Calpernia Addams is one of the most famous transsexuals in the world, she's an actress, author, singer, entertainer, model and activist for the LGBT Community. She grew up in Nashville Tennessee. She played Bluegrass Gossip Fiddler in church with her family. She graduated from the same high school as Bettie Paige (Yes, The Bettie Paige). A personal tragedy in her life was brought to the screen in the award winning movie "Soldier's Girl." So how did Calpernia Addams go from Nashville, Tennessee to becoming one of the most famous transsexuals in the world? Our interview with the amazing Calpernia Addams will tell you how it's done.
Thank you so much for doing this interview, it's an honor.
When you were growing up in Nashville, what did you foresee your life being beyond the Tennessee border?
I was always fascinated with the idea of traveling the world. I read an incredible number of books when I was young, and always imagined going to the places they described. Europe, the tropics, New York and yes, even Hollywood. I've managed to visit many of the places I dreamed about as a kid, and they were every bit as wonderful as I imagined they would be.
At what age did you realize that you were transgender? How did you deal with the revelations?
I had a girl name for myself in my head, but I never said it out loud. I have early memories of copying the games the girls would play in Grade School, off by myself on the playground. I knew from the earliest ages that displaying feminine behavior would result in some kind of punishment, whether it be disapproval from adults or social ostracization by the other kids, so I kept things to myself. As I got older, I kind of gave up on the dream of being a girl, because I thought it would just never happen. I didn't revisit it until my early twenties.
You were an active member in your church in youth, did this affect your way of thinking when you realized you were transgender?
We were taught to fear Hell and eternal damnation as if it were completely, utterly real. I think I knew that I was destined to go to Hell from my earliest memories, which isn't a pleasant or affirming way to grow up. I left behind religion as soon as I possibly could, which was when I left home at 18. The only thing I still cherish from my church days is the music.
How did your parents react to the news and how did it affect your family relationship?
My parents were devastated. At first, I thought I could just try to live as a gay male and suppress my gender issues, and that news broke their hearts. When I finally gave in to my own needs and undertook transition, I felt excited and liberated like I had never felt before in my life, but my parents considered it the same as being gay and so they didn't react much when I transitioned. They had already resigned themselves to my fate. They still don't accept me, and use old names and pronouns, but through it all I do believe that they love me in their own way.
What age were you when you began your transition, and how old were you when decided to completely change over to female?
Because my parents discouraged me from considering college, I graduated High School unprepared for any kind of "next steps". I knew that I couldn't stay in that religious household, and the Navy began pursuing me due to my high test scores, so I joined as a Field Combat Medic in 1990 to escape Nashville. I ended up going to Saudi Arabia for the entire first Gulf War, taking care of the wounded and injured. When I had completed my four year enlistment, I got out and almost immediately began transition. The military had helped me to grow up and figure myself out. I had waited long enough.
Please tell our readers how Calpernia Addams became Calpernia Addams Showgirl working for seven years at Connections?
I saw my first transsexual women at the enormous 40,000 square foot theater and nightclub called The Connection. They were gorgeous showgirls, and seeing them helped me to understand that transition was possible. I wormed my way into running the spotlight and studied the girls for awhile, finally getting up the courage to come to the club as my true self and start pushing for guest spots. I had a quirky, Gypsy-Rose-Lee kind of stage persona that people found refreshing after years of Whitney Houston and Cher impersonations. My mentor, a drag performer named Chyna, took me under her wing and taught me the basics of being a professional entertainer. I segued into fulltime headlining cast member, and never looked back. It was the perfect job to transition on.
Many girls begin their careers on stage and many keep doing it for years beyond that. What made you decide you wanted to become an actress and move on from the weekly grind of doing shows?
I had always been on stage for various reasons... playing Bluegrass gospel fiddle in church, doing plays in church and school. I even joined a theater group in Alaska when I was stationed there in the Navy. I didn't just become a showgirl to transition. I actually loved entertaining as well, but after transition I started wishing I could do more acting rather than dancing, singing and lip synching.
What is the most positive aspect of performing live for a crowd?
The great thing about doing four numbers a night, five nights a week for seven years is that when I was on stage, it was MY stage. It was just me, in front of up to 2,000 people, and I could bring any idea to life that I chose. I got to try out so many things over that time. Burlesque, modern dance, Jazz dance, comedy, slapstick, drama, Broadway, pop. I did live songs, played my violin, impersonated artists I loved, hosted, MC'd, did standup comedy. It was the best training ground I could have asked for, short of going to one of the national drama academies.
Would you recommend show business to younger transgender men and women?
"Showbusiness" is something that's in the blood, I think. I've never told anyone, "You should get on stage!" but I've helped those who ended up there and looked to me for advice. Everyone who has the drive and the desire will do it, and people who want quieter lives in other professions will do those. It's all for the best, the natural balance of things.
So many young transgender men and women are coming out at an earlier age than most of us did. Why do you think the transgender community has opened up as much as it has?
I think every year, we reap the benefits of all the work of those who are a few steps ahead of us. The queens who fought at Stonewall, demanding respect from the police. The 1970's/1980's gay-positive shows and films like "Soap" and "Parting Glances" that started opening people's minds to non-standard ways of being. The legal battles and examples set by early trailblazing trans people like April Ashley, Coccinelle, Caroline Cossey, Canary Conn and Lynn Conway. It all adds up, and every year the new batches of trans girls and guys feel a little safer, a little more supported, and they start a little earlier.
Although many younger LGBT Community members are coming out earlier hate crimes within the LGBT Community are on the rise. Your own story was well documented in the award winning movie "Soldiers Girl." To the viewers this was a true story being acted out on screen, but this actually happened, it was your story. How did this horrible crime affect your life and how you perceived the world?
My boyfriend's murder is the worst thing that has ever happened in my life. I still think about him here and there a little every day, all these nine years later.
How were you able to pick up the pieces and move forward with your life in the aftermath of what happened?
All one can do
is keep going. Barry's own motto was "Suck it up and drive on",
which is an Army saying that means "Deal with it and keep moving
forward." I've had the support of lifelong friends like Chyna,
Andrea James and a close handful of stealth trans friends.
What do you think the military should have done, and what didn't they do that you would personally change to insure this never happens again?
One of Barry's
killers is out on parole right this very moment. A free man. First
and foremost, I wish the murder had never happened, but since it did,
I would have preferred that they both serve life sentences without
What do you think we need to do within our own government to make sure that hate crimes are punished to the fullest extent of the law?
I'm not a great legal mind, so honestly I don't know what needs to change specifically. But I'll always be there to show up and help raise money if the legal experts want to throw a fundraiser!
With the November Presidential elections nearing, which candidate speaks to you? And, why?
I support Obama, because I think he will do the right thing in more areas than McCain will, although even he wont go on the record in support of issues like gay marriage, which are always a good indicator of how a politician will probably vote on trans issues. And I think Sarah Palin is the Anti-Christ by way of Betty Crocker.
Sometimes life can seem to be a bit overwhelming to people with things the way they are today. What do you do when you want to take a step back and have a moment for yourself?
I like to have a good cup of artisan coffee and a well made French pastry, while reading one of my favorite books.
What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any favorite hobbies?
I read a lot, and write when I can. I love to play my fiddle. The most fun thing in the world to me is spending time with my small, close circle of friends.
What are the three most important things in your life?
Love, comfort and peace. Both on a small, personal level and also in the grand scheme of things.
How did the show Transamerican Love Story on the Logo Network come about? On a personal note, I loved the show.
Thank you! It was totally fun. The guys were great, and I'm still friends with many of them via email, though Shawn and I did not end up in a long term relationship. I wanted to show that trans women can be desirable, normal love interests and also give props to the men who are strong enough to date us.
Will the show be coming back for a second season? And if so, when?
I don't know if it will or not. I have some projects coming up this Fall, so if it does run for another season, it will be with a different lead.
What are you working on at the moment? I know you have a very popular You Tube Channel and your videos are Fantabulous!
Right now, my business partner Andrea James and I are editing our latest short film, a comedy called "Transproofed". We co-wrote it, both star in it and Andrea directed. It will have several new songs that I wrote, so watch for more singles! I'm flying to Memphis to shoot another film with director Brian Pera, and this Fall I'm supposed to do guest starring roles in one (possibly two) other TV shows.
I have to ask you about the song "Stunning," which I couldn't get out of my head for about a week after I listened to it and watched the video. The song is really great. How did the song come about and are you going to release more singles or a full length cd in the future?
I had to perform
a song for episode five of Transamerican Love Story, but rather than
do someone else's music I wanted to write it myself. So I just sat
down and wrote the most outrageously vain lyrics I could think of,
which was funny to me. Stuff like, "I turn down three-ways with
Brad and Angelina", ha ha. Then some really cool people like
Lucian Piane, Jer Ber Jones and Matthew McPeck did remixes of it that
really brought out the danceability. I have several new songs almost
ready to release, which I'm going to do as part of "Transproofed".
I'll never be an American Idol-style diva, but I think I can lay down
some honest, earnest tracks and do some interesting stuff musically.
Calpernia Addams "Stunning"
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I'd love to continue being a working actress, with some good credits on my resume and a comfortable place to live. I think Bree really needs a red-headed sister to move in with her on Desperate Housewives...Ha Ha.
Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise people?
I am terribly shy even to this day, and have actually gotten entirely ready for a night out, driven to a club and not even left the car because I was overcome with shyness and ended up just going back home. Being brave and social and free onstage requires me to almost become another person.
If you could sum up your life in one sentence what would it be?
"It was a hard road, but it was worth it."
What advice can you give to other transgender men and women in the LGBT Community that they can carry with them in life?
I tell this to new transitioners all the time: "Transition is never easy, never perfect and never over. But it does get easier, it does get better and it does get less important as time goes on."
Once again, I want to thank you for doing this interview and sharing your thoughts with the readers of our website. You are definitely someone that has lived her life on her own terms and has succeeded in areas where most people in our community didn't even know was possible. You are an inspiration to us all, and we thank you for just being you.
Calpernia Addam's Official Website
MARK 947: A LIFE SHAPED BY GOD, GENDER AND FORCE OF WILL BY CALPERNIA ADDAMS