Emmy-Nominated ‘Hacks’ Star Reflects on How They Came to Identify as Nonbinary (Guest Column) – Hollywood Reporter

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I was raised with ministers on both sides of my family — it was a very religious household. I quickly learned that I needed to not express this part of myself, and I should probably also not express the non-heterosexual part of myself. In college, I began to identify as a queer person, and told my parents and select people. I saw someone recently say it’s not about coming about, but about “inviting in.” I really liked that.

In the past five or six years, I’ve been doing a lot of studies on the origins of masculinity, where all these rules and norms came from. At the same time, there’s been so much violence and misunderstanding with trans folk and other queer people. I was figuring out where I fit in all of that. And then quarantine hit — there was so much time to explore my gender identity, or lack of gender identity.

One of the great things about the modern age is that we have all of this wonderful language and identifying markers that give us more ideas of what the spectrum of gender really is. It’s less about me putting a new label on myself and more about taking unnecessary labels off.

The more I was understanding myself at this level, the less I was concerned with acting. At the time, I had no indicator that I had a career. There was occasional voiceover work, but there was no theater in the pandemic. I was in Chicago, so I knew very little about what was happening in L.A. But to be honest, I didn’t see coming out as nonbinary as a potential hindrance. I’m already big and Black and queer — as an actor, there’s always so much uphill climbing I have to do. It was kind of freeing, actually, because I didn’t see how my identity has anything to do with the identity of a character I’d play.

Marcus on Hacks is a man who identifies as a man. He’s an enchanted soul, but he’s very left-brained. He’s very much on the job and on the books at all times, and in our first season he’s realizing that he has a personal life that he has to involve himself in. That was something I could embody, and whatever happens to the character next, I’ll embody that next. I try as hard as I can not to allow industry projections or understandings affect my personal experience and understanding of myself. I would be limiting my experience to what someone else dictates it should be. I’ve never wanted that kind of bondage on my mind or soul, and I found that was keeping me from doing my job. I would go into work situations and think, “You have to make sure you’re being a man.” Now, I can just worry about being the character. It’s incredibly freeing to focus on a character knowing that I myself am more resolved.

I definitely try to understand how a character relates to themselves. Sometimes you play a character that isn’t necessarily true to who they are, or who they are going to be. Sometimes it’s the beginning of a journey. I don’t know, for example, how free Marcus is going to allow himself to be. What facets of himself will he lean into, what facets will he lean away from?

The concept of a nongendered awards category is something that I’ve only recently considered. I hope that every gendered entity evolves quickly at the speed of progress, but outside of that, I don’t know how much of that I can make my business. I didn’t create these awards or create these categories — I just got here. I have nothing but hope and positive thinking, but I also have the fights ahead. The gendering of a trophy category is less on my mind.

I don’t personally feel any burden of proof to anyone. I’m going to live my life and continue to grow as a flawed human being. If you like my work, wonderful; if you hate my work, join the club. When it comes to my identity and my lived experience, I share mine. Is that something you identify with? That’s wonderful. If it makes you feel less alone, that’s even better. However, I’m not in the business of getting into a lot of boxes. Having learned long ago that I’m probably going to disappoint a lot of people a lot of the time, I just have to use and fully see every real possibility.

My hope is that the same extended time of reflection I experienced also opened up people’s hearts and minds to the understanding that there’s more than what they’ve been told. There’s more than what they’ve been allowed to see. And so my hope is that anyone who’s down with me will be down with me. I’m just trying to grow and be the best that I can be, in the truest form that I can be.

What I know is that it may make certain rooms difficult to get into. But I also know that I don’t want to go into too many rooms — I don’t want to bring you three-quarters of myself. I want to bring you the character. If the role is mine, then it’s my role. And that shouldn’t be skewed by another adjective, right?

This story first appeared in the July 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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