Calpernia Addams: the business of being transgendered
This story can also be seen in the 06/27/05 issue of Xenogeny
Calpernia Addams is a woman on the move. Having spent the better part of her life entertaining others in one form or the other she has come a long way since her days as a hired performer at the now defunct Connections nightclub. Probably best known as the subject of the film “Soldier’s Girl”, the work that Calpernia (or Calli as her voice mail says) now does include such things as last year’s high profile all transgendered production of “The Vagina Monologues” and her current production the film short “Casting Pearls” which uses humor to dispel common misconceptions about transgendered women. Certainly the busiest transgendered person in the entertainment industry, Addams is a far distance from her former life of performing for devoted fans in a nightclub, but her personal magnetism is still just as encompassing as it always has been.
Co-founder of Deep Stealth Productions with her business partner and fellow transgendered activist Andrea James, she is on a mission to help raise awareness in Hollywood about what it really means to be transgendered. On an early morning in June Calli took a break from her waffle and coffee breakfast that was to be the prelude to a day of writing about why people transition for submission to a nationally distributed magazine in order to give me the lowdown on what she’s been up to.
DK: Does your life as a transgendered person pose as a stumbling block to your career as an actress?
CA: Being any kind of different is going to complicate your life. Being transgendered in a place like Hollywood where everything is so image conscious can make things difficult. Sometimes people can be afraid to hire you out of ignorance of what transgendered people really are. Often they are afraid to even talk to a transgendered person because they expect some kind of uneducated street denizen. Part of our mission at Deep Stealth is to get face time with people in the industry so that they can get a better idea of what kind of people we really are.
DK: What sort of success have you been able to lay claim to so far?
CA: We have been very lucky to spend time with an incredible list of people. We’ve spoken to the head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We’ve spent time with a number of producers, writers, actors and actresses. We spend time talking about projects and just hanging out a lot of times. Almost every one of them has come away from those meetings with an expanded idea of who we are.
DK: Have there been any negative reactions?
CA: Well it’s safe to say that there are a large number of socially liberal people here in LA so being gay or lesbian doesn’t even raise an eyebrow from people. On the other hand when they are making a television show for Middle America they tend to be more hesitant. Being transgendered is a little bigger thing for people to have to deal with. Personally no one has ever really been negative; however actually getting work is much harder. So there is a subtle prejudice that happens.
DK: Since you’ve moved to California you’ve been very busy. Tell me about some of the projects you’ve been involved in.
CA: One of the most exciting projects was working on TransAmerica with Felicity Huffman. Felicity (of Desperate Housewives fame) starred in the movie as a transgendered woman. Andrea and I both starred in the movie alongside her. We have produced an instructional video that deals with transgendered issues that is heavily featured in the first part of the film. We also did the script consultation on the film so that they could make sure that they got all of the different trans things right. Felicity consulted with us so that she could learn certain vocal characteristics that trans women have.
DK: Do you find that there are a lot of common misconceptions about the trans community?
CA: I think that even in the gay community people don’t really understand some things about trans women. A lot of people tend to think that we do it so that we can sleep with straight men or that we are just drag queens who have taken it too far. They don’t tend to be discriminatory or mean about it like some straight people can be, but they still don’t seem to grasp that we do it because we have a female soul and all of the other things are superfluous to that. On the other hand in the straight community the only trans people they have seen are in movies or television and 90% of those roles have been as prostitutes, psychos, or the punch line of a joke. There is this prevailing idea that trans women are all uneducated streetwalkers, but there are many trans women who are doctors, professionals, lawyers and professionals of all stripes.
DK: Are these pre-conceived ideas hard to overcome even in the gay community? Do these misconceptions make your job even harder?
CA: Well, most of the gay community still sees us as family so even though they don’t understand they still accept us for what we are. They may not always get it but they love us just the same. The straight community’s misconceptions tend to bar us from even getting in the door in the first place. A lot of times once we finally get in the door they finally realize that we are just like everyone else and that’s why getting face time with these people is so important.
DK: It’s been quite some time since you’ve performed in Nashville. Are you looking forward to coming back?
CA: Oh yes I am! Being from Tennessee I am always telling people how much I miss the air, the trees and the hills. Not to mention the food and the people. I love Tennessee. People always laugh at me no matter where in the world I go because one of the first things that I tell them is that I’m proud to be a Nashvillian. A lot of people lack the state pride that Tennesseans have so they are surprised that I do. In four years I’ve only been back twice and only for a couple of days each time, so this is a real treat for me. I get to stay for seven full days this time.
DK: I understand that you no longer perform drag since you have fully made the transition and are living full-time as a woman. Why did you decide to perform drag at Play on the Fourth of July Weekend?
CA: I work so much all of the time in Hollywood. I work from home and I work from our office so it’s more than a full time job. When Play called and asked me to perform I decided that it would be the perfect opportunity for me to get away for a while and relax.
Nashville is my home and it’s where I got my start so I thought it would be fun to get back up on stage and have a rare comeback performance.
Calpernia Addams will be performing a special one-time-only engagement at Play, 1519 Church Street Nashville, Friday, July 1.
For more information about Calpernia Addams please visit www.calpernia.com. For more information about Deep Stealth Productions or transgendered issues please visit www.deepstealth.com.