By PJ Maytag
February 15, 2008
Since 2000 the television airwaves have been saturated with purportedly unscripted programs documenting real people, not actors, in real situations—so called “Reality TV.”Why so called? What many viewers don’t realize is that these shows are actually a somewhat modified version of reality; the cast members are manipulated to behave in certain ways by personnel coaching them off-camera, there’s heavy editing, and most of these shows take place in cramped quartering in exotic, or abnormal locales. One of the most popular genres of reality TV are the dating based competition shows.Who can forget Fox’s 2001 reality show,Temptation Island,which opened the flood gates for a bevy of lonely hearts looking for love (or money) on primetime TV? Hit shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, Average Joe, For Love or Money and I Love New York followed suit.And the networks, in a never-ending quest to gain audiences for their newest incarnations of dating game shows, keep pushing the dating parameters envelope for the strong hook.
So it was no surprise that the dating game reality genre began courting the LGBT community, starting with Bravo’s 2003 show,Boy Meets Boy, filmed right here in Palm Springs. Its viewer enticement was, “Is he gay, or is he straight?” as gay James Getzlaff chose among 15 men; half who were secretly straight, to find ‘the one.’Last year MTV’s A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, the first bisexual reality dating show,debuted at No. 1 for its time slot on cable in the target demographic of persons 18-34. The finale boasted over 6.2 million viewers to find out whether Tila picked the boy or the girl [Dani Campbell,who you can read about in this issue on page 68]. Much to the chagrin of lesbians everywhere, Tila opted hetero.But there’s going to be another Shot at Love, season two is in the works and maybe Tila will go lesbo this time around.
Which brings us to Calpernia Addams. This tall, leggy, green-eyed, redheaded beauty who resembles Rose McGowan, only prettier, has a smoking hot bod (36-30-38 to be exact) and is a striking 5’ 11”. She is the newest star of her own TV series on Logo,the network that continues to bring groundbreaking shows to the airwaves. Logo’s dating game reality show, Transamerican Love Story,which premiered February 11,centers on the striking and beautiful Southern Belle bachelorette, Calpernia Addams, as she searches for true love among eight bachelors with the help of her best friend Andrea James, and cohost Alec Mapa. Ah, but there’s something about Calpernia, she’s a MTF transgender; a fact all her suitors are aware of from the beginning— unlike the exploitive and controversial British TV series, There’s Something About Miriam, which kept Miriam’s identity as a transgender secret until the last episode.Calpernia’s show was never meant to be sensational,but rather a sign of our progressive and inclusive LGBT community.As Brian Graden, President of MTV Networks and Logo stated,”These shows advance Logo’s continuing mission to not only explore the diversity of people in our community, but also the diverse lives they lead. Calpernia Addams proves that steely optimism and a genuine spirit are the universal keys to finding love.”
That optimism is tempered by her gentleness. Her easy going and kind air about her was evident even over the phone when she spoke with The BottomLine recently. Perhaps it’s the result of her Southern upbringing. She still has a bit of a Tennessee accent after being in L.A. for the past five years, and she certainly possess the fortitude so common among Southerners. She’s overcome some horrible tragedies in her life—foremost losing her boyfriend to a brutal hate crime murder in 1999. Yet she doesn’t seem to be jaded in the least by her hardships. Calpernia took a negative and turned it into a positive by becoming an active and tireless transgender activist. “I dedicated myself to do justice for him and to also speak about trans issues.”
Her painful experiences have helped forge a multi-talented woman. She is steadfastly dedicated to entertainment, heart and soul as she puts it, and she’s had an affinity for being in the spotlight since childhood.But this activist/actress is also an artist and author of the autobiographical,Mark 947: A Life Shaped by God, Gender and Force of Will, her moving memoir recounting her spirit to flesh transformation into a woman.
One of Calpernia’s greatest weapons is her humor.As a transsexual, she’s unfortunately subject to prejudice, contempt and hatred from certain sectors of the populace who feel threatened by the whole concept of transgenderism. A few months back,Andrea (who is a transwoman as well) and Calpernia posted a video on their website as a response to some nasty comments left on other websites that announcing her forthcoming show—the two women turned the ugly and mean-spirited comments around by mocking them and having their own commentary about the haters who wrote them. Calpernia used humor as her armor. “It definitely diffuses, takes the air out of their self-important, hypocritical judgments and cruelty to just parrot it back to them and show them how stupid it sounds—which is what we did in our little video.”
Her sense of security in who she is helps her stand up to those that would tear her down.And you can’t help but admire her after reading her amazing story on her website. This girl has sass, and a keen wit—but is always a lady.
But why did she settle on a dating show instead of a “Celebreality” show like The Osbournes or The Anna Nicole Show? “It could have gone a lot of different directions but Logo had this idea bouncing around and they thought it would be perfect for me.A question that a lot of people always have for transwomen is ‘How do you date? Who do you go out with? Do you date straight men or gay men?’ All these questions that to transpeople are obvious, but to outsiders they just don’t get it. In addition to this show being funny—and there’s silly little contests that we have fun with—but we actually sit down and have deep discussions about what it’s like to date as a transwoman, what it’s like for men to date us.We get into some deep issues that youdon’t ever see on shows like Tila Tequila or I Love New York.”
She explained further, “I actually never used to like reality shows because they seem to find the most debased,vain,horrible people they could find and then throw them in front of a camera and exploit their every weakness of character.… The show that we ended up making is very respectful and fun and funny and there’s nothing negative about it in terms of finding horrible people and exploiting them.”
It’s clear Calpernia sees her show as more than another sensationalistic reality show—what’s come to be known in pop culture as “Train Wreck Television.”
She wants Transamerican Love Story to open a dialog, to be a bridge of communication and make people think about gender identity. As her friend Andrea James put it so succinctly in the documentary film, Middle Sexes: Redefining He and She, “Transsexuals challenge the ‘bedrock identity’of people—whether hetero or homo.… It’s not about who you want to be with but who you are … we need to challenge those categories of gender, sex and sexuality.” In other words, it’s about the person and not the genitalia.
Calpernia also wants to challenge transsexual clichés so prevalent in the entertainment industry.”One of the things we’ve [trans activists] been talking about in Hollywood for the past five years is that we’re always portrayed as prostitutes,punch lines or psychos in film and television. And people are so used to these Jerry Springer images, these Silence of the Lambs images. Getting real images out there, like this show I think, is going to let people see… ‘Oh, there’s a transwoman who is funny, who isn’t bad looking,who can hang out with regular people, be cool—I would date her!’ It’s a good image to get out there.”
It’s also a personal renaissance for her.”This show has really given me a chance to remind people or show them that I have a wild,twisted sense of humor. I’m funny, I try to be sexy, I never know if it comes off or not,” she giggles. “I wanted that side of me to come back.”
But can Calpernia find true love on reality TV? “I will never be secure in saying I have true love until I’ve been with someone for a long time. But I definitely met somebody who I think is really cool and attractive and has a lot going for him … but we have to keep it undercover since we can’t let out who won the show.” You could almost imagine Calpernia giving a big wink when she said this over the phone line. Just like her entire show is a wink and a nod to the dating game reality show genre.
So if you want to find out who the lucky feller is, you’re going to have to tune into Transamerican Love Story, to find out, because like a good girl—Calpernia won’t kiss and tell.