Anthony Rapp, Wilson Cruz on ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Coupledom

The sci-fi franchise goes where no gays have gone before.

RappCruz

startrek.com

This is in part a repost of my article first published on the LGBT silo of nbcnews.com on October 13, 2017.

This blogpost includes original content not included with the article on NBC Out, and here appears in bold. 

The fact that for the first time in the 51-year history of “Star Trek,” out gay actors are playing gay characters in love, is not something CBS, its stars or its creators are either hiding or promoting. But it is something they’re celebrating.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of ‘Star Trek’ TV’s first gay couple,” actor Anthony Rapp of “Rent” fame told NBC News. “I can’t say how much that means to me personally as a fan of the series and as a member of the LGBT community.”

Rapp plays the prickly, grumpy genius anastromycologist Lt. Paul Stamets, which basically means he’s the foremost expert on fungus. And fungus gets far more screen-time than his same-sex relationship on the CBS All Access streaming show, which is just fine with Rapp.

“I’m proud of the fact that none of that really matters in the show,” Rapp said, describing the portrayal of their relationship as “alive, truthful and human.”

IMG_8186His on-screen partner and costar, Wilson Cruz, who plays Dr. Hugh Culber, called Rapp his “space boo” on stage at New York Comic Con. They’ve been friends since they starred together on Broadway two decades ago. “We’ve worked together for 20 years, so it was so easy to create this together, because we have so much back history.”

Cruz won applause during the evening event at the Paley Center for Media in midtown Manhattan, when he spoke up for transgender rights, called out violence based on gender identity and called for more LGBTQ representation in entertainment. “These stories we tell are really important, so that people understand who we are, what our lives are like, and perhaps they will understand us and not hate us.”

Cruz was quick to denounce the actions of the Trump administration to rollback LGBT rights and attempts to erase protections against discrimination.

“I’m livid,” Cruz told me before Saturday night’s panel at the Paley Center. “We have a president who cares very little for LGBT people,” he said. “His words mean nothing and his actions mean everything, and he’s saying everything he really believes in his actions.”

“It saddens me that this continues to be the case,” Rapp told me, saying despite the government’s actions, he remains encouraged. “The backlash that comes is only possible because of the progress. So it is in direct opposition to progress. It’s like the last gasp.”

Isaacs

startrek.com

The “Star Trek” franchise, said actor Jason Isaacs, is inclusive of “all genders, all sexualities, all flavors, not just of humans, but in our show of [other] species as well. The point being, things we are told should separate us, actually unite us.”

“The original series was borne out of troubled times, “ Isaacs continued, ”the birth of the civil rights movement and feminism, and I think there’s never been a time where a story like this, with a positive view of the future — even though we’re at war in the show — has been more necessary, than when division is being sown by some really toxic elements.”

President Trump and his Justice Department’s newly announced policies threatening LGBT rights, and the administration’s continued efforts to curtail reproductive rights and threats to immigrants, were as talked about on the red carpet as were the Discovery’s groundbreaking spore drive, Vulcans and Klingons.

IMG_8187“Star Trek: Discovery” Executive Producer Akiva Goldsman said the franchise has “always been about inclusion.”

“We’re not value-neutral when it comes to the issues of people being isolated, separated, not understood, ostracized,” Goldsman explained.

Citing proof of the show’s inclusivity, Alex Kurtzman, also an executive producer on the series, said the team behind the scenes is an even mix of men and women. He also revealed the show’s producers decided a refocus was necessary following President Trump’s unexpected election victory. That included a not-accidental nod to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, by giving the show’s antagonists, the Klingons, a new rallying cry: “Remain Klingon.”

PaleyFest: Star Trek Discovery

justjared.com

Cruz was swift to point out that from sexual harassment of women to racial inclusion, Hollywood has a lot more work to do, especially from his perspective as an industry trailblazer. He was the first out Latino actor on network television, playing the first openly gay teenager on TV: the character of Rickie Vasquez on “My So-Called Life” in the mid-1990s. Times have changed, Cruz said.

“But the fact of the matter is,” he told fans, “most of the LGBTQ characters now on TV are still gay white men. The work that needs to be done now is to diversify the picture of LGBTQ people, so that people can see that we come from all races, different genders, we have trans people.” Cruz’s character on the U.S.S. Discovery is only the second regular “Star Trek” character of Latinix heritage, following the half-Klingon, half-human B’elanna Torres played by Rosario Dawson on “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Cruz

CBS

As gay actors, Cruz and Rapp have tremendous allies both on the screen and in front of it, largely thanks to social media. “Star Trek: Discovery” is the first installment of the franchise since the creation of Twitter and Facebook.

“The ‘Trek’ community is so profoundly engaged,” Rapp said. “We’re all in this together. Yes, I’m the one in the show, and you’re the one consuming the show. But we all care about it, and we get to share in that.”

IMG_8191

Although CBS boasts the show has boosted subscriptions to its streaming service, a lot of the online chatter is centered on criticism of the network’s decision to hide it behind a paywall. Isaacs, who plays Discovery’s sexy, mysterious and mercurial Captain Gabriel Lorca, told Comic Con fans that controversy is not something the cast wants to address, and directed the question to “the other end of the panel.”

nycc

Executive producer Kurtzman took the bull by the horns, and didn’t mince words. He told fans paid content is where television is going, following in the footsteps of Netflix, Hulu, now Disney, and of course the pay TV granddaddy, HBO.

tilly2

startrek.com

 

Another topic of internet speculation concerns Mary Wiseman’s character, Cadet Sylvia Tilly. Is she more than just a talkative space rookie, perhaps someone on the autism spectrum?

tilly

 

“In terms of the script, no one’s put a label on it,” Wiseman told NBC. “I think the idea that someone would see Tilly and recognize part of themselves in that performance, or that they would feel represented, is deeply moving to me, and gratifying.”

smg

startrek.com

 

Series star, the stunning Sonequa Martin-Green who rose to fame in The Walking Dead, told us her favorite part of playing mutineer Michael Burnham is her character’s desire to better understand other people.

sonequa2

“I’m on a journey of self-discovery and I have an issue of arrested development because of what I’ve gone through,” she said, alluding to the challenges no woman in the franchise’s history has ever tackled: Burnham is an orphan raised on Vulcan as an adopted member of Spock’s family. Her actions set in motion the war between the Federation and the Klingons.

Klingons

Speaking of Klingons, Mary Chieffo plays the imposing L’Rell, a character she describes as more than just intimidating; the six-foot-tall beauty revealed L’Rell has a quality Star Trek fans have never before seen in a Klingon: vulnerability.

Mary Chieffo

“I really hope,” she said, “whether it be LGBTQ, or anyone who sees themselves as ‘other,’ is able to relate to the Klingons, to L’Rell. I think there’s a lot there that I relate to, as someone who’s never felt quite in the vein of what other people wanted me to be.”

cruz rapp

startrek.com

Just as Rapp and Cruz hope to convey their humanity in their performances, Chieffo said she, Martin-Green and Wiseman aim to be strong female role models for girls.

“You don’t have to be fully-armored,” she said, “to be badass.”

 

 

Want more? Watch the videos from my Facebook Live stream by clicking these links!

Thanks to CBS, startrek.com and justjared.com for the photos appearing here. 

Special thanks to New York Comic Con and the Paley Center for Media for welcoming me to cover these two events for my readers here and at NBC News! 

Why We Need to Listen to Bruce Jenner

Note to my readers: This is an expanded version of what first appeared on Thursday, February 5th, 2015, as an Op Ed for The Advocate Magazine:

640_bruce_jenner_long_hair

These days you can’t turn on the TV or go online in any LGBT social media space without seeing three words together:

Bruce. Jenner. Woman!

10835412_10205108433382284_5812753451013993168_oIt’s not only in outlets that traffic in “celebrity” gossip like TMZ and InTouch Weekly — which had the balls to Photoshop a cover image of Jenner to look more feminine; even legendary, respected sources of industry news can’t help but jump on the bandwagon that transgender stand-up comedian Tammy Twotone dubbed “Bruce Jennifer.”

People magazine’s latest headline loudly proclaims to its 3.5 million weekly readers what all those “anonymous sources” are all to happy too report, despite the fact that Jenner himself has never addressed long-standing rumors about his gender identity.

Even Variety, the storied bible of Hollywood insiders, boasts its reporters have learned “E! is developing a docuseries following Bruce Jenner’s ‘journey,’” and that “the head of publicity at E! [is] planning a meeting with GLAAD about how to handle such a sensitive subject.”

E!, of course, already pays Jenner to star as the often reclusive patriarch on the family reality series, Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Lest the gossip remain solely the purview of entertainment media, bruceinterviewmainstream outlets are jumping on the speculation brigade, too. A representative with ABC News reportedly confirmed to BuzzFeed that Diane Sawyer is finalizing an agreement to host Jenner for a sit-down interview to be aired during the crucial May sweeps rating period.

Then the Associated Press circumvented Bruce Jenner altogether on Wednesday and called up his 88-year-old mother for an hourlong conversation. The reporter asked how Jenner had come out to her. “It was brief,” she said, “and I said I was proud of him and that I’ll always love him. I never thought I could be more proud of Bruce when he reached his goal in 1976, but I’m more proud of him now. It takes a lot of courage to do what he’s doing.”

Well, that’s it, then, right? Done deal? All that’s left is for Bruce Jenner himself (or herself) to make it official.

But this is my point. And it’s not mine alone — it’s shared by my colleagues at The Advocate and other leading LGBT publications: We don’t know how Jenner identifies until Jenner tells us.

We at The Advocate have made the choice to wait for confirmation, denial, or whatever it will be from Jenner and the representatives who are actually authorized to speak on behalf of the former Olympic athlete. The Advocate has not been able to get E!, Jenner, or the star’s agent to confirm anything — or even comment on the record.

Is Jenner transitioning? We really don’t know. When we do, we’ll let you know.

But, damn it, People magazine, even if you’re right about Jenner’s plans, here’s a tip: No one “transitions into a woman!”

The ignorance and misinformation about this subject galls me, given the fact that GLAAD has a very easy-to-understand lexicon available online, and experts on gender identity can be found in nearly every metropolis on earth — many of them transgender. Reporters cannot plead “we didn’t know” in their own defense anymore. I mean, come on: Have you heard of Google?

Apparently, it’s time for a crash-course for those unfamiliar: transition is not a “journey.” It’s a very long, Tilt-a-Whirl, summit plummet looping roller-coaster free-fall drop, Tower of Terror ride that, at best, ends with a person feeling better about themselves, employed, in their residence, and accepted by most friends and family. Too often, trans men and women get only one of those — or none.

When it is said a person who transitions “passes” in public as the gender they are presenting, that is seen by some as an achievement, and by others as reinforcing damaging gender stereotypes.

To me, the significance of passing is a personal preference, but let’s be frank: Even the most progressive, LGBTQ-allied cisgender (nontrans) people cannot help but comment to those of us who transition “how much prettier,” or “how handsome,” or, my favorite, “how much happier” we are, once we are living true to ourselves.

It’s a compliment, to be sure, and usually well-intentioned. And in my case, I agree: I am prettier; I am happier. But being trans is not just wearing clothes that match our mind-set. It’s about living and being accepted as the gender we know we are.

I did not “transition into a woman.” 397449_originalAnd I think a new, better explanation for this thing we do is needed, given all the attention Jenner, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, and little ol’ me have received. chaz bono new look

My favorite view is from scientist and global businesswoman Carol Holly, who posted last month on Facebook:

10665888_1479888782283724_3881764045647431012_n

I don’t believe that it’s possible for people to change gender. You can’t deny or change what you are.

Gender transition as we know it is really gender *presentation* transition. You stay what you always were, your body is allowed to conform to your soul, giving one the liberty to relax and be ones-self.

Not even all the surgery, hormones and therapy in the world can turn a man into a woman. And even attempting it can be deadly.

For this reason I say, “I was always a woman.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 3.13.51 AMBeing cast as a girl in commercials and catalog ads didn’t make me one, and the birth control pills I took as a teenager didn’t make me trans. The hormones I take now don’t “make” me a woman. I am one. I’m a transgender woman.

Before I could say that, I would get physically ill, and I twice contemplated suicide. Then I realized what I needed to do to live was to stop pretending I was a man.

And so I did, with the support of the love of my life and my children.

But unlike most other transgender folks, I was made aware of what thousands of people thought about my transition, my looks, my “lifestyle,” and how I “abandoned” my family.

imageNo, I’m not a reality star, but the unanticipated and unsolicited news coverage of my transition in 2013 transported me from anonymity to the front page of a New York City tabloid. Shock jocks, YouTubers, and cable TV personalities made me the butt of their jokes; reporters hid in bushes outside my home, ambushed my children on their way home from school, and asked my neighbors what they thought of “the tranny next door.”

Having to keep the children indoors on a summer day to hide from paparazzi parked outside one’s home is not something most transgender people ever endure. And about the only thing worse than having your picture on the newsstands and all over Google is seeing a segment on HuffPost Live featuring your “friends” titled “The Don Ennis Controversy.”

Of course, to celebrities like Jenner and the Kardashians, that kind of attention is not only commonplace, it may even be desirable. Pictures boost publicity, which increases ratings, and ratings translate into riches.

My 15 minutes of fame, however, translated into the loss of my good name and my reputation, and the end of my 30-year career in broadcast journalism.

I can only plead to the media to consider that there is a real person at the center of this frenzy. As someone who used to assign journalists stories for a living, and whose gender transition ironically became your assignment, I beg you to choose your words more carefully.

Focusing on clothing and makeup — as if trans women are drag queens or clowns — dehumanizes us all and trivializes what it means to be a woman. Speculating about surgeries is no more fair to us than strangers asking you about your hysterectomy, colonoscopy, or prostate exam. When someone decided it was my turn, your cameras and blogs and puns magnified my every mistake, for all to see and mock.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 1.38.30 AMNobody, not even me, knew how deeply someone suffering a seizure and amnesia can be affected by that. In July 2013, three months into living full-time in my true gender, I suddenly had no memory of being trans, and so in my delusion I renounced it in an email to colleagues and detransitioned, and that triggered an even bigger tsunami of negative publicity.

The fact is, detransition happens, even if it’s brushed under the rug. And because it goes against the positive narrative, it is considered taboo. Detransition aids our enemies and perpetuates the myth that we who say we were born this way are just pretenders, that we can be “cured,” or live as we once did through crackpot ideas like reparative therapy. I myself was used as “proof” by anti-LGBT zealots like Matt Barber and Michael Brown that being transgender is something you choose, that can be un-chosen, or that having amnesia is a cure for gender dysphoria. No, it’s not.

I know of more than a few transgender people who have consciously opted to detransition, even after gender confirmation surgery.

Because of family pressure, or unemployment, or just unhappiness, they abandoned their adopted presentation, quietly, out of the spotlight, and were able to do so because friends and family supported their detransition as “normal;” to them, being trans was “abnormal.”

At least one post-op transwoman now lives as a transman. Go figure.

But here’s the thing: he’s still trans. Detransitioners are still transgender, but for many that means back to living in the closet. And in my experience, that is a far worse fate. It is to live a lie. They deserve our sympathy and support.

Given the headlines, I can better understand now why so many transgender people turned on me and treated me as a pariah when I detransitioned, because I, too, cringe at all the speculation about Jenner’s alleged transition, and how it may in turn hurt all of us who are trans. As Dana Beyer, the Executive Director of Gender Rights Maryland, wrote in 2013 about me, “public behavior can be easily misused to pathologize the rest of us.” She was right.

I say now as I have told anyone who will listen: I was under a delusion that took time to heal. I didn’t invent an illness to escape a successful transition; I was diagnosed, treated, and recovered — and was horrified to discover all I had worked for had been undone during my delusion. I was further in the closet than I had ever been. I’ll admit, I am a very creative writer, but even I could not have dreamed-up that much melodrama. It was a living nightmare.

1932605_10205376924282724_59548182704784261_o (1)Luckily for me, once the delusion ended and my memories fully returned, I resumed my transition in secret in hopes of avoiding a third round of headlines. Eventually I lived part-time, and then fully reclaimed my authentic identity. Over and over, I’ve turned down the chance to tell my story to the TV tabloids, so they can show me fixing my makeup or choosing which dress to wear, just to prove I am who I say I am. My gender is defined by my brain, not my bra size.

At the very least, media attention to details like boob jobs, nail polish, hairstyles, and tracheal shaves undercut our genuine attempts to present ourselves as authentic. Even trans men are not immune from harsh judgment. The public’s fascination with transgender identities — a curiosity about people like Jenner — drives gossip, sells papers, and draws page views.

Gender dysphoria is real. Hormone replacement therapy helps. Living authentically is the only true solution to gender dysphoria. I know.

Even considering my own negative experiences, it’s not my place to speculate what Jenner may or may not be going through. I do, however, recognize the fear that comes with being talked about, trying to avoid stumbling in front of the whole world, as you undergo the biggest change in your life since puberty.

I’m confident that sooner or later the whole world will hear from Jenner about this. To those looking in from the outside, you cannot imagine what it’s like being in the position where transition is the only way to live.

To Jenner and all those who live authentically, here is something even the media frenzy cannot take away:

The feeling you have when you are all alone, and you look in the mirror and see your true self looking back at you, and you feel for the first time that sense of self-esteem, self-worth, and love for your true self that until that moment had only been a dream.

My hope for Bruce Jenner is to experience that, without a camera recording it.

DAWN ENNIS is a blogger at LifeAfterDawn.com and media correspondent for The Advocate. She was the first transgender journalist in a position of editorial authority at any of the major TV networks in the U.S. to transition on the job.