Monday, May 11, 2015

Welcome to We Hear YA! 

Connecting YA Writers with their Teen Audience.

Today... We Hear YA has the pleasure of chatting with acclaimed, 23 year-old, transgender actress Michelle Hendley - star of the just released narrative film BOY MEETS GIRL, available on DVD from Wolfe Video

In the authentic, Southern romantic-comedy BOY MEETS GIRLMichelle Hendley portrays a young transwoman trying to navigate life while looking for romance in her small Kentucky hometown. In real life, Michelle has already worked hard to navigate through some hard times and she's offered to share aspects of that long road with us.

First offCongrats Michelle on BOY MEETS GIRL! What did you learn about yourself, in making this film, that you didn't realize before? 

I learned I can act! I mean,  I've received a few awards for my work! It's kind of mind blowing to tell the truth. I do not have a background in theater/ acting, and prior to 'Boy Meets Girl' I was just some kid from Missouri trying to get through beauty school. Now I have a potential career in front of me and I am ECSTATIC! 

Q: Growing up as a transgender teen - What day to day aspects made you feel most different from everyone else?

By the time I started transition I had lived over a decade and a half as an outcast queer kid. I already felt unbearably different from anyone else I ever met, and I didn't expect that to change after pursuing gender transition. I will say though, in my early transition I felt like I needed to explain myself to every confused person who didn't know whether to call me "he" or "she." Who else has to explain their gender to random strangers? I felt very beside myself at the time. 

Q: What social aspects of growing up were more challenging in terms of choices you had to make. Whether it was clothing shopping or at parties, etc.?

Dating was probably the most challenging. Before I began transition it really did seem impossible to find guys who were cool with my androgynous look and eccentric personality. Especially in good ol' Mid-Missouri. 

Q: What does it mean to you when you hear the term 'Diverse Books' or LGBT books? And what types of stories did you search for as a teen?

'Diverse Books' sounds more like a descriptor of someone's personal library, not a specific genre (if it is that?). I have never heard the term used before. I understand 'LBGT Books' in terms of LBGT specific self-help books, but why should books that touch on LBGT issues be deemed as "diverse?" Like they are so different or special simply by the nature of being LBGT related? No. Books are books, people are people, regardless of their contents. Does that make sense? I tend to get wordy...

I was a big comic book and anime nerd back in the day, and I always loved old mythological stories.  I was drawn to stories about misunderstood (female) characters who possessed great power. I obsessed over bloody samurai revenge tales, and cried when Jean Grey (X-men) died for the sake of the planet. Oh. And I still read my old Sailor Moon comics.

Q:  Can you think of one moment in life that helped you gain a stronger perspective or deeper strength?

Like I mentioned earlier, dating was kind of a nightmare for me back in the day. Years of rejection from gay men who thought I was too much like a girl (go figure) built up, and I remember when the straw finally broke that metaphorical camel's back. I was in my dorm room, and this guy I was talking to online told me the same thing I had been told over and over again. I had a full on anxiety attack. Fetal position under my desk and everything. After I calmed down, I was angry - at the world, at men, at every person in my life who never gave me the time of day. I used that energy to figure myself out, and began research on "the middle gender." I read about cultures that actually celebrated individuals like myself, learned what "transgender" means, and began the initial steps of gender transition. We all hit a brick wall at some point in our lives, and I'm glad I figured out how to bust through mine. KA POW!

Q: How do want to see transgender girls and boys portrayed within media? What irks you about the media you've seen? And what has been done right?

I would love to see transgender characters portrayed in as many ways as their cisgender counterparts. For now, the media is going to try its best to portray us as a one-dimensional plot point; like our entire existence and purpose is based around our gender identity. Once the initial novelty of "transliness" starts to dim I'm sure we will see much more colorful representations of trans characters. Like, we aren't all down-trodden prostitutes with tragic pasts, you know? I am thrilled to see representatives like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock who are working proactively to spread awareness and education on trans issues though, and the media's willingness to hear those voices.  It really is just a matter of time for the trans community.  

And a few fun, quick questions:

What is your favorite YA book?

One book that really resonated with me during my teen years was "Goddess of Yesterday" by Caroline B. Cooney. Ancient Greece, strong female heroine...It was just meant to be.

What is one quirky habit you have?

When I get home from a grocery run, I like to eat a little bit of everything I bought. All those unopened packages and fresh produce are just too inviting!

What is up next for you?

I will be moving up to NYC in a couple months to continue working as an actress. Kinda freaking out to tell the truth, but in the best way possible. 

Wow, Michelle! It sounds like you have an amazing adventure ahead of you. We look forward to your continued success in the future. KA POW! 

Check out Michelle's YouTube Channel. Follow her @chellehendley