With Transparent’s victorious run at this year’s Emmy Awards, artist, activist, and producer Zackary Drucker is enjoying her moment in the spotlight. Her work behind and in front of the camera—she is a co producer and has appeared on Transparent, and frequently appears as herself in I Am Cait—has made her a prominent figure in the trans community today. She speaks candidly about the state of trans rights, her friendship with Caitlyn Jenner, and her hopes for what lies ahead.
Joseph Akel: Well, let me first begin by saying congratulations on the success of Transparent at this year’s Emmy Awards. You must be over the moon!
Zackary Drucker: I am absolutely thrilled with the accolades that Transparent has received. It was such an incredible experience to be there watching Jill Soloway onstage accepting an award, being publicly thanked by Jeffrey Tambor. It was something I’d never thought I would experience in my lifetime.
And being at the Emmy Awards with so many of my trans comrades—Laverne Cox, Hari Nef, Rhys Ernst, Ian Harvie, Trace Lysette among them—it felt like we had arrived. This moment of trans representation is so far beyond anything that we as a community have experienced. That being said, no social-justice movement is immune to backlash, and I think a lot about the larger cultural context we’re in. It’s late in Obama’s term; we’re approaching an election year; and the embrace of diversity that we’re experiencing culturally I don’t necessarily think will last forever.
JA: That’s an interesting point. So you do feel like the progressive nature of trans visibility and current attitudes toward the community still very much hinges on prevailing cultural and political circumstances?
ZD: I think it could be dialed back in a second. Trans people have been so disenfranchised for so long, that many of these more fundamentalist or religious-right organizations and communities haven’t really formed a solid opinion or politic around why we are an abomination. With our greater visibility also comes greater attention, for better and worse. The openness that we’re experiencing right now feels much different than ten years ago, when we were in the late-term George W. Bush years. When you look back at where pop culture was then, I think sometimes we neglect to reflect on how things are dictated from the top.
JA: It absolutely makes sense. It’s very easy to forget. And if you look at the example of Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who was refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, there is still very much an ongoing struggle for the right to marry, even after this year’s Supreme Court ruling.
ZD: And that concern is acutely felt in the trans community too. California, where I live, is one of the states where it is safest to be trans, but in the majority of other states, trans people can still be fired and be denied housing for being trans alone.
JA: But don’t you also think that we’ve reached some sort of critical point at which trans visibility and acceptance is so prevalent in mass culture right now—the discussions so strong and vibrant—that in some ways there’s no going back to how it used to be?
ZD: Absolutely. One of the most incredible things about this moment is that there are so many voices being heard. I think that as a trans person, it’s always been so hard to see a future self because we’ve had so few markers to live by. And I do I think that what we’re doing right now is pioneering, and it’s unprecedented.
With shows like Transparent and I Am Cait—for both of which I am involved—what has made them so successful is they have provided platforms—international platforms—for trans people to share their histories, their ideas about things. They have both brought a lot of people in and created the possibility to have a voice. For so long, we’ve been in an evaporating community. That is to say, throughout our community’s history, our survival has been hinged on invisibility, on assimilation, on being passable and erasing your gender history altogether. The turning point that we’ve seen over the past few years is trans people willing to be out and visible and proud of who they are.
For me, that confidence came about very much through reading Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlawas a young person—really incorporating that into my life approach and saying to myself, “OK, I can be a freak. I can be whoever I want to be. I don’t have to make decisions that are hinged on the culture that doesn’t really have a place for me. I can create the world I want to live in—create the self that I want to live in.”
JA: Do you think now there is a more open dialogue about being trans and acknowledging transitional states—that the impetus is not to hide or make invisible one’s trans status but rather to openly acknowledge it and also to seek it out?
ZD: Absolutely. The most succinct response I could give you is that if Candy Darling’s archetype was Lana Turner, mine was Kate Bornstein. And by that I mean, when you look at older generations of trans women, with somebody like Candy or Holly Woodlawn, their archetypes were screen actresses. It was always going to be a cis woman whom they would turn to for inspiration. For them, to mimic femininity was to conform to a culture where trans-ness didn’t exist. Whereas for me and members of my generation, I was looking to Justin Vivian Bond, Candis Cayne, and Flawless Sabrina. My archetypes were these sort of gender-queer and trans performers and outsiders and people who are really blazing the path and creating their own narrative.
JA: You mention you have roles in both Transparent, for which you are a producer and have a recurring role, and I Am Cait, in which you appear as yourself. How did you first get involved with Jill Soloway as she was developing Transparent?
ZD: I actually first met Jill through my then-partner, Rhys Ernst. Rhys had met Jill at the Sundance Film Festival. He had been on Jill’s radar for some time, and then, when she began working on the pilot for Transparent, Rhys and myself were introduced to her as people she could talk to about it. The script was sent over to us, and then we were invited to her house to talk about it.
Reading the script, I remember Rhys and I were amazed. It was so promising, so impressive. At that time, there wasn’t anybody else on the project. Jill just started to talk to Victor Hsu, too, about coming on as a producer, and it was early enough in the development of the series where I could help inform and weigh in on some of the creative decisions. Looking back on it all now, I think it’s just the coolest thing in the world that she has created something that is really altering the course of entertainment and media.
JA: And you’ve also been regularly appearing in I Am Cait. What has it been like working with Caitlyn Jenner on the show? I ask because the show is a prominent portrayal of one individual’s very public transition, for better or worse, depending on whom you ask.
ZD: Think whatever you’d like about Caitlyn Jenner. She has been a game changer. There’s been no public figure as famous and respected as her to transition in the limelight. I think she’s used the tools of media to really actively try to incite social change, and she’s doing it in the best way she knows how. I think for me, as her friend, she’s a great inspiration.
JA: She’s using the tools that she has available, which, in this case, is her fame and her access to media.
ZD: Absolutely. That show is in 122 countries, it’s reaching an audience in a totally different place than the audience that we’re reaching with Transparent. I think that entertainment influences culture, which influences legislation, and that’s what we’re moving towards. On a personal level, I feel that Caitlyn has overcome obstacles that people are really bound to dismiss—or to overlook. She’s faced so much judgment from all sides—from her family, from mainstream culture, from the trans communities—and sometimes I feel like she can’t get a break.
JA: Do you feel that, despite all the attention the trans community is receiving right now, there are still very prevalent misconceptions about it?
ZD: From my point of view, the most common misconception is that everything for the trans community is just fine and dandy, that we are now totally safe and protected in the world. In reality, we as a community still face staggering violence, self-harm, and employment discrimination. Indeed, when you really look at the general state of the trans community, it’s one that is still very much in peril. Indeed, in a moment like right now, the day after the Emmys, when everyone is ruminating on the success of trans people, I think people might be led to think that everything is OK now for trans people, and that’s not the case.
JA: That’s interesting to hear.
ZD: That said, it is so important for us to take the opportunity to celebrate and breathe a sigh of relief. But our work is not done. One of the things that propels me as an activist is this feeling that we have to keep on fighting the good fight, that the struggle is never ending, and it remains to be seen if this moment of pop culture is sustainable. I feel the attention that the trans community has received carries with it incredible potential, but it remains to be seen what we will do with that as a community, what America will do with it, what the larger world will do with it. I wait with bated breath and without expectation and try to remain hopeful.
This article originally appeared in FourTwoNine’s Sixth Issue.