As actors, we are in constant struggle with staying true to ourselves all the while trying to put forth what'll get us the job. Particularly while I was in the early stages of training for a professional career in theatre, I was told that I would never be successful if I remained and presented myself the way I felt comfortable. (At that point in my life I was donning women's clothing, jewelry and even high heels, but never went as far as to identify as a woman. It threw people for a loop.) And even though I clearly hadn't figured myself out yet, I knew deep down that I couldn't do what I was so passionate for and NOT be true to myself.
So eventually, I transitioned and left the 'biz'. I became a social worker for a while and believed that no one would ever hire a transgender actress; that I'd never work in the industry again. (This was nearly a decade ago, pre - OITNB and TransParent.) It was a really difficult pill to swallow but much in my life was rapidly changing and I figured this was part of leaving my old self behind. It wasn't until I received an email from a friend who was then on NBC/Universal's Outsourced, informing me that the producers were looking for someone to play a hijra. My heart sank and I felt the excitement I had missed for so many years away from the industry. My mind began the fight of debating whether or not I had made the right decision to leave in the first place. Do people want to hire a transgender actress? I barely made a living wage as a cis-gender male actor; do I really think I can make a sustainable living being a transgender actress?
I ultimately booked the gig, made my debut as the first South Asian transwoman on network tv, and most importantly, returned to the business that I so deeply love.
Last night I opened a big show. For those of you who follow my blog or know me personally, you know how excited I've been for this project. Little did I know how much Opening Night would mean to me. It is only in the aftermath of a fabulous opening night party spent with people equally as passionate about what we do that I fully understand what it means to define my own success while being true to myself. It is an incredible feeling to look back at your career and to say, "I've gotten to be a part of so many great projects, play so many dream roles (from King Tut to Princess Aouda); how could I not think of myself of successful?"