L Morgan Lee is a trailblazer in the entertainment industry, making history as the first openly transgender actor to receive a Tony Award nomination for her work in "A Strange Loop." In this conversation, Lee shares her journey to becoming an actor, the importance of authentic representation in storytelling, and the impact of her groundbreaking performance.
Growing up in the Maryland DC area, Lee always knew that she felt different. She never got to feel just like the average normal, even inside all of her intersections. It wasn't until she moved to New York City that she began to explore her gender identity and feel like herself. This journey of self-discovery is reflected in her work as an actor, where she is dedicated to championing stories that center the voices of women and the LGBTQ+ community. For Lee, authentic representation is crucial in creating meaningful and impactful storytelling.
"When you have that kind of representation, it can really change people's lives. It can help people feel seen and heard and validated," Lee says. Authentic representation is crucial in creating a more empathetic and understanding society. "I think storytelling is so important because it helps us understand each other," Lee says. "When we hear stories that are different from our own, it helps us see the world from a different perspective. It helps us empathize with people who are different from us."
Lee's groundbreaking performance in "A Strange Loop" earned her a Tony Award nomination and made her the first openly transgender actor to receive such a nomination. This recognition was a powerful moment that represented a shift towards greater inclusivity in the entertainment industry. "It was a moment of recognition, not just for me, but for the entire community that I represent. It was a moment of saying, 'We see you, and we value you,'" Lee says.
But Lee's journey to success wasn't easy. She spent years auditioning and facing rejection before finally landing a role on Broadway. "You want to audition and you might not book it. And then you get accustomed to the idea that you're probably not going to book a Broadway," Lee says. "But I knew that the right thing had not come along or the right opportunity had not come along."
As a child, Lee always knew that she felt different. Even today, she still feels different, inside all of her intersections. However, she kept walking past the breadcrumbs that were always out there to pick up. It wasn't until she started doing photography that she found her voice and began to ask herself the same question that she asked the people she was shooting: Who are you when you strip away what the world thinks you are? When you strip away all the stress, all the expectations, all the assumptions, who is the human who's there at the end of all that when it's just you by yourself? That's who she wanted to find.
"I realized that there were moments along the way over the years where I really had tapped into a sort of more feminine presenting, because what is that? But I tapped into a space where I was allowing myself to dress a different way or present in a different way, sort of privately. And when I was in those moments, I felt sort of the most like I was not acting," Lee says. "There's something to this idea of pulling her out and tucking her away again. Like putting her out for this. If it's an event or something I need to do, I can pull her out for that and then I can tuck her back away again. I was like, why do I keep tucking her away though? If I feel really comfortable, why is it that I feel like that's not true?"
For Lee, the key to success is being true to oneself. "When I was honest with the world about who I am, people were then able to clearly see me," Lee says. "Now, that's not to say that they understand everything or they're getting things right, but I think that the first steps towards a better understanding started then." Lee's journey to success is a testament to the power of authentic representation and the importance of breaking down barriers in the entertainment industry.
Lee's journey to success wasn't easy, and she had to face rejection and discrimination before finally landing a role on Broadway. But by staying true to herself and championing authentic representation, she has become a powerful force for change in the entertainment industry. "My only concern is that we don't get trapped in the idea that it's enough to just have representation," Lee says. "We need to make sure that the stories that we're telling are actually authentic and that the people who are telling them are actually the people who should be telling them."
Lee's advocacy for authentic representation is especially important in a world where violence against the trans community is still prevalent. "There's a reason why when I meet men now, I think all women sort of are constantly sort of afraid of physical violence with men," Lee says. "And I think when you add the layer of being trans on top of it, it is heightened even more. So there's a reason I shouldn't be in a world where I meet a guy and he says hello, and I have to wonder in my mind if he'll kill me. Like, literally, that extreme because of the numbers that we see and because of what's happening."
Lee's experience with violence is unfortunately not uncommon in the trans community. The recent surge of anti-trans legislation across the United States only exacerbates this issue. "I just kind of want to know what your personal reactions have been to kind of all these bills that have been passed and that are proposed and how this kind of, like I don't want to say it's a backslide because, like you said, there's been trash humans around forever. It's just the fact that it's kind of being solidified in law. How has that affected you emotionally?" Laura asks.
"That's interesting. So what I will say to that, I was never a man, and so I was always a trans girl just in the experience. But how you just said that is exactly how I think some of these men think and how some of society makes their minds think. And so society puts this idea of if I'm attracted to her, does that make me gay? If I'm attracted to her, does that somehow make me queer in some way or something? As opposed to she's a girl and I like girls. I feel like it's also just so much simpler than people make it with nuance."