Thursday 12 August 2021

Interview with Jessica Crockett

Monika: Today I have invited a special guest. Jessica Crockett is an American actress, model, and admirer of Arabian horses. She was the first-ever trans actress to play a trans woman on American television in an episode of Dark Angel (2001), the well-known TV series with Jessica Alba in the main role. Hello Jessica!
Jessica: Hi Monika! A pleasure to meet you.
Monika: How are you doing in these crazy pandemic times?
Jessica: Very well thank you. Staying safe and fully vaccinated.
Monika: It has been 20 years since your appearance as Louise in the Dark Angel series. How do you recall this role?
Jessica: The first thing that comes to mind was how hard it was to land in this role. In the business, it's called a principle role. Lots of barriers to overcome. The audition process was super grueling. I was prepared though. I was obsessed with the art of acting and studied with the best.
My very wise acting coach said, "Forget everything you've learned and be yourself." That was the hardest part. Playing a trans character was extremely challenging for me. 20 years ago survival was the main priority. To survive back then you had to blend in. Be stealthy.
Monika: Were you aware at that time that it was a historical moment for the transgender community? You became the first-ever trans actress to play a trans woman on American television.
Jessica: Yes. I believe everyone involved knew this had never been done before. I was also aware I was using the privilege of being white and passable. This was an opportunity to show a trans woman being accepted. At the time we were not accepted by the media.

"The industry just wasn't quite ready for an
openly trans woman actress."

Monika: Unfortunately your career did not gain any momentum afterwards. Did you act in any other movie after the Dark Angel series?
Jessica: I did try. The industry just wasn't quite ready for an openly trans woman actress. I knew I was taking a great risk. I was advised not to come out. I had to. Not for me for my trans sisters.
Monika: What happened in your professional life after your role in the Dark Angel Series? 
Jessica: Hiatus. The Casting Society of America held an open call for transgender actors and I was happy to participate.
Monika: You came back to the movie business a year ago when you took part as a creative consultant in Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen by Sam Feder, a Netflix documentary about Hollywood's depiction of transgender people and the impact of those stories on transgender lives and American culture. How did you get involved with the movie?
Jessica: Yes, a creative consultant and also a filmed interview. Sam Feder approached me early on during the pre-production of the documentary. It was a validating experience.
Monika: The film provides examples of damaging and inaccurate portrayals of the transgender community in American cinema and TV shows. You were subject to this cruel mechanism yourself. What is your own view on this?
Jessica: I’m amazed at how far we have come. I’m excited to see what the future holds for our many talented trans actors and actresses.

"I’m excited to see what the future holds for our
many talented trans actors and actresses."

Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Jessica: Caroline Cossey who at the time I knew as Tula was the first trans woman I remember from television. I have also met in person trans women with successful acting careers who are not publicly out and for this reason, I choose not to disclose their names.
Monika: I remember Jerry Springer's episodes about transgender women. I felt so depressed after watching one of them.
Jessica: Depression shouldn’t be taken lightly. For any of our youth that may be struggling The Trevor Project can help.
Monika: The Disclosure documentary is mainly about the past. There is no reference to what transgender cinema may look like in the future. Will we go in the direction visible in the television series Pose or Transparent?
Jessica: I certainly hope so. Let's keep elevating.
Monika: What do you think about cisgender actors playing transgender women: Jared Leto or Eddie Redmayne? Some critics claim that it is unacceptable because it furthers the public misunderstanding of transgender women as men.
Jessica: When the creators of a film or television show cast men as trans women it is done with a clear understanding, intent, and purpose. This conveys to the audience that indeed you are watching a man. By doing so they are rewarded with accolades and financial gain. They are successfully exploiting transphobia.

"We are at a dipping point. We need to stay vigilant."

Monika: In June 2014, Time magazine published the beautiful cover photo of Laverne Cox with the words “Transgender Tipping Point: America’s next civil rights frontier.” Two years earlier Joe Biden said that transgender discrimination is the civil rights issue of our time. Are we really at the tipping point?
Jessica: We are at a dipping point. We need to stay vigilant. We need our allies and be allies. I’m a staunch supporter of the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU.
Monika: Did you have a happy childhood?
Jessica: I was a solitary child. My happiest times were spent at the stable with horses.
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Jessica: Lakewood, California. A suburb of Los Angeles.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Jessica: The start of my senior year in high school is when I started hormone therapy and was allowed to wear make-up. I would say I became a woman at the same age as most girls become women. Living my truth came at a cost. I was bullied and beaten. Often attacked from behind. My mother loves me unconditionally and was very supportive. My mother taught me strength. My father didn't come around so easily. I was subjected to conversion therapy for a time by a pastor from a church.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. You look like a million dollars yourself but many ladies do not. How can we cope with this?
Jessica: It’s imperative to practice self-love.

"We are more than just a community. We are family!
I will always show up for our LGBTQ+ family."

Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Jessica: The incomparable Trace Lysette.
Monika: You love horses. How did you develop this passion?
Jessica: Yes, I love horses. They teach us so much about ourselves. I have always just loved horses.
Monika: One of my favorite books is The Horse Whisperer (1995) that was later adapted for a 1998 American Western drama film directed by and starring Robert Redford. What is your most amazing story about horses?
Jessica: Oh that’s a great one. My pick is Sylvester (1985) starring Melissa Gilbert.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Jessica: We are more than just a community. We are family! I will always show up for our LGBTQ+ family.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Jessica: Love always wins.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Jessica: I have not.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Jessica: I am focused on remaining present. You know living in the now. Gratitude is important.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Jessica: Not to let fear be in the way of your happiness. Do it on your own terms. Do not compare yourself to others. Your transition will be just as unique as you are.

"Do not compare yourself to others. Your transition
will be just as unique as you are."

Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Jessica: Yes. Wholeheartedly.
Monika: Jessica, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Jessica: Thank you, Monika. The pleasure was all mine.

All the photos: courtesy of Jessica Crockett.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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