Despite my history and the fact that I was on a hit-series on HBO not too long ago, I am not a fan of the spotlight. I would much prefer being in the background advocating, planning, facilitating…
When I got the call from Ashley Rohrer of HBO asking me to interview for the position of “cast member” for “We’re Here”, a show where famous drag Queens consensually “storm” small conservative towns with respect and dignity in order to promote love and acceptance, I was nervous.
First of all, I CANNOT dance.
Second, I hadn’t worn a dress or heels since my high school graduation. Walking and breathing while wearing a dress and heels was going to be a challenge.
Even with my two major logistical concerns and not being a fan of the idea of being on international television, I am all about spreading love and acceptance, so I agreed to interview. Never in a million years did I expect to get chosen.
During the interview, Ashley made it a comfortable conversation, almost like talking to an old friend. She asked me to tell my story: A masculine presenting gay woman, who is very much “out” in a very small, rural, religious area, who is also a full-time law enforcement officer. So, I did.
I told her how I had to lie to some people about who I was dating in fear they would have an aggressive reaction. I told her how hard it was to find a lasting partner because for many in this town or County, it wasn’t a safe option to be openly LGBTQ. I told her of my dreams for marriage and a family, but never in Sussex - because having two Mom’s in Sussex County would make my future children targets simply for who created them. I got emotional.
I remember speaking with Ashley on and off for the next couple days. And then, nothing. For months.
Honestly, I had forgotten about it. Simone and I often spoke about how crazy it was to have the opportunity to even be considered for the show. Simone, after all, is the reason the show knew anything about Sussex County, and was the reason the show reached out to me.
In late June, I was sitting out with my puppies in the backyard when Ashley’s name popped up on my phone: “You have time to chat?”
I called her. “We are coming to Sussex. More details to come, but we want you to be a cast member…”
My jaw hit the ground. I ran into the kitchen to tell my Mama and we spent the next two hours trying to figure out song, attire, and performance ideas. Here is the thing… no one, not even my parents knew about my struggle with gender dysphoria yet. My therapist and I had spoken about it, I was researching, and I was binding. But no one knew. I had no intention of telling anyone quite yet, especially not on international television.
By July, my parents and siblings knew of my plans to move forward with HRT and top-surgery. A week before HBO was due to land on our doorstep, in speaking with a producer, I slipped about my excitement regarding how well the valued humans in my life took the news of my latest journey. Eric, the producer, congratulated me. He asked me if I wanted to keep this part of my story out. I said yes. I couldn’t possibly reveal it to the world yet, when barely a handful of people knew.
I went into a costume fitting and Gloria asked my pronouns, I responded with “she/her” and felt comfortable sharing that I was in the process of waiting for appointments to start testosterone and schedule a top surgery. He gave me a hug. Lips were sealed.
Then I met Bob. Yes, Bob the Drag Queen. Bob has this gentle presence, one in which you can feel the love coming right off of her. Day one of filming, I contemplated just sharing my whole self, because when would an opportunity like this ever come up again? An opportunity to be brave enough to share my confusion, my recent conversations, thoughts, and journey with others all around the world, who may feel the same ways that I do?
Still, I said nothing. Until Ginger’s.
If you haven’t yet watched season three, episode 4 of “We’re Here” Sussex County, NJ - I recommend it. Although there is some relatively cringe-worthy content, there is also a whole lot of love. It’s pretty magical.
In the episode, you will see Bob and I driving to Brooklyn (a place, I had been only a handful of times in my life) and during this car ride, I had mentioned my journey wasn’t over quite yet. When Bob asked me to clarify, I told him about all I had coming my way and how excited I was about it. How HRT and top-surgery have made sense to me for awhile now, but how I never thought I would actually follow through with it.
Bob said, “Stop the cameras.” He grabbed my hand and asked if I wanted this part of my journey to be shared on the show. To which I responded, “Fuck it, yes.”
There was a lot of anxiety for me around the show airing and people who knew me “finding out” about my true self. Especially, the night it aired for the first time. But let me tell you, it was a blessing in disguise, because it made it real for me. It made me love the person I saw in the mirror for the first time knowing I was allowing my truth to be known and seen. Revealing who I was on such a large platform was my key to freedom.
It wasn’t until I ran into someone who knew me through my place of work, who had also happened to be a fan of the show, that it all made sense and I found such peace with the entire process.
Her first reaction was, “Ashley Craig - You don’t tell me you’re a damn television star?”
To which I responded, “Far from it.” Nervously, I had no idea what was going to come next. I could feel my heartbeat quicken and a bead of sweat form on my forehead.
She took me in her arms and gave me the tightest hug and she said, “I hope you never felt like you couldn’t tell me about your true self.” To which I responded, “Well, it hadn’t come up…”
Through tears, she asked about my surgery, if I had a date - which I did! February 20th, 2023.
She responded simply with: “Now, you promise me that you will “Tear it Up”. You live every second for you and as you! You promise?”
Now, months post-surgery, I still promise. And I hope you do too. I hope today, you promise to be you, to live for you, to do everything it is you want to do while we have this short amount of time on Earth. I hope you promise that today, today, is the day you decide to live a life without any regret…And with that, I hope you know how proud of you I am.
Until next time,