Why I decided to drop the ‘/activist’…

By Hedgebrook Guest

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Categories: Women's Voices,

If there was anyone in this world who had never known of a transgender person, they did after last week. When Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover went viral, the internet blew up with trans activism. While some people posted their support for Caitlyn, others posted derogatory, hateful, ignorant things. Even within the LGBT community, people were divisive. And suddenly, as with many controversial issues, social media exploded and everyone had an opinion. Everyone became an activist. I have never seen more transphobia in my life than on my Facebook feed last week. I have never seen more people come to the defense of my community than on my Facebook feed last week.

More and more people are standing up and showing the world that #TransIsBeautiful. We exist. We are everywhere, and we are human. Caitlyn’s coming out story sparked another viral campaign, #MyVanityFairCover, created by Jenn Dolari and Crystal Fraiser, which gave so many trans people a hashtag to showcase that every trans person is beautiful, and deserves recognition for the same courage that Caitlyn has shown. There are millions of stories that don’t get a magazine cover, and so #MyVanityFairCover was born to give insight to the millions more and their stories. In the very early days of the campaign, I tweeted at the creators:

Aneesh Blog Pic

Selfishly, I was using a headshot of mine with the tagline #CallMeMaggie to promote a new series I created. On June 6th, I finally launched CRAVE, an original series I had been writing and working on for three years. It was a labor of love. Along with the team at Honey Toad Studio, we produced the first episode of a 10-episode season I had written. With high hopes, very little money and the incredible generosity from our friends and colleagues, we created our story. Little did I know that Elle, New York Post, Cosmopolitan and others would pick up my tweet and use it in their coverage of the #MyVanityFairCover campaign.

I began my transition in 2008 and have always been a political person. I would voice my opinion, loudly, when it came to people denying my community and me rights. I was so blessed to work at The Trevor Project, where LGBT kids have someone they can call when they feel like no one understands them. I continue to fight for what’s right and fair, particularly when it comes to the trans community. I have often considered myself an activist, even if it was just to my friends in my living room over a bottle of wine.

When I transitioned, I quit the acting business, thinking I could never act again. This was long before the days of Orange is the New Black, TransParent, The Bold and the Beautiful, Glee… and the list goes on. Being trans and being in show business was not in my future. But it was. And it had to be because I am an artist and I could not just stop creating. So after a 3-year hiatus, I was fortunate enough to make my network debut on NBC’s Outsourced, and shortly after got the opportunity to speak at a few events. In the announcements, they wrote: “Actress/Activist”. It felt nice to think I was making some big difference in the world, but honestly, I wasn’t any more qualified than the next trans person to be giving talks, let alone speak on behalf of an entire community. I could only offer my experiences, and well, hey, if that makes me an activist? I’ll take it.

But then, as artists, aren’t we all activists? In a sense, those of us who create work for the sake of work (and not just fame or glory – though that can be nice, right?) are creating it to inspire people. As artists we live for the positive response to the work we put out, and even the negative response is beneficial. It helps us grow and learn and become better artists. So if that’s what we’re constantly doing, changing and evolving as artists, we must be evolving as human beings; by putting our art out there, we are all activists.

There’s no need for me to say that I’m an ‘actress-slash-activist’ anymore. My goal as an actress, and now also a creator, is to do with my work exactly what activism does; inspire those around me to do better and to put better out there in this crazy, crazy world we live in.

With the amount of trans visibility out there, I often found my ethnicity, my story, and stories like mine excluded from the mainstream media. CRAVE came out of the desire to showcase a different type of narrative, something new and brought to you exclusively by Seattle LGBT and allied artists.

CRAVE: an Original Series by Aneesh Sheth is about how people are motivated by the things they want, specifically by the things they’re often afraid to admit to. There’s Karen, a military housewife who finds her marriage crumbling after her husband returns from a year away in Afghanistan. There’s Bobbi, a gay man stuck in an abusive relationship and a job he hates. And then there is Maggie, an actress, who happens to be transgender, trying to make her mark in show business.

Please check out CRAVE: an Original Series by Aneesh Sheth at CraveOriginalSeries.com. If you like what you see, please visit our Kickstarter campaign. We are completely crowd-funded and need your help to bring this groundbreaking new series to life.

 

About the Author:

Aneesh ShethAneesh Headshot is a singer, actress, producer, director, writer, educator and activist. Born in Pune, India and relocating to the United States at an early age, she quickly found a passion for music. At 6 years old, she began studying piano and by middle school she had also picked up the flute and began voice training. Having sung classically up through high school, she then attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for Musical Theatre. After receiving her BFA, she travelled the country performing in musicals including A.R. Rahman’s Bombay Dreams as Sweetie in 2006.

In early 2008, Aneesh began her journey as a transgender woman. She returned to New York University to pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Work and dedicated her time throughout the next few years working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth as a counselor with The Trevor Project. After spending her life thus far in the Big Apple, she relocated to the San Francisco in early 2010. She returned to the stage and has worked with several companies including PlayGround SF, Playwrights Foundation and The Asian American Theatre Company. In early 2011, Aneesh was a guest star on NBC’s Thursday night sitcom Outsourced playing a transgender character, placing her as one of only a handful of transgender actors in Hollywood and marking the debut of the first South Asian transgender woman on network television. In March 2013, Advocate Magazine honored Aneesh Sheth on their 40 Under 40 List.

Now residing in Seattle, Aneesh has done numerous corporate videos for Microsoft and recently shot her first feature film, Force Play with Honey Toad Studios. Additionally, she embarked on her first producing venture for the Seattle Fringe Festival with the one-act play Sexual Healing. She also took on her first project as director for The Hansberry Project’s Represent Multicultural Playwrights Festival at A.C.T. in the fall of 2014. In the beginning of 2015, she spent her evenings playing the Indian Princess Aouda in Village Theatre’s production of Around the World in 80 Days.

Along with her work in television, film and theatre, she has been an activist, panelist and committee member with many national organizations.

 


 

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