Last night, Real World: Brooklyn made queer TV history, thanks to the first ever transgender cast member, a South Florida male-to-female named Katelyn Cusanelli. The introspective, self-proclaimed computer geek, who went to McPhatter Technical School in Davie and Palm Beach Community College talked to Riptide yesterday about hormone therapy, "escaping" from South Florida, and what it's like to have a camera shoved in your face 24 hours a day.
A second GLBT cast member, JD Ordonez -- a gay Miami Beach dolphin trainer who can be seen smashing a glass table in the series preview -- also spoke to us about bartending in Miami, activism and how the show has "gotten back to its roots."
Q&A with Katelynn
New Times: It's a big deal for the trans community to have someone accurately represent them in pop culture. How comfortable are you being a "role model"?
Katelyn: I'm a little nervous. When I was a teenager, the only trans people you saw were part of a hot mess on Jerry Springer. And that became what the public knew about us. It was a misconception. Now they are going to think: Transgender? Oh, that girl on MTV. But I had to wipe up that hot mess. And now I get e-mails from people saying, "You helped me." I'm like: Really? What? Wow.
What do you think about the way TV and movies portray trannies?
It's usually a cameo from hetero-normative actor playing a trans person. But this is a huge step forward; I'm actually a real person. So far, it has just been ripples in the water, but I'm, like, throwing a boulder in there.
You moved in with the cast three weeks after your gender reassignment surgery. Why did you do that at what seems like such an intense time?
It didn't matter that I was three weeks in. I had been fighting for seven years, taking hormones to become a woman. My goal was to feel comfortable in my own skin, to get a body that matched my mind. I started working right after high school to achieve my goal. I never went away to college. I put my relationships on hiatus. I escaped from South Florida. Then I woke up one morning and I was like: What do I do now? It's like, you take a soldier out of war and what's his purpose? I'm a person of great introspection. Of course everything is much harder with cameras in your face 24-7.
Did taking hormones effect your mood on the show?
Yeah and if you see me acting crazy, it's probably because I missed a dose. It's just like any woman, when estrogen levels fluctuate, like during your period, it makes you cranky.
After surgery, how much of your past life did you want to leave behind and how much did you still embrace?
I was caught at an impasse. But you can't erase your past and there is no starting over.
When you signed on for the show, were you apprehensive about the way it would be edited?
I'm very true to myself. I knew that if you don't give them anything to manipulate, they can't. Things can be over emphasized and taken out of context. But what I saw in the first episodes is pure adulterated Katelynn.
What do you expect the response to be in your town after the show airs?
I live in a liberal place (Missoula, Montana) but you do worry. But I've been an activist for years and I'm comfortable wearing "the trans identity."
Q&A with JD
New Times: What's different about this season?
JD: Other seasons have been about sex and drugs and hooking up. They took it back to its roots -- to religion and sexuality. They have an Iraq war vet, a transgender girl, and a Mormon. It was the most dynamic, diverse group ever.
I've only seen the previews so far. So what's up with you smashing tables?
I'm not a violent person by any means; I wouldn't hurt a fly. It was a cheap glass table from Ikea, they just edit it in a way that looks so dramatic. But if you watch the people in the background nobody even gets up. The conversation continues.
You and Katelynn were both GBLT and from South Florida. What was your relationship like?
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Katelynn and I acted as each others backbones. Other cast members had never been exposed. I'm not saying they were closed minded, just ignorant and from small towns. I met a lot of drag queens, working as a bartender in Miami, and I knew right off the bat: She and I were different.
Can you talk about any conflicts you two had?
I was hard sometimes. She believed in not just dating one person, and she had a boyfriend back home. I had high expectations for her because were trying to shed light on [what it means to be GLBT.] We clashed because our beliefs are different. But nobody's perfect.
-- Natalie O'Neill