When we came out here, she was interested in performing, and I was interested in activism. It’s been a great collaboration, one built on trust, and we hope to do more in the near future!
Filming an educational piece at MTV Networks,
January 16, 2008.
Monika: You were a script consultant for “Transamerica”, a 2005 film with Felicity Huffman, preparing her role as a transgender woman. How do you rate that movie. Would it be fair to say that it is the most important movie about the transgender phenomenon?
Andrea: My involvement beyond appearing in the opening sequence was working with Felicity. She is a fantastic actor, and she really wanted to get it right. I think it’s a good-hearted road movie with a lot of things going for it.
Any time a trans character appears in the media, many people want the story to be their story, and they want that character to be the one character that changes everything. That’s not how it works. Every fictional character tells one story, and it’s often stretching reality. I am very proud of Transamerica, but it was a bit of a box office fluke.
Felicity had filmed the Desperate Housewives pilot, but it had not yet aired. By the time Transamerica came out, that show had become a bona fide hit. It got much more attention than it would have under most circumstances. I think the most important film about trans and gender variance is the Belgian film Ma Vie En Rose, followed closely by Boys Don’t Cry. Transamerica is great because it is sweet, and it’s funny without getting laughs solely at the character’s expense.
Monika: What are the current issues on the transgender advocacy agenda?
Andrea: Hands down, the most important issue is trans youth. Trans people will continue to come out younger and younger, and that raises a host of legal, medical, ethical, and social issues. For more information on the topic, I recommend imatyfa.org.
Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Andrea: I was deeply influenced by Melanie Anne Phillips and Kate Bornstein. I also had several friends in transition at the same time I was in transition. That kind of support is as critical as online support.
Calpernia Addams and Andrea James filming at
Transamerican Love Story premiere, February 11, 2008.
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a lovely lady yourself but what advice you would give to ladies with the fear of not passing as a woman?
Andrea: The key to a happy transition is self-acceptance. If you combine that with realistic expectations, it will all go just fine.
Worry about the things you can change, and don’t worry about the things you can’t. Transition is a leap of faith at some point, but never let fear stop you from following your heart!
Monika: You were the host of the instructional program “Finding Your Female Voice” helping transgender women to get rid of their male voices? How much time and practice do we need to achieve satisfactory results in this respect?
Andrea: You never get rid of your old voice. You just find a new one. Finding it usually takes an hour. Getting to where you are consistent with it usually takes several months. I have additional information at tsroadmap.com and at genderlife.com.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Andrea: I do not plan to write a memoir at this time. I feel there are many excellent memoirs already out there.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Andrea: I continue to work on projects that mesh with my activism. This year I helped produce a dramatic feature called Living Things, about veganism, and I directed a film of Alec Mapa’s one-man show on adoption, called Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy.
I also co-edited a book called Letters For My Sisters, a series of letters by and for trans women. All are due out in 2014. I have not decided on my next project yet, but I am trying to coax Calpernia into doing a concert film. If she isn’t ready soon, I may move forward on a different project until she is.
Monika: Andrea, thank you for the interview!
Andrea: It’s been my pleasure! Please let your readers know they can visit andreajames.com for more on my latest projects.

All the photos: courtesy of Andrea James.
Done on 28 December 2013
© 2013 - Monika 

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