Earlier this week, Logo aired the premiere of "TransAmerican Love Story," an eight-episode reality show where transsexual activist Calpernia Addams must select a suitor from eight hopefuls who are trying to pitch her woo. It’s like "I Love New York" only without all the hot-ghetto-messiness.
In 2003, Addams’ life story was thrust into the national spotlight for the second time when Showtime made "Soldier’s Girl." It’s the true story about Pfc. Barry Winchell, who was killed in 1999 after he fell in love with Addams, who was then a pre-op transsexual. A tragic love story about the ineffectiveness of "Don’t ask, don’t tell," the TV movie won a Peabody Award.
Coincidentally, the same night that Winchell was murdered, Addams won Tennessee Entertainer of Year. After that, however, she dropped out of drag pageantry and became an activist.
She’s still a performer. In the Felicity Huffman road-trip movie "Transamerica," Addams appears at a transsexual support group. The scene is supposed to be set in Dallas but was actually filmed in New Jersey.
Addams says trans women have a tough time finding dates. And not only will the show help punch some holes in her dance card, it will clue us into understanding the trans world.
Do enlightened gay folks have a hard time wrapping their heads around what it means to be trans? There are many parallels between gays and trans community. But at the same time, that leaves the gay community thinking that they totally "get" what it means to be transsexual. I think they love us, but they don’t always completely understand us.
I hope gay people learn that there are drag queens, cross dressers and transsexuals. And they’re not all the same thing. We’re not just gay boys who have taken it a few steps too far just so we could sleep with straight guys.
How do you identify your sexuality? I’m a woman who dates men, so I’d consider myself heterosexual. But I grew up living in the body of a male and being attracted to men. But I felt like I had the soul of a woman and now I have the body of a woman, and I love men. So I feel like I’m a heterosexual woman now. But there’s no denying that I’ve transitioned. If I had to nail down all the syllables, I would say I’m a transsexual woman who is heterosexual. But that’s such a mouthful. Most of my friends just think of me as a straight girl with a quirky history.
Do people say that you remind them of Drew Barrymore? I used to hear that once a week even from strangers. It was a little bit in the way I look. It’s happened so much that I tried to think it through, and I think that she and I talk kind of similarly.
The first suitor you chopped was Blaine, who ran a trans-porn Web site. Did you cut him because he wasn’t successful? I wouldn’t care if his site out ranked Google on the stock exchange.
I’ve always decried the exploitation of trans women especially in porn. I know a lot of trans women who have survived through sex work, and it’s a choice that a lot of us are forced to look at because we’re rejected by the work force. So I don’t judge anybody for doing porn or sex work as long as they’re reaching for the best that can reach for in life. But for a guy who is making that porn and putting trans women into porn and selling them online, that’s particularly unattractive to me.
If Blaine’s name was David LaChapelle, would you view his career differently?
If Blaine’s Web site struck me with wondrous artistic creativity, and it found characters that were outrageously magical and showed them in a light that I’ve never seen before as LaChapelle does then I would be intrigued by that talent. But if it consists of glaring digital snaps of girls sporting the genitalia for $100 and finishing up with the money shots, that’s not the same thing to me. And if LaChapelle published a book like that, I wouldn’t buy it.
Did you actually see Blaine’s site? I didn’t. I’m judging him without having looked at his work. But I feel safe in that because I’ve seen plenty transgender porn sites. In the community, I’ve had to research what happens in these situations. And hearing what Blaine said in the meeting, I didn’t hear anything that would make me think that his site was about art.
Look, I have porn. I look at porn. I’m not anti-pornography. As I say, I know trans women who have done or who are doing sex work. I know trans women who have done erotic modeling. But Blaine just wasn’t for me in a lot of ways. I don’t particularly want to date someone who runs a trans porn site. It’s a taste thing in terms of what I’m looking for in the guy I want to spend a lot of personal time with.
How did you discover the name Calpernia Addams? I liked the name Calpernia from Shakespeare [Julius Caesar]. And then I read it again in "To Kill a Mockingbird." And then I finally I heard both names again in "Addams Family Values" [mentioned as the family's long-dead matriarch.] It was just a little throwaway line. I have kind of sick sense of humor.
Since your transition, have the caliber of potential boyfriends improved? There are guys who like to specifically date transsexual women like Blaine. In the process of transition, that’s all I had to choose from because those were the only guys who were into me. And there are some guys who are what a lot of girls call "trannie chasers."
Are there Web sites for your trans sisters to hunt for suitors? There are some up and coming sites. But to be honest, I’m not prepared to endorse any of those. It goes back to the fact that it’s so hard for us to date because men don’t give us the same respect as non-trans women. And men are so ashamed of dating us, that most of the dating sites are just hook-up sites.
Match.com or Gay.com are certainly used for hookups. But there is a decent fighting chance that you’re going to find a relationship too, if you want to.
The trans sites … I’ve looked at them. I’ve been lonely and spent hours poring through the ads. It’s mostly just offers to hook up and then hit it.
What’s on your plate for the future? I’m going to be doing the 10th anniversary of the Vagina Monologues in the Superdome in New Orleans on April 21-22. We’re raising money for the women victims of Hurricane Katrina. And this isn’t a trans event it’s Eve Ensler’s personal celebration of the play. So I’ve been invited to read with Jane Fonda, Glenn Close, Salma Hayek and a mind-blowing list of talented women.
SPEAKING OF JANE FONDA
On Thursday, Fonda and playwright Eve Ensler was on the "The Today Show" promoting "The Vagina Monologues," which Calpernia Addams will perform with Fonda at the Louisiana Superdome. And then Fonda said the "C word" on live TV. See the clip on the Dallas Voice blog, Instant Tea: Dallasvoice.com/Instant-tea
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 15, 2008