Candy magazine, edited by Luis Venegas and based in Spain, is the very definition of a niche publication. It’s entirely dedicated to beautiful twink boys who want to look like beautiful female bombshells. It’s a magazine with limited subjects but mass appeal. Terry Richardson shoots often for the magazine — he was behind the camera when James Franco did his now legendary drag queen cover — and was both the lensman and the muse of the third issue of the magazine when he shot Chloe Sevigny for the cover. I was fortunate enough to do the interview; I’ve spoken to Chloe about many things over the years, but this was the first time we dished on gender issues, an issue she knows quite a lot about. She was nominated for an Oscar for her part in 1999′s Boys Don’t Cry, which was the story of a woman posing as a man, and she’s currently filming “Hit and Miss,” a six-part mini series where she plays a pre-op transexual contract killer. Below is a transcript of our chat.
Derek Blasberg. I can’t believe you and I haven’t broached this topic yet. We’ve spoken about everything else – fashion, lesbianism, sexy skater boys, who we’re secretly voting for on American Idol – but we’ve never talked about transgenderism. What was your first experience with someone who wanted to be the sex they weren’t born in?
Chloë Sevigny. When I moved to New York City I was really involved with the whole club scene in the early 1990s, and I guess that’s when I first I met a lot of transsexual people. Actually, I met a lot of everything at that time: trannies, transgenders, and people I should probably just call creatures because they seemed more asexual than anything, like they didn’t want to be either gender. Or maybe they wanted to be both sexes at the same time.
DB. Was gender something you thought about as a kid?
CS. Sort of. I thought about gays a lot because I was accused of being a lesbian in high school quite often. I remember I knew what the word ‘butch’ meant before I was really aware of gay lingo.
DB. That’s interesting.
CS. It’s like I knew that the girls on our school’s field hockey team seemed more like lesbians than I did, because they were butch, but I didn’t know why I was the one being called a lesbian. I thought that was weird.
DB. Sexuality is such a weird thing in high school, isn’t it? I didn’t meet any gay people growing up in Missouri, and I can’t imagine what people in my neighborhood would have done if someone who had had a sex change moved in across the street. I can still remember when I moved to New York and I made my first transsexual friend. It was Sophia Lamar, and we’re still good friends.
CS. I guess the same thing happened with me. I moved to New York and I saw people like her, or Amanda Lepore, out at clubs, and I realized there were all these amazing ladies.
DB. I remember asking Sophia about her sex change, and about the plumbing, so to speak. I was really intrigued by the whole thing, internally and externally and mentally and physically.
CS. I don’t think I spoke to anyone I met about it. In fact, I probably just assumed they were all women, and it only came to light later that they weren’t born that way. I was very shy when I was young, and I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I was more of an observer. I wouldn’t have ever asked what had happened to her bits, as the English call them.
DB. Let’s talk about the shoot today with Terry. Did you have fun?
CS. Well, I’ve been filming this series [called Hit and Miss, a six-part drama where she plays a pre-op transsexual contract killer] for a few months now, and when I started with Terry I was completely distracted. My mind was sort of somewhere else. But when the facial hair came out…
DB. Wait, facial hair? I must have missed that.
CS. Oh yes, first they dressed me as Terry, which I can understand. I mean, in a way, it’s all Terry’s world and we’re just living in it.
DB. Did you like it?
CS. Oh yes, very. But even though I think Terry is attractive and all, I realized I wanted to something more foxy. I didn’t want the glasses on any more, and I wanted to feel like a suave, sexy man.
DB. You know, that’s a good question, and one I’ve never really been asked or asked someone else before: If you had to be a person of the opposite sex, which one would you be? Who would you want to be, Chloë?
CS. I like that Michael Fassbender. But, now that I think about it, I probably couldn’t play him. I was imagining more Errol Flynn, something more dandy.
DB. I can see you as a dandy. I can see you as all sorts of boys, to be honest.
CS. Well, we did all sorts: Me as a raver kid, and me as me as a chola, and me as a cowboy and me as a S+M guy. It was very fun.
DB. So it was more about archetypes, and the many different types of masculinity. Which one are you in this series you’re filming?
CS. I’m playing a male-to-female pre-operative transsexual, who also happens to be an assassin.
DB. That sounds, well, amazing. Let’s ask your character that same question: Which female does the male character you’re playing want to be?
CS. The producers were obsessed with me having dark hair, which I thought was interesting. I feel like most trannies are blonde, and want to be that sort of bombshell women. There aren’t that many brunettes out there. Ava Gardner? Angelina Jolie?
DB. For some reason, all I can think about is Jackie Kennedy.
CS. And Elizabeth Taylor. Well, we went with this 1970s Yves Saint Laurent silhouette, which made me look more masculine. It’s sort of like a dark haired Candy Darling.
DB. Can we talk about the bits, as you call them, of your character?
CS. Of course. I’m pre-op, so I have boobies, but I wear a prosthetic penis in some scenes. Throughout the movie I wear a beanbag in my pants, which is supposed to be like balls, to create that feeling and the notion that they’re still there.
DB. So you’re filming with a beanbag in your pants at all times?
CS. Yes. It’s intense, and not so comfortable when you’re wearing tight jeans. But it’s good; it always reminds me to stay in character.
DB. How did you research for the role?
CS. I read a lot. I did a lot of research. April Ashley’s The First Lady; Jonathan Ames’ Sexual Metamorphosis; some of the books on Renée Richards, who was a transsexual tennis player; and of course Jan Morris’ The Conundrum, which is sort of like the intellectual’s trans-bible. I have folders and folders of research.
DB. What were some of the big themes in the literature?
CS. One thing most of them had in common was a fear of giving away their secret; that people would know what they were as soon as they walked into a room.
DB. How do they combat that fear?
CS. I noticed some behavioral things, like when they enter a room they look around to see if anyone noticed and if they responded in a negative way. I noticed an exaggerated behavior, which is how I wanted to play it. I don’t think the producers saw it in the same way, so I had to battle for that authenticity. They wanted something more like that model Andrej [Pejic], which is more subtle and more model-y.
DB. Now that you mention it, most of my trans-friends in New York are overtly feminine and dainty, perhaps as a mode of overcompensation.
CS. Exactly. I know trannies who are more elegant than my mother! For example, I have one friend in New York who, when we first met, I thought was just this very elegant girl. It was months later I found out that she was a boy. Every time I was around her I felt like such a rhinoceros because she was so feminine.
DB. How are you acting more feminine now?
CS. Lots of exaggerated hand movements, and sort of caressing things, which I don’t do normally. But the director doesn’t want me to fall back on these movements and then become too womanly. This is the dilemma: How will they know I’m a transsexual other than when they see my penis?
DB. It’s an interesting concept: You are a girl who must act like a boy who is really good at acting like a girl. Talk about complex.
CS. Something else I learned is that there’s a difference between trannies and transsexuals, and people who dress like a person of the opposite sex in their real lives and those who do it as a nighttime performance. I met some people in Manchester, where we’re filming, who helped me see things. One person, a hair dresser, which I know sounds like a cliché, told me about the hormone treatments and the fears and what went through his mind on an everyday basis. People are more tolerant now, but I think transsexuals are still a hot button topic, even if it’s getting more commonplace.
DB. Did anything in your research really shock you?
CS. Not really, but there were hard moments. A bunch of them had turned to prostitution, or had been abused. I don’t want to make any blanket statements and I don’t want to generalize this journey for all people, but many of them have had a rough road.
DB. I do think it’s better now, though. It’s good to see a magazine like this one existing in the world.
CS. I narrated this film [called Beautiful Darling] about Candy Darling, and her struggle was a part of the film, how hard it was for transsexuals back then. Once, in Manchester, I tried to sneak into a support group for transsexuals, but they didn’t let me in. I even dressed up as a boy, hoping they would think I’m a female-to-male transsexual, but they didn’t buy it. So I could only watch people go in and out, and there was an emotional heaviness to them, which I could see. A few of them were taunted when they were going in and out, which I was surprised by.
DB. What drew you to this role?
CS. The part was so complex; even beyond the idea of a transsexual, there are other layers to the role: An abusive family and then a surrogate family. It was a really physical role, which I’ve never done. I’ve never played an assassin. Look, it’s a six-hour miniseries and there’s a lot there. And it was a good paycheck!
DB. Did you have any fears about taking the role?
CS. I did, and they’re the same fears I had about doing the cover of this magazine: Will people be annoyed that it’s me, and not a real transsexual, who is playing this part? Will people call me an imposter?
DB. Really? I guess I don’t even think about the critics and the cynics till afterward.
CS. Oh, that’s the first thing I think about. I’m constantly afraid of a backlash or being misunderstood, because it’s happened to me in the past. And for the record, they did audition transgendered actors for this part.
DB. I think you’re a gay icon.
CS. Ha, that’s nice to hear. But I still have this fear of offending someone, or of someone manipulating what I’ve said or what I’ve done. My participation comes from a very authentic place.
DB: People know that. And if it’s a good character, there is something deeper than just the physical. I’m sure this part transcends transsexualism, right?
CS. Exactly. It’s a really juicy part, the writing is really exceptional, and so is the production design. It’s going to be an amazing series. It’s for Sky Atlantic, which is like British HBO, and I’m told there’s a bidding war going on for distribution outside of the UK, which is really exciting to be a part of.
DB. I love hearing that. I guess, after Boys Don’t Cry [the 1999 film where Chloë played Lana Tisdel, Brandon Teena’s girlfriend], transgender stories are your good luck charm.
CS. I guess. We’re surrounded by all sorts of people in New York and living in the fashion world. We’re not afraid, we’re welcoming. And that’s an amazing environment to be a part of.
DB. It’s true: In this town, you can wear what you want, and be what you want.
CS. However, I must say it’s just as hard for a straight woman to find a man in this town. All the good guys are gay.
CS. I’m serious. Even if I need something fixed in my house, I’d definitely call a gay guy before I’d call a straight one.
DB. I totally agree with you, but that’s a conversation for another magazine.
CS. Yeah, I guess. Maybe I need to go to a borough to find a good man. Maybe I need to go to Queens to find a husband. Wouldn’t that be ironic?