Last fall marked the premiere of "Transcendent," a reality show following the lives of five trans women in San Francisco. The show, which just began its second season, is produced by the same team behind "RuPaul's Drag Race."
Its cast members — Bambiana, Bionka, Nya, LA, and Xristina — all perform at AsiaSF, a restaurant and nightclub. Nya, who describes herself as a "proud Filipina trans woman," has been performing at AsiaSF since she was nineteen, the longest of the five.
While they performed at the San Francisco Pride Parade last year, this year, the cast of "Transcendent" will participate in the San Francisco Pride Parade this weekend as celebrity Grand Marshals.
NBC News spoke with Nya about drag, underrepresented communities, and resilience.
What does it mean to you and your cast members, to be grand marshals of Pride in San Francisco this year?
It’s exciting, it’s an honor. Last year, we were in the parade as well, but we weren’t grand marshals. If you were able to see Season One of Transcendent, [the parade] was the finale. It was the first time AsiaSF was in the parade as a company. It was magical, it was fun. This year, to be honored as celebrity grand marshals, is totally awesome.
Before, there as this whole controversy: does the “T” and “Q” even belong with the LGBTQ? We were separated a little bit, we were left out. Throughout the years, I think it’s been getting so much better. The LGBTQ community has really come together. We finally are realizing that we’re all in this together.
Does leading the parade this year feel especially significant, in the wake of the shootings in Orlando?
It was not really a wake up call for me, because I know there’s a lot of hate in the world. But it was the biggest mass murder since 9/11, and it was targeted whether people like to say it or not, it was targeted toward the LGTQ community. It’s just heartbreaking that people can have so much hate for something they don’t know or understand. They took 49 lives. More were injured. It’s all in the midst of pride month, nationwide, so it kind of puts a little bit of a damper on the way I feel about celebrating. You just have to realize, we’re still here. Yes we are mourning our LGBT brothers and sisters, but we have to rejoice in being us, and being LGBT. This is our pride month. We have to celebrate.
I feel that the LGBTQ community, we have to be resilient. We have to always think of the positive, and think of tomorrow, and the future generation. That is what we’re trying to achieve, equality all around. You can’t take two steps back, you always have to move forward. Even though it is hard, and I’ve shed a lot of tears over Orlando, we have to move forward.
"Transcendent" does something so rare and important for a television show, which is to showcase the stories of trans women of color. What does it mean to you to be on television, as someone from these underrepresented communities?
There’s still a long way to go. You know, trans folks are in the media, not a lot, but a lot more than before. Being Asian — there’s hardly any cisgendered actresses. Well, in the United States, at least. I think it’s definitely groundbreaking. I don’t know, who knows? I might dabble in some acting one day too. It would be fun.
Your show is produced by the same team that created "RuPaul's Drag Race." One of the beautiful things about drag is that I think it really visibly breaks down the rigidity of gender, and showcases that gender is a really fluid thing. However, there are people who confuse trans women with drag performers. What would you tell them?
The reality is some trans women have found their truth through drag. For instance, one of our cast members, Bionka, started doing drag at a young age. That’s how she realized, “This is actually who I am.” It helped her on her journey to find her truth. I don’t get mad if people confuse one for the other, I just politely correct them. “This is not drag, this is trans.”
I feel that drag performers kind of fit in the “Q” [of LGBTQ] a little as well. They may identify as gay men, but it also fits into the “Q.” Janet Mock always says that there’s a scale of gender, and you can fit anywhere in the scale. It’s not just one or the other.
"Transcendent" has two Asian trans women, and it starts off showing LA as someone who's relatively new in her transition. What is your relationship like?
It’s kind of an older sister-younger sister mother-daughter kind of relationship. I am the wiser one that she always asks for advice, and of course I’m always here to give my two cents on things. I’m not saying I have the answers, but I can share my point of view.
What is some of the best advice that you've given her, or that you would have given your younger self?
I think that probably the best advice that I gave LA was to know her worth. There was a point of time when she was pretty new to her transition, and she was kind of at a low point about dating as a trans woman. She was starting to just get these men sexualizing her and fetishizing her. It was really upsetting her, and she was just like, "That’s all these men want from me. They see me as a sexual object. They don’t want me for me." I told her, “Honey, you need to know your worth. You deserve everything that you want, so don’t settle for anything less.” I think that transpires to everything in your life, not just dating. Whatever you want and whatever you dream of, that can be achieved, as long as you work for it.
It’s advice I give myself too. I don’t always take it, but hey it’s there. We’re human beings, honey, everybody makes mistakes. Hopefully you learn from your mistakes and move forward, and become a better person and learn from it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.