Enough with the shaming scenes, let Rain Valdez show you what trans people are in real life and how they should be depicted on screen
Actress Audrey Hepburn once said, “Everything I learned, I learned from the movies.” Apart from transporting you to a fantasy world, films and movies, even TV shows, have the power to influence your thinking, thanks to the ideas of the storytellers behind the camera. Watching movies has always been an adventure even if you’re just sitting inside the theaters. They boggle the mind and can make you question yourself and things that surround you.
But what happens when the things you see on the screen no longer reflect you in a better light? For many years, this has been a struggle for individuals belonging to the LGBTQIA Community, especially for the trans community. When films depict characters vomiting in disgust of trans people, and them being ridiculed and end up as the butt of jokes, or being catcalled by bystanders on the streets, one must ask: What do these scenes tell society and, more important, how do they affect a trans kid growing up?
Over the past years, thanks to the community allies and activists in the field, the Philippines has been gifted with movies and shows that present trans characters as how they are in real life. They can find love as in the TV show Destiny Rose or as in the movie Mamu: And a Mother Too, trans people can be nurturing figures who deal with problems the way cisgender parents do.
Aiming to do the same is LA-based actress and show creator Rain Valdez. After living a closeted life, she is resolved to tell not just her story, but of the trans community as well. She began portraying characters and creating shows that break trans stereotypes. She appeared in programs such as TV Land’s Lopez and Amazon’s Transparent. In June, she joined other trans artists in Hollywood such as Lavern Cox, Candis Cayne, and Chaz Bono in Disclosure, a documentary focusing on trans representation in the media. She also founded ActNOW, the first and only acting class in LA prioritizing a safe space for LGBTQIA actors.
But what tops her bill as an actress is her recent Primetime Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series” for her lead role in Razor Tongue, a seven-part web series she created, crowdfunded, and produced. This recognition makes her the first ever Fil-Am transwoman to be nominated at the award-giving body.
A new icon for many transpinay, Rain chats with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle as she looks back on her childhood days in the Philippines, and shares her views on the importance of proper trans representation in media and living a true, authentic life.
Do you have any memories of your life here in the Philippines?
I have some very fond memories of my family in the Philippines, although I wasn’t there for too long. My mother remarried and migrated my older sister and me to Guam when I was about five. From what I do remember, I was the youngest and a brat so I got away with a lot. My grandparents were very loving and supportive. They allowed me to be anybody I wanted. I got to see them again when I was much older but at that point I was an American teenager and lacked the capacity to want to learn more about them and from them. I wish I could have spent more time with them before they passed.
Why do you think it is important for us to be our true selves when it comes to achieving our dreams?
I think life can be very rewarding when you live your truth. As a transgender woman, it can also be very dangerous. But if we want to revolutionize the world, we need to start with each of our smaller worlds. Mine is film and TV right now. In order to have more accurate and authentic portrayals of transgender people, it’s important that more of us in the industry take a stand and speak our truth. The more we are seen, the more confidence the community gains and the more we let the world know who we really are. It’s also important that young trans kids are able to see many different types of positive LGBTQIA representation. The movement I’m a part of is creating aspirational and accurate portrayals, which will combat the negative depictions created over the last 100 years of film and TV.
What do you think people do not understand about trans or LGBTQIA as represented on TV and in films?
Our stories aren’t niche. They’re actually more universal than some think. What most people don’t understand is how powerful film and TV are. Those mediums have the ability to shape cultural norms and societal behaviors. Trans people have been vilified and ostracized out of society because of how we have been portrayed in film and on television. When more people realize that the responsibility has been ours from the beginning, we can gain the power to change. Prior to colonization, transgender people were viewed and treated as spiritual beings. We were people of healing. It’s important that the work I do centers transgender characters and continues to humanize us. It’s my way to help heal my community.
“I think life can be very rewarding when you live your truth. As a transgender woman, it can also be very dangerous. But if we want to revolutionize the world, we need to start with each of our smaller worlds.”
What was running in your mind then when you heard about your Emmy nomination?
I wasn’t expecting it. I hoped and I dreamed about it but I’ve learned that you can’t really come to “expect.” I was in shock I just kept shaking and crying. Even though I wasn’t expecting it, it’s no accident that I’m nominated. Everything I’ve ever done in my life has led to this. Now I’m just soaking it all in!
What is the most important lesson you always teach your students in your ActNOW classes?
The art of acting is a long journey and complacency can kill a career before it even starts. So self care and having fun while working hard is very important. I learned that very early on because I had great instructors. I teach my students to be curious, vigilant, to create and have fun in the process. If you’re not having fun, that’s when you need to stop and interrogate your process. Self care is very key as an actor and you have to listen to all of your feelings, intuition and be bold enough to face them head on. You’ll be a much better actor when you do this.
All seven episodes of Razor Tongue are now available for streaming at: https://www.noweverartists.com/razortongue. Get to know more about Rain by visiting her Instagram account @rainvaldez and @noweverartists.