#QueerHeroes Day 26 – Sandra Caldwell.

#QueerHeroes Day 26.
Sandra Caldwell.

In the early days of her transition, Sandra walked the balls in the legendary House of LaBeija.

But her passion was acting, and she would suppress her very identity to achieve it.

For decades, Sandra “lived stealth”—a term used by trans people for those who pass as cisgender and conceal the sex they were assigned at birth in order to escape violence, unemployment, and other persecution.

Fearing a loss of work, she kept her assigned sex a secret as her acting career flourished with performances at the Moulin Rouge in Paris and roles in “Little Men,” “The Cheetah Girls,” “Serendipity,” “The Book of Negroes,” and dozens more.

But she lived every day with the threat that she would be exposed and called a fraud. They call it “living stealth” for a reason.

“Do you know what it’s like to go on a set and be afraid?” she asked. “Your head is trying desperately to stay in the scene. You wake up afraid. You go to sleep afraid. You’re trying to figure out if somebody’s going to drop the bomb that day, the next day. When is it going to happen?”

Then, Caldwell auditioned for a play in New York called Charm, about a trans woman who starts a charm school for trans and gender nonconforming youth (the character was inspired by Gloria Allen of #QueerHeroes Day 20). They wanted a trans woman to star.

For a chance to play the part, she would have to give up a role she’d played her entire career. It was her first audition as an openly trans woman. She booked it.

Crediting trans pioneers like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, Caldwell came out publicly in a New York Times article (posting in comments). Critics lauded her performance in Charm and she continues to act today. It only takes hearing her voice and seeing the spark in her eyes to know why.

You can learn more about her story—and about trans representation in tv and film—through the incredible new Netflix documentary “Disclosure.” It’s one of the most compelling documentaries I’ve seen.

Her New York Times profile concluded with her thoughts on what would happen after coming out:

“I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I kind of want to live the rest of what I’ve got on this planet as if there’s such a thing as complete freedom. I want to live in that.”

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