I’m not a poster child for the transgendered movement. I never in-tended to be the first real transgendered to play one on TV. Disney told me Iwould be when they asked me to be in a TV prequel [Romy and Michele:In the Beginning, due to air this month] to the hit movie Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. I was thinking, “Fun project, nice paycheck. Hooray!” I’m working for the Mouse, babe.
I took the role because Donna, my character, is funny and normal—she isn’t a finger-snapping Miss Thing. Donna is a singer in a night- club, just like I am here in Chicago. Romy and Michele are two girls just out of high school, running around having these Abbott and Costello adventures. I’m part of the world they’ve never seen or heard of before. We meet in jail, after an undercover cop mistakes them for prostitutes, and I’m arrested for female impersonation. The girls are so young, but they have no trouble accepting me.
You have to get a physical before you do a movie. So I asked the doctor if being HIV positive—I was diagnosed in ’94—was going to ruin my chances [of getting the part]. She said, “Oh no. Lots of people in Hollywood are HIV positive. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people with HIV who are working. They’re just way in the closet.”
Transgendered is a new word, isn’t it? Suddenly people started calling me transgendered, and I went, “Huh?” Twenty years ago, I had to do this all by myself. Nobody talked about it. You were either a drag queen or gay or a transvestite, and I knew I wasn’t that. For me, Scott was a name my parents gave me that never seemed to fit. Right after high school, I decided I was going to change, legally. I also had medical work done. My name is now Alexandra Scott Billings.
When I became Alexandra, I had no idea that I would someday fall in love with a woman—my high school friend Chrisanne [Blankenship, a benefits specialist]. It was a huge surprise to everyone, including us. I’ll never forget telling my mother that Chrisanne and I were going to be married. She flipped out! She was the only one in our family who boycotted our wedding in ’95, although she sent her girlfriends to spy. But she eventually came around. For the rest of her life, she sent us fabulous presents on our anniversary. My poor mother. All she ever wanted for herself was a quiet little house in the suburbs.
My being hiv positive and Chrisanne’s being HIV negative is and isn’t a factor in our relationship. When I was first diagnosed, it was like, “Oh, Jesus. We have to go see that outdoor showing of Fellini now—because I’m going to die!” We don’t have that sense of urgency anymore. We’ve decided not to live our lives with our fingers on the panic button. We’re just a married couple that has extra things to deal with. Of course, we only have safe sex—and it’s fun! We have a fabulous sex life-—who knew?
Before they see my club act, people say, “Let’s go see that singing drag queen!” Hopefully, they leave saying, “That was fun, interesting, informative.” I’m not the best singer, actor or writer. Making people laugh is my No. 1 priority. And having an audience in front of you is very tribal. There’s nothing like hearing an audience react—laughing or booing or getting up to go to the bathroom or unwrapping candy. Because that moment never happens again.
The normal person doesn’t think when they get up, “Well, this might be it—I might die soon,” but I’m reminded every single day when I take a big handful of pills. We don’t know how much longer I’m going to be around. But for me, it’s always been about “I’m here now. Let’s not waste time. Let’s go!”
Check out www.ABC.com for Romy and Michele: In the Beginning listings.