Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Alexandra Billings, a fascinating American actress, teacher, singer, and the first trans woman to have played a transgender character on television. I must say I am thrilled that I can interview such an iconic person. Hello Alexandra!
|Publicity photo for The Baton|
Showlounge, 1986 or 7, by Unknown.
When I began my transition, it was 1980 and there was no Will and Grace, there was no RuPaul, there was nothing. I assumed my career was over and the only thing I could do that had any connection to performing, was to lip synch.
Then I found I could do it, and get paid for it. That was amazing to me. I’d never heard of such a thing, and I thought I’d struck gold. And then, I met my family. My Transgender family. These girls became my confessors, my parents, and my best friends. For a while, it was beautiful. I had found my tribe.
|Publicity photo for Miss Florida, 1990,|
photo by Jennifer Gerard.
Then I was known as a Transgender Actress. Now…who knows? I guess it depends on who’s writing the article and what was the last thing they saw me in. Perhaps the importance of what I did is more up to the people who saw it. I try not to think about it too much. If I read something I don’t like I do one of two things: I write a scathing letter and let out all my rage and pain, or I watch an episode of I Love Lucy. Either way, I win.
It’s also a whole other gift. It takes practice. Some people do it really, really well. I’m not one of those people. I think too much. I’m in my head and the purpose and truth of what I’m singing gets pushed aside. I usually end up doing take after take after take and still sounding like Charles Neslon Reilly. I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve never heard either of those CDs. Never.
|Publicity photo for the LA premiere of|
"Vampire Lesbians of Sodom", 2005.
This is how we change the world: share the truth of who we are to people who can receive it with openness and acceptance. That way, we pave the way for the younger generation to be completely and utterly free.
But that was it until I found my tribe at Club Victoria in Chicago in the early 80’s.
She became one of the greatest friends I ever had, right up until the end of her life.
But change isn’t something that comes easily for me. I like things to stay the same. I drive the same way to work. I walk the same path to the ocean. I eat dinner at the same time. I like things to have structure And then…. there’s this other part of me that thrives on danger and the unknown. I’m curious by nature so I love to peek behind curtains.
So I don’t know, really. I don’t know if it was harder. All I know is that any kind of movement into a newness is transformative not just for the person going through it but for the world around them as well. And that always shakes things up. It’s never easy. Even if you like it, I wouldn’t describe it as easier here than there.
We must find the things that bring us joy so when the times come that are filled with emptiness (and they do come), we have something to lie against. To rest. To take comfort in. Love is everything. Love is all.
|Photo taken at CSU campus in Fresno,|
teaching with The Steppenwolf Theater
during the summer intensive, 2010.
“Unfortunately, no one knows who you are. Why would anyone buy this?” I thought: “Well. Good point.” So I stopped.
However, I’ve been going through another transition…. never fear, I’m not going back to Scott, that would roll my mother into Shakespeare’s grave…. this is a spiritual transition, and so I’m trying again. I kept a personal blog for the last decade and I’ve learned to write essays very quickly and succinctly, so this is what this new book is.
More essays highlight my strange and extraordinary life in the last half a century. So we’ll see. I’m no more well known than I was 10 years ago, but because I’m older now, I care less. Someone will either publish it, or they won’t and it’ll sit and wait until it’s time. The writing of it is very therapeutic.
I’ll tell you the honest truth: I never wanted to be famous. I grew up being bullied and ridiculed to such a degree that when people stare at me or look my direction I have to go into a deep breathing exercise. To this day the first thing that passes through me is: “They’re making fun of me. They’re laughing at me.”
You know. I’ve never said that out loud before. Seriously. This is the first time.
So…I never really tried very hard. My manager said to me when I first got to Hollywood that I needed to go to more parties, meet more people, get myself out there more. It just didn’t interest me. I love creating. I love art. I am passionate about sharing my voice and honored to be in the room when others do the same. I am an eternal student and that’s what keeps me going. Along with this paranoia, is just this...
I’m not interested in being noticed just to be noticed. I am interested in being led by people who give their gift and wherever it is they go, I’ll follow them. If that happens to be on stage or in front of a camera, I’ll do my best to show up and learn. Right now, the classroom is calling me. My students teach me more about living than any other group of people I’ve been with.
Hollywood is funny. You have to produce yourself into a commodity, and yet, people keep begging you to be true to who you are. That game is exhausting and I don’t really understand it. So, who knows? I have no idea what’s next and that’s actually fine.
I would add that I believe our dreams begin the day we arrive. Certainly the end of what we dream doesn’t occur until the last chapter is written, but as far as dreaming goes, that was given to us by something much greater and much more powerful than anything we could imagine.
Our dreams are not up to us. They are not Lists of Things to Get Done. They are gifts we are required to fulfill. The problem is, most of us walk around the planet trying to remember them, or think them up, or write them down. Dreams don’t work that way. They are within the very being we inhabit, and so all we really need to do is release them. Let the out. Allow them to manifest in the way they need to.
It’s not about the end result, the ability to make them come true, it’s about giving he gift of Hope to another human being. If we do that, the hope of a dream, if someone in front of us receives that, and as long as it’s authentic, we change the world. One spirit at a time, we change each other. That is the greatest dream, and that is not only our responsibility, it is the thing we were all born to do. From the start.
Remember this: The operating table would not have happened at all, had the dream not existed to begin with.
We dream not because we have to, we dream because we’re supposed to.
Main photo credits to Jennifer Girardi.
All the photos: courtesy of Alexandra Billings.