Candis Cayne was one of the Grand Marshals for Fierté Montréal this year. You could tell she was happy about it. She’s been on New York’s underground scene, along with RuPaul, Lady Bunny, Cazwell, Amanda Lepore since the nineties. Her breakthrough moment was her role in the TV series Dirty Sexy Money. She was the first transgender woman to play the character of a transgender woman on screen in such a big show. The show lasted only for two seasons. Afterwards, she served as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag U. She’s currently featured along Caitlyn Jenner in the TV show I am Cait. We met her after Community day, during the Montreal Pride.
Can you tell us about your experience as a Grand Marshal for Fierté Montréal? This has been wonderful. The people in Montreal have really embraced me. I feel at home. I’ve done a couple of press things like Pénélope [Pénélope McQuade’s show on TV] and people have been coming to me all day saying they saw me on the show and that I am such a good spokesperson for the trans community and you spoke so well and thank you. It’s really amazing.
It’s been fun doing all this and being part of the celebration here. When you’re asked to be grand marshal, you’re here for a longer period of time, you do a bunch of events, you’re in the transgender culture of the city, which is really wonderful . It’s different than the States. Really, it’s been amazing.
Most LGBT artists we interview are not comfortable also being activists. Where do you stand on that? When I first started acting I kind of understood that point of view because you want to do your art. But the more I’m involved in the community – I’ve been part of the community for twenty-something years – the more I’m in front of the media, the more I realize that every word that I say, every place that I go can influence our community for good. And can reach and touch different people. I always say that I never was the kind of activist marching on the streets. My kind of activism is doing interviews and talking about the issues one on one with the media or in front of a camera to millions of people. It’s out there that I’m a trans woman. I have a career on television and film. So, especially in the trans community, it would not be a good thing if I was quiet about that.
Do you think of that as a kind of responsability? Yes I do. Especially being on this show with Caitlyn, I am Cait. We are reaching so many people around the world. The show is being aired in 150 countries or something, in 20 different languages. I mean everywhere in the world someone is going to see someone who’s trans or getting to know someone who’s trans. I was saying on Pénélope that when you know somebody, it’s harder to discriminate against them. It’s important for me to get to know people that are in front of their television watching who I am. It’s one thing being an actor because you’re playing a part, but doing this kind of show, they’re going to know who you are as a person. And they’re hopefully going to enjoy who you are and when they think about the rights of a minority, like the trans community, they will think about it instead of hesitating and saying no and probably say yes to acceptance.
How did you get on that show? I met Cait. And we hit it off. It wasn’t a casting. Me and the other girls, we give something to her, because she doesn’t know. She’s new at this.
It’s incredible how much she’s discovering right now. For instance, we find out that even though she went through the whole process of transitioning she had never heard of the violence trans people face everyday. It’s amazing. She was always in her bubble. And so when we met, it was the first time she’s ever been with a group a trans women talking about stories. And she lit up. It’s good for her because we didn’t have anybody to look at, there was no internet, you just discovered things along the way, now there’s so much at your fingertips and instead of taking all of this and doing me, me, me, me, she says «I’m gonna use who I am and my fame for good and reach our for community».
The shooting is now over. What do you keep from that experience? How many people are going to be affected by this show, which is truly inspiring for me. I’ve been working in front of camera for over ten years with the wind always being pushed against me holding me back, and for the first time in my life, the wind is pushing my back forward, it feels so good.
Before Caitlyn’s breakthrough, there was your own breaktrough. Do you think Caitlyn Jenner’s show will help directly your carreer? I’m sure it probably will. But that’s not why I decided to be a part of it. I was very amazed with the producers, Caitlyn, what the message was. In order to be on this show, you had to be trained by Glaad to talk to trans people, be around trans people. It’s not just «oh Caitlyn’s doing the show», it’s a whole thing. This show is going to make it easier for me as an actor to go in a audition and there will be the correct writing for a trans character rather what something they think it is, made up. There are people in the middle of France who know Caitlyn Jenner’s name and who would have never heard of me or Laverne (Cox), or Jamie (Clayton). She’s opened it up so much more.
You opened doors yourself. I did and it feels good and I’m still very proud of that. The fact that I did Dirty Sexy Money, I was open about who I was in front of the world. It was up and down. Not so much down, but being the first to do something is always a harder struggle, because you’re the first person with the machete and you have to answer questions that are no longer allowed to be asked and stuff like that.
Do you think now that the film industry has finally understood that it’s better to cast a trans person for a trans character? Who knows? I don’t think so. I mean, in Hollywood, we still have the big award winning parts played by cis people. It’s unfortunate. It’s like you can be on the team, but you can’t play in the game.
You’re friends with RuPaul. He often says that he has achieved all his dreams. Have you? No. I feel like my life is a set of dreams that have been happening but I feel there is so much more dreams that I have. I don’t think you can, if you’re an artist, achieve all your dreams because I think as a human being you always want to push yourself, you always want to go to the next level, you always want to meet new people, experience new things. Even if they don’t come true… I never thought I’d be on a network with a prime time show but I never stopped dreaming it. And I’ve been on it twice now: It’s elementary and Dirty Sexy Money. So it’s just making the decision of what you want to do with your life and following through no matter what.
After being on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Drag U and I am Cait, would you like to host your own TV show some time? Yes! I would love to do a talk show. To play a super hero in a film. To be on a sitcom. I love comedy. There are still so many things I’d like to do.
On Pénélope McQuade’s show you said Caitlyn Jenner put the T in LGBT. Do you feel that gays and lesbians have not given trans people the space they deserve so far? I think that for so long our communities were segredated, apart from each other, that I think often the gay and lesbian communities don’t understand the trans community, but I think it changes depending on where you are, what country you’re in. I think Caitlyn has made it easier for the gay and lesbian community to embrace the trans community. By coming-out on the cover of Vanity Fair, looking the way she did, it made a statement all around the world. The T echo heard around the world. I came out and transitionned in New York City in front of a gay audience and they all embraced me, helped me pay for my surgeries. They were incredible to me. And I think by being a part of the community and showing them who I was and talking about my everyday life, and my joys, my struggles, my triumphs, that I did that in a small way, bringing our communities together. I think that this show is going to do it in a bigger way.
Several people from the New York underground scene in the nineties, including you, have practically become mainstream now. How do you feel about that? We were all artists from all around the world, come to New York City at a perfect time, when you could still be a true performance artist and make a way. This was before internet, before social media, when you had to prove yourself by your actions, what you did, how you peformed. It was an amazing, vibrant era. The nineties in New York City was unlike anything. It’s nice to know that a lot of the people that have been in that, RuPaul being one of them, to be a part of that, to be working as an artist and doing your craft and making absolutely no money and doing it just for the love of doing it, paying off.
Your parents were very supportive. When I was a child there wasn’t a word for trans. My first thought was at seven, that I should have been born a girl. My parents never told not to play with the toys I wanted to play with, not to dress with the clothes that I wanted to wear. So I was just raised as a natural person, dressing up and having fun, having all my girlfriend bringing me barbies. It was just natural to me. It wasn’t until I started going out ot the society where there were the ones telling that what I was doing and how I was acting was wrong. My parents are incredible. They traveled around Europe in the sixties painting on the sidewalks for money, famous paintings. They’re cultured and they’re studied, they have doctorates, they are amazing people. They always supported me.
I came out first as gay – I was attracted by men so I thought I must be gay. I realized a couple of year later that I wasn’t happy or fulfilled because I wanted to be a woman being attracted to men. I talked to them. I wrote each of them a letter. They sat on it for three weeks. I called them and said did you get my letter? They were like «yes». I’m like «Why didn’t you call?». They were like «We were waiting for you to reach out to us when you were ready to talk about it» and I said «Well, this is what I’m going through, what I’m feeling». They booked a flight from Maui to New York within a week and they came to make sure I was ok. They saw that I was ok and doing well with my life and they came to my show that week. They’ve always loved watching me perform. They’re supporters of authentic life.
I’m very emotional when it comes to going and seeing the trans kids and gay and lesbian children, because I know that without my parents’ support it would have been a totally different story for me. Without having to worry not to have a home base and support behind me, I would have never been able to just follow my dreams. And my biggest thing is to talk to parents and tell them if your child comes out as gay, lesbian or trans, if you’re having a hard time with it, you need to seek some help with that, you need to go to counselling. You can’t project your fear on your child because they’re looking for you to give them the greatest support, the biggest thing their entire life.