Trace Lysette, Monica’s transgender protagonist: “Let’s unlearn hate”

This article is published in number 48 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until November 29, 2022

In a historical moment in which the film industry is discussing whether it is right for trans characters to be played by cisgender actors and whether it is appropriate, conversely, to entrust cisgender roles to trans actors, a film comes out, monica, which could end the debate forever. The plot: a transgender woman he returns to his dying mother’s bedside, to attempt to reconcile with her twenty years after running away from home when he was still a boy. Hero: Trace Lysette, a 35-year-old from Kentucky who, in life, has made the same transition as his character. For the intense and nuanced interpretation, the American actress came close to the Volpi Cup, when the film by Andrea Pallaoro was presented to last Venice Film Festival. And, now that from 1 December monica will be in theaters, we do not exclude that Lysette may join the ranks of transgender colleagues who have recently received important awards: from MJ Rodriguezwhich won the Golden Globe for Posesto Laverne Coxmultiple Emmy-nominated for Orange is the New Blackup to Daniela Vega, chosen among the presenters of the Oscars after that A fantastic womanin which he starred, won the statuette for best foreign film.

Lysette’s chances of winning an important prize increase if we consider the fact that some festivals (including the one in Berlin) have begun to abolish the binary male-female category for the award for best actress. Even if, Lysette herself, high cheekbones, aquamarine eyes and the look of someone who has gained self-confidence step by step, she comments: «I think such a decision could prove to be a double-edged sword: women in the film industry are still oppressed and therefore having two categories, male and female, increases their chances of being awarded. On the other hand, however, I understand that gender is becoming less and less important as a social construct, so there is a positive aspect to this abolition».

She who had played a cisgender woman in Wall Street girls with Jennifer Lopez, what do you think of the controversy that trans characters shouldn’t be entrusted to cisgender actors?
«In a perfect world, where opportunities are equally distributed, every actor should be free to play whoever he wants. But, in recent years, many cisgender actors have received nominations or won Oscars for trans roles (among others, Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl, Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry, Felicity Huffman for transamerica, Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club, ed), while we are not given the same possibilities. In any case, even though I’m trans, Monica is different from me in many ways: she has different friends, she expresses herself in a different way and comes from a wealthy family ».

What did you think when Andrea Pallaoro offered you the part?
«That finally a trans, instead of being at the service of more important characters, was placed at the center of the story. Monica is not stereotyped, she is nuanced: strong, empathetic and full of flaws. When Andrea chose me, we talked about what I had to face and discussed how to communicate it to the spectators».

How much of himself did he put into the character?
«Fortunately, I made peace with my mother, but unfortunately Monica’s story is similar to that of many people who have had problems getting their families to accept their transition. Someone doesn’t succeed and loses them forever, but the fault is never just the families”.

What do you mean?
«Hatred towards us is born in society: it is a kind of disease, and the relatives of transsexuals are its victims. The proof is that children, who have not yet been brainwashed, when they see a trans they accept him for who he is. People should be educated to unlearn hate: in this sense, a film like monica it is much more effective than a thousand sermons».

When did your transition start and when did you get the idea of ​​acting?
“I remember twisting a towel around my head as a kid to pretend I had long hair. And as a teenager I started experimenting with women’s clothing. The idea of ​​becoming an actress came much later, talking to a boyfriend, then remained a friend, the Nollywood star (the Nigerian Hollywood, ed) Karibi Fubara. I mention his name because unfortunately he passed away last year (after two years of battling kidney cancer, ed). He told me: “No one will come to save you, that’s why you have to invest financially in yourself” ».

How did he do?
“I’ve always been poor, my family had no savings and so college was never an option for me. Not having much choice in the world of work, I ended up dancing and stripping at Scores and other strip clubs in New York. However, let’s face it, even if it was well paid, it wasn’t what I wanted to do all my life. So I started using my earnings to take acting lessons. For me it has become above all an outlet to express my creativity and, at the beginning, I considered it only a hobby».

When did it become a real job?
«I started doing auditions, many auditions. But, to be honest, from 2007 to 2012 I only got a small role in an episode of Law & Order: Special unit. From there I carved out more and more space in other TV series such as Poses. Then came the big breaks: the role of Shea, the trans yoga teacher, in the series Transparentwhich introduced me to the general public, and the film for the cinema Wall Street girls».

How did he present himself at the auditions at the beginning?
“When I participated in Law & Order I had already completed the transition, so I was introducing myself as a woman to play a woman. I had learned to lie well in strip clubs, where I could never, ever reveal that I was trans: those clubs are dominated by a male-dominated culture, they would have torn me apart. In a way, I think trans people are more prepared to step into character because, in everyday life, they’re used to acting, even if it’s just to defend themselves from evil. Ten years ago there were very few trans roles and so someone suggested to me: “If you want to work, never reveal who you really are”».

Trace Lysette, Monica’s transgender protagonist: “Let’s unlearn hate”