Hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, Dominique Jackson moved to the USA at the age of 15 to escape discrimination from a community and family that failed to accept her trans identification and evolution into a woman. Despite a past that is clouded with trauma, she is now a successful author, model and actress, as well as a chief advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ community and role model for trans artists. Jackson is currently slated for a new TV docu-series about the lives of transgender people and recently wrapped up a starring role in Carla Pridgen's Incongruence Off-Broadway, a play based on numerous interviews conducted with the trans community. She is also signed with Apple Model Management, the first of its kind to feature a full transgender division.
The journey to success has not been easy. "It's very difficult for us to get work," says Jackson. Despite being considered within the LGBTQ community, she believes that trans artists are still not fully included or given the same consideration. "Sometimes your own people won't even give you the time of day. They won't even give you the opportunity to be a part of their productions or get on the stage. It's a difficult fight."
Playwright, producer, actor and fight choreographer Jesse Geguzis echoes this sentiment, pointing out that often non-trans (cis gender) actors will be cast in trans roles. "We are constantly looked over for trans/queer roles which end up going to cis people, and that is something that drives me absolutely bonkers."
One of the primary reasons for this discrimination is a lack of education; the transgender individual remains a mystery to many, so rarely represented in the arts or mainstream media. Thanks to the success of celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce, and "Orange is the New Black" star Laverne Cox, some of the stigma and myth surrounding the trans community has begun to dissipate. Much of it, however, remains, and artists like Jackson and Geguzis are hoping to change this. Geguzis' play, F*ck Over F*ck Under will play at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn this summer, with a full company of trans and queer artists. "I wrote the play to tell stories that are not often heard and to represent humans that are not often seen," he says. "I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen a person like me represented in a play or a film... That has got to change."
"I'm hoping to show a glimpse into queer language and life. I'm hoping for trans and queer youth and folks to see themselves represented on stage and know they are not alone and they are not wrong," continues Geguzis. "I'm hoping that we've created a piece of art that will speak to cis and GNC folks alike, by showing the humanity of us all."
Jackson expresses a similar sentiment, motivated by a desire to debunk myths surrounding the trans individual. "We're trying to humanize the trans community. It's about showing us as normal, everyday human beings who just happen to be trans," she says. "It is extremely important for trans people to be visible. For quite a while, I wanted to live [in] stealth…but it is a life that is so stressful."
Both Jackson and Geguzis agree that achieving more visibility will pave the way for greater acceptance, as well as change, for a marginalized community that continues to be discriminated against. "It's still common for trans folks and especially trans women to be turned away from medical care, kicked out of their homes and schools and fired from their jobs when they come out. I'm working to reverse these circumstances of fear and hiding for trans folks and make art that empowers and celebrates us," says Geguzis. "It would be great if it would inspire people to become allies and take action in the queer movement and help create change."
Director Audrey Alford, who worked with both Jackson and Geguzis on Incongruence, shares this goal. "It is so important for me to be part of an inclusive community," she says. "This has lead to the need to bridge gaps between people who live their lives being 'othered' and those who unknowingly discriminate against them."
For Alford, putting queer and trans voices on the stage is also helping combat the very real threat of violence that continues to haunt them. "The trans community is so misunderstood, and the level of violence that occurs against transgender individuals is frightening," she says, referring to the thousands of trans individuals who have died as a consequence of hate crimes. "If I can help educate even one person about the trans umbrella, we come closer to living in a world that does not include news stories about someone being beaten, bullied or committing suicide because of who they are."
When taking on a play such as Incongruence, which not only featured real trans voices but was also written by a trans playwright, it was imperative to Alford that she cast trans actors. "Trans performers bring firsthand experience to the world in a way that empowers their stories," she says. She also made a point of casting trans actors in cisgender roles, breaking typecasting boundaries that are often a real challenge for trans performers. "I heard quite a few comments from other directors saying what great actors I was working with and what shame it was that there 'weren't more roles for them,'" she says. "I was pretty taken aback."
Jackson says she has felt the brunt of this consistently and is the reason that she will sometimes choose not to divulge her background during an audition. "A lot of us just want to lead normal, regular lives. I want to go in for a role and if I can play that part, my trans identity shouldn't affect me."
The journey towards a more inclusive, humane society is a long road ahead, for trans, queer and all marginalized groups. The theatre industry can help to lead the way through the ongoing support of trans artists and by giving their voices a platform and more opportunities. "The future is bright," says Geguzis. "We're just getting started."
To learn more about Alford's future projects visit IvyTheatre.com.