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Transparent actor: I went from homelessness to Hollywood stardom

Transparent actor: I went from homelessness to Hollywood stardom

Alexandra Grey

Before Alexandra Grey moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, she had never met another transgender person in her life.

After coming out to her families (foster and biological), the future in LA was obscure. She was homeless, unsure, but, in her own words, she had nothing to lose.

After finding a community, Grey carved out a place for herself. She landed a recurring role on the Emmy-winning series Transparent and played trans icon Marsha P. Johnson on Drunk History.

GSN spoke to Grey about her start, the landscape of Hollywood, and navigating Black History Month as a trans woman.

‘I had nothing to lose’

Grey, 27, grew up in foster care, but knew her biological family.

‘My family was very much a church family,’ she explained about her gradual coming out process to them.

‘But coming out to my foster family was hard as well because my foster mother was a pastor. She was okay in the beginning with me potentially being gay, but I knew it was something more [being transgender].’

When she eventually did decide to transition, her foster mother had some issues.

‘But at that point, I had nothing to lose,’ Grey said.

So she made the move from Chicaga to LA about nine years ago, completely alone, withhout a plan or home in sight. She talked about being a shy and timid person but that drive of having nothing to lose came up again and again, so she made the leap. After all, she mentioned, it was colder without a home in Chicago than LA.

‘I contacted the LGBT Center, they were the first shelter I came across. I entered their transitional living program and everything essentially happened from there.’

Grey with the Transparent cast.
Grey with the Transparent cast. | Photo: Provided

Telling trans stories

But what did happen from there? Before moving to LA, she had never met another trans person. Through the Center, however, she found a community — a mentor and groups to help her find her future.

Grey studied theater at California State University Northridge, and the world of Hollywood opened up. She had minor roles in shows like Glee and Chasing Life, before landing a recurring role on Transparent.

‘I think the show has been very groundbreaking,’ Grey said of the Amazon series. ‘I think it’s really given a platform for not only trans actors, but trans stories.

‘What I love so much about playing Elizah is the diversity of telling a story of a trans woman of color. The reality is that there are many trans women of color who get murdered in this country every year. I want to hear our stories.’

She added that she hopes the recent controversy [regarding former star Jeffrey Tambor] doesn’t prevent the show from moving forward. But she has hope Hollywood is headed in the right direction.

Playing an icon

Grey then got the opportunity to play trans icon and activist Marsha P. Johnson when the Comedy Central series Drunk History told the story of the Stonewall Riots.

The premise is simple: A drunk person tells a story from history and actors act it out, using the dialogue of the drunk narrator.

Grey nailed the performance.

‘I remember seeing the Harriet Tubman episode with Octavia Spencer and thinking, “I want to do this one day.”

‘I never thought I’d get to portray this character, so when I got the opportunity, I was very overwhelmed and very happy they chose me.’

Though the show is inherently comedy, Grey believes it told the story of Johnson better than most attempts. ‘They accomplished that in such a brilliant, and very thoughtful way.’

She auditioned for Drunk History while shooting Dustin Lance Black’s miniseries When We Rise. It was a totally different role, dramatic rather than comedic, but it still told the history of the LGBTQ community.

Grey took the roles in stride — channeling the trailblazing history of both characters — and excelled at both.

Navigating a divide

Grey will be back at the Center on Saturday (16 February) for the Black History Month event, The Future is Black: Reclaiming Our Power. She’ll be singing during the day’s festivities.

‘It’s a celebration of Black History Month and coming together to honor our stories.’

Still, she believes there’s a divide between the African-American and LGBTQ communities.

Grey as Marsha P. Johnson in Drunk History.
Grey as Marsha P. Johnson in Drunk History. | Photo: Provided

‘Homosexuality is something the black community still hasn’t come to terms with,’ she said. ‘We can stand together for Black Lives Matter, but we look around, and where are black people when a black transgender woman is murdered? We have to get to a point where we realize we’re all fighting for our rights.

‘There’s no difference when they keep a trans person from using a bathroom and when they make black people use a separate entrance. We have to stand up for each other.’

Despite the uncertainty and divides, Grey has hope for the future.

‘I find happiness in my own damn self. I find it in my career and being a good person,’ she said, adding, ‘I still needed to do groundwork to truly love myself and believing I am okay.’

She wants LGBTQ youth to feel the same way.

‘Remain confident, remain positive, and know you’re not alone. You are who you are and not who other people say you are. Find a circle and know your life is worth so much. You have to be here.’