20 Trans Entertainers to Watch in 2022
Trans people have always existed, but they are just beginning to get their due in entertainment. Alexandra Billings became the first out transgender person to portray a trans character on screen when she appeared in the made-for-TV movie “Romy and Michele: In the Beginning” in 2005. Candis Cayne became the first out trans actor with a recurring role on a primetime series in 2007 with her role on “Dirty Sexy Money,” and Laverne Cox became the first out transgender person to play a transgender major character on a network TV show with her role on “Doubt” in 2017.
All this is not to say that trans people haven’t been creatively successful and innovative before: the truth is the opposite. In the music world, there was jazz musician Billy Tipton, who transitioned in the 1930s and hid his identity as a trans man until after his death, and Wendy Carlos, who helped shape electronic music and developed the modern synthesizer in the 1960s. In Hollywood, there was Christine Jorgensen, who in the 1950s became the first person known to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, later becoming a TV presenter and actor.
Not to mention the fact that trans and nonbinary people appear across ancient history and cultures. Scholars have discovered evidence of ancient Sumerian priests who blurred gender norms and changed gender identities as far back as 5000 BC, and evidence of gender transitions and gender fluidity exist in ancient Lakota, Mexican, Greek, and Indian civilizations, among many others.
Over the past decade, stars like Elliot Page and Lana and Lilly Wachowski have made waves and broken boundaries with their art and advocacy, and shows like “Pose” have marked the beginning of real progress on television. But this is all just the beginning of a long-needed shift, and there’s a long way to go in terms of transgender representation today. Hollywood continues to cast cisgender actors in trans people’s roles, for example, and poor attempts at representation can have negative consequences on LGBTQ+ viewers’ mental health.
Many of the stars on this list have also expressed frustrations at being cast in only trans roles, and overall – amidst waves of anti-trans legislation and systemic, interlocking forces of oppression – there’s a lot of change that needs to be made. Fortunately, undeniable talents like Leiomy Maldonado, Hunter Schafer, Angelica Ross, and many more stars exist. They mark only a fraction of trans people shaping their own narratives, carving out new dimensions, and inspiring the masses with their work.
Ahead, check out 20 trans entertainers who you should be watching in 2022.
Alex Blue Davis
Alex Blue Davis appeared on “2 Broke Girls” and “NCIS,” but he is most famous for playing intern Dr. Casey Parker on “Grey’s Anatomy.” In a powerful moment on the show, Davis comes out as trans, telling Chandra Wilson’s character, “I’m a proud trans man, Dr. Bailey. I like for people to get to know me before they find out my medical history.”
For Davis, the moment was incredibly significant. “What’s cool about the show, the episode and Krista’s vision for this character is he’s about way more than being trans,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. “I cried at the table read. It was very moving for me. I’ve been waiting for a moment like this on TV my whole life. I am so honoured I got to say that line on TV because it’s a long time coming.”
His character is a role model in more ways than one. “He’s a doctor, a techie, a veteran, a lover of blueberries; those are the things about himself he deals with on a daily basis. He’s got a great perspective about life so I think he’s a cool role model for trans folks who are finding themselves and a great teacher for people who aren’t trans,” Davis said to The Jacket Journal in 2019 of his “Grey’s Anatomy” character. “He’s even a great role model for me personally because he’s so disciplined and focused. Quite a clever problem solver.”
The Los Angeles native is also a musician and songwriter. In 2019, he combined his talents to create a mixtape called “Songs For Surgery,” in which he covers some of the most famous songs from the “Grey’s Anatomy” soundtrack. As for his personal life, he lives in LA, is a proud vegan, and has three children with his wife, Miranda Russo.
Angelica Ross is an actor, a musician, a computer programmer, and so much more. Best known for her role as Candy Ferocity on “Pose,” she made her debut in the 2005 film “Natale a Miami.” It wasn’t until 2016 that she began to break out in the acting world thanks to her starring role on “Her Story,” an Emmy-nominated web series about trans women based in Los Angeles. “When I first transitioned I thought I would have to give up my dream being an actor and musician and just focus on surviving,” she said to NBC News of the nomination’s significance in 2016. “With every award a cis male actor accepts for portraying trans experiences, audiences are reinforced with the notion that it’s all a show and when the makeup comes off, a trans woman is still a man. This false concept, and false act of solidarity violently rejects our identities on a platform that has the capacity to heal our society, and inspire us to be better human beings when we walk away from the theatre.”
In 2018, she joined the cast of “Pose.” She went on to star in the “American Horror Story: 1984” anthology series and returned as The Chemist for the show’s tenth season. Most recently, she portrayed Georgia in the 2022 Sundance award-winning short film “Framing Agnes.”
But Ross’s talents extend far beyond acting. She taught herself coding, graphic design, and photography, and she worked in web design before going on to launch TransTech Social Enterprises, an incubator that focuses on fighting workplace discrimination and helping trans and gender-nonconforming people find economic empowerment and gain valuable skills. In the end, TransTech is all about personal empowerment. “When you don’t value yourself, you allow others to devalue you,” Ross told CNET in 2022 of the organization’s ultimate mission and her hopes for the people who utilize it. “You can increase your skills and you can be valuable with whatever abilities you have. Focus on that and not comparing yourself to someone else, and you’ll see how fast things start to change.”
Despite all her work for social change, Ross doesn’t see herself as an activist. Instead, she sees herself as doing “something that we all should be doing as human beings as part of the social contract,” she told Elle in 2021.
At the age of 41, she’s still just getting started. She broke into the music world in 2021 with her song “Fierce,” featuring Ultra Naté and Mila Jam, and she recently released a single titled “Only You” along with an accompanying music video, which she executive produced. She’s currently on the lookout for substantial trans-led and trans-created projects in Hollywood, with an eye to executive produce her own content. But Ross isn’t looking for hollow, virtue-signalling efforts. “I am very hopeful that people like Janet Mock, myself, Laverne Cox, Rain Valdez, and other folks who are executive producing content will fill that gap, that we will not wait for another white man to be able to extend his privilege,” she told Them in 2021 of her hopes for the industry, expressing hope that “we will have built upon the experiences that we had and take our place in leading these narratives.”
England native Anohni has been breaking boundaries in the performing arts for years now. As a teen, she moved to New York, founded a performance collective called Blacklips, and began singing in late-night bars and clubs and working in small theatre productions. After receiving a grant for her show “The Birth of Anne Frank/The Ascension of Marsha P. Johnson,” she gathered a band of musicians, who would eventually become known as Antony and the Johnsons, to perform the score. The art-pop group eventually met massive success in the music world.
She knew she was trans from a young age but struggled with femininity. “I was never going to become a beautiful, passable woman, and I was never going to be a man,” she told The Guardian in 2016. “It’s a quandary. But the trans condition is a beautiful mystery; it’s one of nature’s best ideas.” Proud trans kids, she added, “give other people license to explore themselves more deeply, allowing the colours in their own psyche to flourish.”
In the early 2010s, Anohni pivoted to a solo career and began focusing her energies and art on climate change and ecological collapse. “Artists have different responsibilities in different eras,” Anohni told The New York Times. “At this point, I really feel like it’s all hands on deck.” She released “4 Degrees,” the debut single from her 2016 album, “Hopelessness,” on the eve of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. “We don’t have the luxury of time any more,” she added.
She frequently speaks out about the interconnected factors that play into the climate crisis, adding up to a phenomenon she calls ecocide, the central theme of “Hopelessness.” “Racism, endgame international corporate governance, trickle-up economics, ever-greater wealth disparity, fundamentalism, extremism, corrupt foreign policy, weapons trade, fossil fuel, endgame mineral extraction, stealing and raping earth . . . It bottlenecks in ecocide,” she said in a 2016 interview with Loud and Quiet. “It all draws together into a bouquet that you could call ecocide.”
As for her recent projects, she’s constantly creating. In 2019, she released a conceptual art piece called “Love” reflecting on queer storytelling, environmental activism, and other themes; in 2021, she collaborated with Yoko Ono for a mini digital festival focusing on the climate crisis and COVID-19; and in 2022, she released a new song with Hercules & Love Affair called “One” – and that’s to name just a few of her monumental, urgent artistic endeavours.
Chaz Bono has made waves in both acting and activism, but the child of Cher and Sonny Bono has always wanted to be on screen. “I started off wanting to be an actor when I was young. I went to a performing arts high school but I became aware before I graduated that I really didn’t understand how to play female parts,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2020. “I didn’t know why, but I got cast as a male character in something and it was the first time I ever felt really good, like I knew what I was doing.”
He went on to star in the 2016 film “Dirty” and also landed roles on “American Horror Story: Roanoke” and “American Horror Story: Cult.”
“I’ve kind of gravitated towards playing really character-y parts like Lot,” he said in 2016, referencing his eerie role in “American Horror Story: Roanoke” in an interview with Fanfest. “Not that I can’t do the other stuff, it’s just kind of what I prefer. I do really enjoy playing bad guys. I don’t know why; it’s just more fun.”
In 2016, Bono said that he’d also rather stay away from playing trans characters. “At this point in my career, I’ve made a choice not to play any transgender characters because I just don’t want to get pigeonholed in that,” he said. But in 2020, he appeared as trans man Joey Funkhouser in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in 2020. The experience, he told The Hollywood Reporter, was “uncomfortable” due to the episode’s subject matter, “though I really enjoyed the process because I loved working with those guys, and it was really fun to do something that was completely different like improv.” Overall, “it was a weird experience.”
Bono has also had a unique trajectory towards acting because he was an activist from a young age, appearing in the 2011 documentary “Becoming Chaz,” which followed his transition. For now, though, “I just want to act,” he said.
In 2021, he appeared in the film “Reboot Camp,” a mockumentary about two brothers who create a fake self-help group. Up next, Bono will be starring in the action-horror feature “The Bell Keeper,” which does not yet have a release date but “should be a scary good time for all,” per Bono’s Twitter.
Musician Dorian Electra has always been trying to educate the masses with their music. In 2010, they shot to fame with a viral song and music video about Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, and soon began releasing more economics-themed videos, including the pop video “Fa$t Ca$h” and “We Got It 4 Cheap.” In 2015, they returned to their philosophy roots, releasing “Forever Young: A Love Song to Ray Kurzweil,” a tribute to futurist Ray Kurzweil.
In 2016, the musician started releasing videos about queer history and intersectional feminism with Refinery29, covering everything from the clitoris to the history of drag. They’ve also collaborated with Charli XCX, Rebecca Black, and many more.
Their debut album, “Flamboyant,” a work of political, genre-defying hyperpop, was released in 2019. A year later, it was followed by their second album, “My Agenda,” which takes on toxic masculinity and incels through the lens of queerness. “I believe it’s absolutely important to understand the roots of why people believe what they believe,” they told Metal Magazine in 2020 of the deep dive into incel culture that inspired the album. “Especially when we disagree with those ideas or when those ideas are hateful.”
Through it all, Electra has been open about being genderfluid. “I like to challenge people,” they said to Metal, addressing the sometimes negative comments they’ve received about their gender presentation. “It means, this person defies categorisation visually. It made people question something about themselves.”
As their star has risen, they’ve stayed true to their roots, continuing to create music that bridges education with pure pop ecstasy. All of this, plus a knack for creating electrifying hyperpop anthems, has made Electra a veritable Gen Z icon. “I get really bored of things that aren’t extreme in some way,” they told Dazed in 2022. “The things I get the most excited about are the things that are so uncool that nobody wants to touch.”
Twenty-six-year-old Elliot Fletcher, who you might know from his roles on “The Fosters” and “Shameless,” started his screen career playing Noah on MTV’s “Faking It” in 2016. He also played Max on the series “Marvel’s Runaways” and starred as Sam Jordan on the postapocalyptic series “Y: The Last Man,” which came out in 2021.
Fletcher, who often plays trans characters on screen, has brought nuance and sensitivity to each of his roles. “Every character I play has a different trans experience so every character I’ve played up until this point has been very, very different about themselves being trans,” he said to Screencrush in 2017. “Trevor [of ‘Shameless’] was really open about it, Aaron [of ‘The Fosters’] is pretty low-to-no disclosure, he doesn’t tell many people. And Noah [of ‘Faking It’] was also low-to-no disclosure, but a little bit more flamboyant [and] very outwardly gay.”
Fletcher hopes playing a wide array of characters can help more viewers feel seen. “I hope that viewers who are struggling with their identity in that sense can see these characters and maybe identify with some of their traits and feel like, ‘Maybe I’m not so closed off’ or ‘Maybe it’s not weird to be this certain way,'” he said to Pop City Life in 2019.
He also hopes directors know that he isn’t on set to speak for a single facet of his identity or to share his backstory with writers. “As an actor, I’d love to have more chances to separate my performances from issues of gender and politics,” he told Mel Magazine in 2018. He wants his success to be on his own terms. “It’s important to have your own definition of success rather than someone else’s so you can fulfil your dreams, not someone else’s expectations of your dreams,” he told Forbes in 2017 when asked about his personal values.
In the future, Fletcher’s vision of success for himself includes playing a superhero. “I always say that,” he told Mel Magazine. “I’d love to be the first trans guy cast as a superhero.”
Ethel Cain “insists on living in the middle of nowhere,” a 2022 New York Times profile of the artist reads. The Florida-raised musician is intent on doing things her way and exploring America’s roads less travelled. “I kind of just do what I want as I feel like doing it, you know, when it feels right in the moment,” she said to Flood Magazine in 2022. “Sometimes I get up at 3 a.m. and drive to another state.”
In May 2022, Cain released her debut album, “Preacher’s Daughter,” a sprawling collection of torch ballads about Americana themes, girlhood, religion, and trauma. The album follows her celebrated EP “Inbred” and earned her a record deal and major media attention, and she’s set to follow in the footsteps of heavily visual, conceptual artists like Lana Del Rey; Florence and the Machine; and Tyler, the Creator.
Raised in an extremely religious Christian family, Cain eventually dove into pop culture and pop music, all of which would eventually blur together to form her artistic persona. At 20, Cain came out as trans on Facebook; that same week, she discovered a piano loop that inspired her to write the song “A House in Nebraska,” which was the seed for an entire project spanning “three albums, three books and three movies tracing three generations of women,” per The New York Times. Right now, she’s enjoying the ride that is Ethel Cain. “I just love to not even write her story, just kind of let the story unfold naturally, as I grow with her,” she said to Flood.
Eva Reign has the starring role in Billy Porter’s sweet coming-of-age romantic comedy “Anything’s Possible,” and though she’s relatively new to acting, she gives a magnetic and charming performance.
The film, which comes out on July 22, stars Reign as Kelsa, an animal-lover who dreams of becoming a nature cinematographer and who also sometimes vlogs about her experiences as a trans girl. It follows her relationship with Khal, played by Abubakr Ali. The film is based on a viral Reddit post written by a boy worried about asking out a trans girl he’s crushing on, and the film definitely does justice to the sweetness of the source material.
For Reign, the role was an opportunity to take a deep dive into a character. “Playing Kelsa was like playing an alternate version of myself,” Reign tells POPSUGAR. “People oftentimes advise against using your own life experience when diving into a role. But me and Kelsa, a lot of our life experiences align. And I don’t mean just us being trans, but also we both have moms who work in the medical industry. We both were raised by single moms. We both have a love of clothes and fashion.” However, she adds, “I wouldn’t say I was as much of an animal person as Kelsa, because my mom really hates animals, so that was never going to happen.”
For Porter, “Anything’s Possible” was a project designed to present a vision of what could be. “This is an aspirational story. It’s almost like a fairytale,” Porter told Variety of the film, which is his directorial debut. “We know that. It’s a look at what we can be. That’s what we as artists get to do – look at what we can be and what we should be.”
For Reign, making the film also required some imagination – but she, Porter, and the cast made sure to ground the performance in history. “I had to imagine what life would’ve looked like, had things been a little bit different,” Reign says. “But Billy always wanted us to base it in truth. There are a lot of kids today who are growing up in these very supportive environments with parents who really only want the best for them, just like mine wanted for me.”
Reign grew up doing theater in her hometown of St. Louis, but she had relatively little professional experience prior to “Anything’s Possible.” In the future, she hopes to be a part of sci-fi and fantasy projects, and she wants to direct. But right now, she’s just enjoying the ride.
“Billy wanted this film to be something devoid of trauma. So I really had to start there, and I had to really, really think of what are Kelsa’s hopes, what are Kelsa’s dreams? What lies beyond just this page?” Ultimately, she says, “it was a lot of fun.”
Hari Nef is the definition of multitalented. Nef, who hails from Philadelphia, got her big acting break when she appeared in “Transparent” as Pfefferman family ancestor Tante Gittel. Since then, she’s also starred in Sam Levison’s “Assassination Nation,” played Blythe in the first season of Netflix’s “You,” and landed a role in the “Sex and the City” reboot, “And Just Like That.”
Up next, she will star in the 2022 comedy “1Up” alongside Ruby Rose. In addition to her acting roles, she has also graduated from Columbia, signed with IMG Models, written a sex advice column for Adult Magazine, and been designated an It girl by The New Yorker, among other things. Nef is a New York staple at this point, and she knows the city well. In 2019, she told L’Officiel that a New Yorker is “a person that cannot possibly exist anywhere else, a distinctly American sensibility that fuses with a certain scepticism. In many ways, being a New Yorker is a refusal.”
Her ambitions don’t stop with becoming an NYC fixture on par with Fran Leibowitz or Chloë Sevigny. “I’ve kind of committed to being a company woman for this industry,” she told InStyle. “I want to learn how the godd*mn sausage is made. I can’t get away from wanting to do this stuff, so I don’t care how long it takes.”
To get there, she is sure to prioritize mental and self-love. “I feel like so many of us achieve things that are great, but we don’t actually allow ourselves to feel them and appreciate them,” she told Byrdie in 2020. “You see yourself so clearly and you see all your flaws and your details. But if you zoom out, people aren’t really looking for those things, and nobody really cares about you as much as you care about yourself. Nobody is paying attention to your body as much as you’re paying attention to your body.”
Like any true New Yorker, if you go by her definition, Nef is generally a sceptic, though she feels that increased disillusionment is a symptom of a more interconnected world. “The world is getting smaller and the wool is being pulled from a lot of people’s eyes, and when people are able to see the ways in which they are pressed, or the ways in which they are missing out, or the things other people have that they don’t,” she said in As If Magazine. Yet, she added, “at the end of the day, it’s a question of wanting love.” She was referencing her character Bex’s true desires in “Assassination Nation,” but of course, the statement is universally applicable.
Hunter Schafer was a breakout star from her very first scene on “Euphoria.” The 23-year-old actor, model, and activist hails from New Jersey, and “Euphoria” was her very first acting role. She’s also worked as a model, collaborating with Prada, Dior, Gucci, and a host of other major names.
She’s also been a vocal activist, joining a lawsuit as a plaintiff against the so-called “bathroom bill” in 2018. “We are on the forefront of a revolution in which identity and expression will take priority over the labels assigned to us at birth,” she wrote in an op-ed in i-D published in 2017. “In which self-identification will take priority over perception. In which gender will fall away entirely.”
In 2022, Schafer made her directorial debut with musician Girl in Red’s video “HornyLovesickMess.” “A music video is the perfect format to kind of experiment, especially as a new director,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “It seemed like a really good place to have the wiggle room to make some mistakes if I needed to, before approaching something much more ambitious, like a short film or a feature, which, hopefully, I will do someday.” She already has cowriting for TV under her belt, working alongside Sam Levinson to write a special “Euphoria” episode centered on Jules. “It’s my comfort zone. I love it all,” she said of the behind-the-scenes world. “I just want to keep soaking up everything.”
Still, she’s not leaving the onscreen world behind anytime soon. She’s set to star in Tilman Singer’s horror feature “Cuckoo” alongside John Malkovich and Gemma Chan, and, of course, she’ll be in the next season of “Euphoria” in 2024 – so we’re sure to be seeing a whole lot more of her.
At only 21, Ian Alexander has been breaking ground on TV for years now. Alexander, who used to identify as a trans man but now identifies as transmasculine and uses they/he pronouns, appeared on “The OA” as Buck, and they also play Gray in the third season of Paramount+’s “Star Trek: Discovery.”
Being on “Star Trek: Discovery” was nerve-racking at first for the actor, but eventually they realized the best way they could represent their community was by “just existing and being myself,” they told USA Today in 2020.
This includes accepting that their definition of themselves is constantly changing. “Masculinity is something that is ever-evolving in my understanding and expression of it,” he told Dazed in 2019. “Masculinity isn’t defined by a specific look or presentation. In my experience, it’s more of a feeling than anything that can be defined by words . . . There’s a feeling of dysphoria and discomfort when wrong pronouns are used and a feeling of joy and validation when my correct pronouns are used.”
The Salt Lake City-born actor, who identifies as nonbinary and pansexual, is all about pride. “My biggest piece of advice would be, don’t be afraid of what other people think, because at the end of the day, you’re the one that is in your body, and you’re the one who has control over it,” they added. “What other people think shouldn’t hold you back from expressing yourself and being happy. Maybe that means wearing makeup, maybe it means not wearing makeup, it’s up to you. It’s your gender, you can do whatever you want with it.”
Alexander, who is set to star in Corey Deshon’s thriller “Daughter” in 2022, has big ideas for the future of Hollywood. “I really want Hollywood to transform into such a safe space for trans people and for everyone,” they told Out Magazine in February 2022. “I want every minority group to feel represented, and so I want to see more and more trans people behind the camera, in the writers’ room, in the production office.”
Moore entered foster care at the age of 14 and began modeling for Dior and Gucci at the age of 15, eventually choosing to focus on acting; they starred in independent film “Saturday Church” in 2017. That same year, they were cast in “Pose.” Since then, they have gone on to appear in horror film “Escape Room 2” and voiced nonbinary character on Steven Universe in 2020, among other projects. They are also set to star in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” in 2023.
Today, Moore identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. “My choice to identify as nonbinary – though I typically express in femme ways – is to constantly disrupt the notion of the gender construct,” they told the Hollywood Reporter in 2019.
Moore is always giving back to their community, often using their platform to speak out about the struggles faced by the transgender community. In 2020, they created TranSanta, a social media campaign which works to give presents to trans youth.
But even amidst all their success and community involvement, Moore still makes sure to find time to rest. “The shame and guilt of not being productive or creative at any given time leverages us to exist in service to capitalism,” they said to Variety in 2020.
Jamie Clayton appears as Nomi Marks in the Lana and Lily Watchowski-directed “Sense8.” The actor also appeared in “The L Word: Generation Q,” playing a bartender who works alongside Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moennig) and has a complicated relationship with her.
She started her career as a makeup artist and cohost on VH1’s makeover show, “TRANSform Me.” Since then, she has appeared as Michelle Darnell in the web series “Dirty Work,” and also played Carla Favers in “Are We There Yet?” She also had roles in 2016’s “Neon Demon” and 2017’s “The Snowman” and starred as Sasha Brooker in the third season of the Netflix original “Designated Survivor” and as Charlie Cameron in the second season of “Roswell” in 2020.
Also in 2020, she portrayed groundbreaking trans celebrity Christine Jorgensen in the HBO+ series “Equal,” and in November 2020, she spoke to Gay Times about the importance of honoring queer histories dating to before Stonewall. “I don’t know why our queer history is all based from Stonewall forward,” she said. “It’s so important to tell these stories because it shows society at large, not just our community, but the cisgender community and the straight community, that we’ve been around for just as long as y’all have been around. We’re not going anywhere. We’ve been fighting. We didn’t just start fighting at Stonewall. We’ve been fighting for a really, really, really long time.”
Later in the interview, she emphasized the importance of equity in casting. “Every actor should be able to play any kind of role,” she said. “Trans people don’t have to just play trans, but that’s been the hard and fast rule for so long.”
Up next, she will be playing Pinhead in the remake of the horror classic “Hellraiser.” She’ll also be reprising her role as Nomi Marks in the third season of “The L Word: Generation Q” in 2023.
Leiomy Maldonado is frequently referred to as the “Wonder Woman of Vogue,” and she’s been instrumental in shaping the ballroom world as it is today, creating poses like the “Leiomy Lolly,” which have been adopted by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. She was the first openly trans performer on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” and has served as a model in various campaigns. She also choreographed the show “Pose” and is currently a judge on the voguing competition show “Legendary” alongside Keke Palmer, Jameela Jamil, and Law Roach.
For 35-year-old Maldonado, who hails from the Bronx, NY, voguing was a way to process her emotions and connect with an invaluable support system. “When I first saw voguing, I was immediately intrigued with it,” she tells POPSUGAR in a recent interview. “It was just the energy and just the emotion that I saw behind the person that was actually voguing who ended up becoming my first mentor, and I just realized right there and then that voguing would be the best way for me to express any feelings I had.”
Over the years, she’s shifted her focus from dancing to teaching and choreography, which allows her to “[help] people build confidence through dancing and [show] different people that no matter what body type you have or if you’re flexible or not, you can actually do it,” she said. As a judge on “Legendary,” she looks for confidence, chemistry between families, and personality.
Recently, Maldonado appeared on an episode of “Are You Listening?” where she spoke about her process of leaving her family and finding her own chosen family in the LGBTQ+ community. “For me, chosen family means that you get to choose who is your blood. You get to choose those people that are going to be a part of your life and be something good, like positive role models,” she says of the community she discovered in the voguing world.
Despite the fierce competition inherent in ballroom – which is why she doesn’t compete anymore – voguing has helped her through the struggle of achieving her dreams. “I’ve been homeless, I’ve been in places where I wanted to give up on life and give up on my career, and I can truly say that today, I have basically everything that I want and need and I’m OK with that,” she says. “I feel blessed.”
Michaela Jaé Rodriguez
Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, best known for “Pose,” is already an icon, and her star is only on the rise. She recently starred in Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s directorial debut “Tick, Tick… Boom,” which came out in 2021.
Miranda gushed about Rodriguez’s star quality in a 2021 interview with The Advocate, saying, “They say never meet your heroes, but she has a genuine star aura around her, it’s like a thing you can’t teach. But the camera loves her, she’s a star.” Rodriguez also released her first single, “Something to Say,” in 2021.
The artist, who uses the moniker Michaela Jaé for her music, also has a knack for belting out musical theater hits and has graced various stages with her star quality. In the end, her music is where her passion truly lies. “I see my musical career lasting to the end of time . . . hopefully being something that really influences people and something that is etched in the brains of people,” she told The Advocate.
She also made waves for receiving a nomination for best actress at the Emmys in 2021, a first for a trans performer, and has continued to shine on screen since then. Up next, she’ll be starring as nonprofit executive Sofia in the upcoming Apple TV+ comedy “Loot” alongside Maya Rudolph, which premieres on June 24.
Mya Taylor made waves for her incredible appearance in the 2015 film “Tangerine,” which featured Taylor alongside Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. Both gave incredible performances, and the film, shot entirely on iPhones, went on to receive critical acclaim.
Taylor grew up in Texas and eventually left home and began working as a sex worker in Hollywood, where she lived with Rodriguez. Their experiences largely inspired “Tangerine.” Since starring in the film, Taylor has portrayed Marsha P. Johnson in the 2016 short film “Happy Birthday, Marsha!” and has starred in several other shorts. She also appeared in the dark comedy series “Dietland,” which debuted in 2018.
Currently, Taylor lives in North Dakota, which she told IndieWire presents a refreshing change from LA, and she is still trying to break into acting – though she wants to avoid stereotypical roles. “I just don’t wanna do that. I feel like trans women should be getting out of that,” Taylor said of the kinds of roles trans talent often find themselves pigeonholed into. “I’m not a diva, not in the least bit, but when I say I don’t wanna do that, I think I’m doing the trans community a favour, because we’re trying to come out of that type of typecasting. We wanna be mainstream, we wanna be on TV dating the hot guy.”
A lot has changed since Nat Puff went viral on Vine. Back in 2014, she developed a cult following through hilarious parodies of artists like Frank Ocean and Mitski.
Since then, she’s taken a break from social media and has focused on becoming an artist herself, switching from poking fun at other people’s music to writing her own. “In true lesbian fashion, I started doing music to impress girls,” she told Forbes in 2020. Her comedy work “started as procrastination and then it just caught on,” she added.
Bridging the line between music and viral online comedy has always placed her in a unique position among her fans. “It has got me a lot that has been really important for my music career,” she said. “Being able to walk that line between being a person that people know for the jokes and a person that people know for the music has been really incredible. I feel like I have this level of intimacy with my fans which is hard to find.”
Under the name Left at London, Puff has released tons of music, including an EP called “Jenny Durkan, Resign in Disgrace,” which called out the then-mayor of Seattle for condoning police violence. Her debut album, “t.i.a.p.f.y.h.,” appeared in 2020, and her second studio album, “You Are Not Alone Enough,” is set to be released in 2022.
She has also created a three-EP sequence called “Transgender Street Legend” and told POPSUGAR a bit about the inspirations behind the album covers. “The concept behind the covers of all of the Transgender Street Legend EPs tells the audience a little bit about the perception of trans woman by cis people,” she says.”[In] the first EP, I’m all dolled up and there’s somebody in the rafters . . . holding a knife up to my throat.” The image, she says, “is meant to represent sort of how all women, trans women especially, are forced to sort of conform to femininity as sort of a way as to prove their femininity, as to prove their femaleness.” The cover of the second EP shows her wearing scrubs and holding the knife herself. “That’s supposed to represent sort of how trans-ness is viewed by a lot of cis people as a mental condition rather than just an identifier,” she adds.
The cover of the third EP, which was released on June 15, “is just somebody washing blood off of a knife,” she says. The image “is meant to be vague on purpose because that it’s either meant to be [about] the perception of cis people just straight up wanting us dead, or it is the breaking of the cycle. The person in the knife could be me.” But at the end of the day, the image has a clear message. “Cis people will perceive trans people as dangerous,” she says, “but the fact of the matter is, from the start, it’s been cis people. That knife is being held by a cis person, both in reality and metaphorically.”
Puff’s forays into music were inspired by her father, a session musician who passed away this year and who is the subject of the song “Make You Proud,” the EP’s lead single. “I want to be able to talk about his presence in my life and how important it was and how integral it was to my starting music,” she says. Recently, she opened up to American Songwriter about what music means to her. “In music, you can capture specific emotions that are impossible to capture otherwise,” she said. “It’s absolutely insane what you can do with music.”
Nicole Maines plays Nia/Dreamer on the CW’s “Supergirl” and has become a beloved fan favorite for her crime-fighting expertise on the series. She got her start playing Laurel in 2019’s “Bit,” a film about a girl who leaves behind her small-town life for LA only to be inducted into a group of girls who turn her into a vampire.
When she first started out on “Supergirl,” Maines was “really nervous to kind of show her in any way that wasn’t favorable,” she told Variety. “I was very nervous to show her making poor choices or have her react poorly to something. I needed her to be a success. I needed Dreamer and Nia to be untouchable.” But she’s begun to embrace her imperfections. “More and more trans characters [can] be less than perfect and be a–holes and be the villains,” Maines said. “We can look at them and be like, ‘They’re just people.”
In addition to playing TV’s first trans superhero on “Supergirl,” 24-year-old Maines – who was adopted and grew up in New York and Maine – is also something of a real-life superhero. She is the subject of the book “Becoming Nicole: The Extraordinary Transformation of an Ordinary Family,” which chronicles her role in a successful case against a school’s effort to ban trans kids from using bathrooms that align with their gender identities.
Maines has gone from inhabiting a spotlight she did not ask for to one that she clearly belongs in, and her performance in “Supergirl” foreshadows an impressive career to come. In the meantime, she’s also planning on continuing her activism work. “The most important thing that we always need to recognize is that our work is not done,” she said in a 2020 interview with Collider. “With every victory that we make, we can’t ease up . . . There’s still so much work left to be done.”
Singer-songwriter Shea Diamond’s music exudes a rare, raw kind of emotion and beauty. As a child, she was in awe of Tina Turner and began dreaming of a pop career, often imitating her idol around the house. But after running away from home at the age of 14, Diamond eventually wound up holding up a convenience store at gunpoint to steal money for her gender transition surgery. The incident landed her in and out of men’s prisons in Michigan between 1999 and 2009, and while incarcerated, she wrote the song “I Am Her.”
A video of her performing the song at a Trans Lives Matter event caught the attention of pop songwriter Justin Tranter, who wound up executive producing her debut EP, “Seen It All,” which came out in 2018.
Since then, the 44-year-old star has been consistently creating. In 2019, she released the antigun violence single “Don’t Shoot,” and she released the singles “Stand Up” and “So Lucky” in 2020. That same year, she released the single “I Am America” and told Broadway World that “at a time when our rights and our very existence are constantly under attack, #iamamerica sends a clear and direct message that we are here, we are trying to thrive and survive like anyone else. No matter what anyone says, we are just as American as mom’s cherry pie.”
“My music is me. My music is not pretending to be somebody else,” she said to GLAAD in 2020. “My music speaks about oppression . . . It speaks about how times should change,” she continued. “It speaks about how we should center ourselves, self-care. If we don’t have self-care in ourselves, how can we care for anybody else?”
El Paso, TX, native Zión Moreno, 27, sparkles in her role as Luna La on HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” reboot. She’s a big fan of the original “Gossip Girl” and dished to Looper about her dreams about a potential crossover. “I’d love it if Blair came back,” she said. “I’d love to do a scene with her. And maybe Chuck Bass, too. Maybe have a little romantic relationship with Chuck.”
Moreno got her start in the 2019 fantasy-horror film “K-12,” and in 2020, she made her debut playing a popular teenager in Netflix’s series “Control Z,” whose social status is threatened when she comes out as trans.
Moreno is also a major cinema fan, and in 2021 she told Numero Mag that she hopes to write and make her own films someday. “I never feel more alive than when I write,” she told the magazine. “It reminds me of the splendor of life.”
Moreno also hopes to make a difference with her art. “I think that it’s going to be really rewarding to be able to make an impact on little queer kids’ lives, on little Latino kids’ lives, and I just hope that we can [use] that representation and inspire them to live authentically and live to the fullest,” she told Looper of the impact she hopes her work on the new “Gossip Girl” can have.
Later in the Numero Mag interview, she also offered some advice for any young people inspired by her art. “Look up to others but don’t lose yourself in the image of who you think they might be. I also understand what it is like to be othered, which I think many of us can relate to,” she said. “So, I would say I hope you can find the understanding that your dreams are valid and that your people and success are waiting for you out there.”