BGB Actor Portrait: CHRISTOPHER WOLERT
WHY ARE YOU AN ACTOR?
Many reasons. One is that I get to play “pretend” even as an adult. Another is that there are so many professions out there that I would love to try and as an actor you can “be” anything – at least while you’re on set or stage.
Because I can not not be.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST FEEL YOU DIDN’T IDENTIFY WITH THE GENDER YOU WERE ASSIGNED?
The very earliest was probably in pre-school, when I didn’t quite understand why the other boys wore one type of hat and I didn’t.
WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER ACTING?
Again pre-school, during a summer picnic/party for the kids and parents. Every group did a small performance and I loved it. What soured it a bit later in elementary school was when they made me take on girl roles. I managed to somehow “cheat” my way through most performances in school though because they usually had more girls in the drama clubs so I got to play male characters a lot of times. But I knew that wouldn’t work in the “real world” so after graduating, I became a scientist and computer programmer instead.
WHEN DID YOU TRANSITION?
I started the legal and evaluation process in Spring 2004 and the medical process in October of the same year. The legal procedures were finally completed in 2006 with (almost) all of my paperwork (both US and Germany) corrected – which is actually a very short time-frame.
DID YOUR WORK CHANGE AFTER TRANSITIONING? HOW?
Not so much changed as began: I’ve re-discovered acting after transitioning. Before that I spent more time writing – which is something I am now coming back to, though now it’s screenwriting where before it was just fanfiction. But after the transition removed the main obstacle, the need to give acting another shot became too strong. I got involved with a very high standard community theater group in Germany and that was my “downfall.” It was just way too much fun to not try and see if I could get into a professional training course. Well I did and that was that. I quit my job, moved to England for my training and eventually landed here in LA.
YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A TRANS PERSON WHO “PASSES”. DO YOU FEEL THE NEED TO TELL PEOPLE?
I had always planned to some day be out, but I also had wanted to establish my career first. Kind of coming out with a bit of a “in your face homophobes and transphobes”. However these days it feels to me like we’re moving backwards instead of forward. For all the progress that has been made there are still anti-LGBT laws being drafted and passed, it just makes me angry. And I feel guilty because I am safe, safe behind my passing, safe because I am straight and safe due to the fact that my education has always provided me with an enlightened work environment and supportive friends.
Then there’s the fact that being trans is just one aspect of who I am, and not the most important one. It’s a biological fact and it influenced a lot of choices and experiences in my life. But it’s not really something that comes up in a conversation when meeting new people. If you’re gay or lesbian, you might speak of your partner. If you’re still visible trans because you’re at the beginning of your transition, it’s – well – visible. But if you pass and people perceive you as who you are, at what point do you slip a casual “oh yeah, and I’m trans” into the conversation?
HOW DOES THE INDUSTRY PERCEIVE YOU?
Slightly goofy and a bit strange straight male.
GIVEN THAT CASTING DIRECTORS, ETC MIGHT NOT KNOW UNLESS YOU TOLD THEM, ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE INDUSTRY KNOWING THAT YOU TRANSITIONED?
Well let’s put it this way: The industry is known for being quite “narrow minded” when it comes to casting. The latest example being the discussion around Ellen Page – why do we even have that discussion? So yes I guess I’m wondering if I am closing some doors. And I chose the word “wonder” instead of “worry” because I AM going to be open about it. I will not tattoo it on my forehead or wear a special badge but the information will be out there. And at that point it will be pointless to worry as I won’t be able to change anything. (If we’re using the word worry, I’m possibly more worried about my accent changing all the time depending who I talk to than about stuff I have less control over)
WHAT CAN THE INDUSTRY DO TO SUPPORT TRANS ACTORS, WRITERS, DIRECTORS, ETC?
To be honest I don’t know what specific difficulties Trans writers and directors face. Other than it being in general white-male dominated areas. So breaking that pattern might open up the doors for everyone.
For actors it’s a bit of a different story: There aren’t many trans characters on our screens and whenever they appear they are “victims”, stories focus on their trans-ness. It would be nice to have stories about people who are trans and the “heroes” that save the day. And I’d like to see trans actors play any character. Why can’t they be lawyers, politicians, police officers, soldiers, agents, super heroes? We’re actors, we’re not Batman in real life and neither is Christian Bale…
HOW WERE YOU AFFECTED BY THE SHOOTING IN ORLANDO?
Today it’s about a week after the Orlando shooting and I am tired. I am tired of being quiet, tired of hiding behind the (false) security of passing, tired of feeling guilty that the ones whose visibility paved the way for my peace and freedom are still being targets for ignorant bigoted assholes! (Also I’m angry, just in case that was not clear…)
I am transgender but because I have been blessed by genetics with good passing and I’ve had the privilege to live in a country with public healthcare so the medical side was completely available to me, no one will know unless I tell them. If I’ll have a relationship it’ll be with a woman so I will have the freedom to hold my partner’s hand in public, I can kiss her and no one will bat an eyelid.
For me, being trans* is such a small part of what makes me “me” that I sometimes even forget the fact that I am – hell even friends who’ve known me for more than 20 years sometimes almost forget. It’s a biological fact like the color of my eyes. But the color of my eyes does not define how I see me, and the same is true for the fact that I happen to be missing a y-chromosome….
But I don’t want to forget anymore. I don’t want to feel safe and ignorant and quiet while my Trans sisters and brothers are being attacked both verbally and physically. Unfortunately it’s still a fact that many of my friends can’t be with their partners without risking being assaulted.
10 years ago, all I wanted was to get my birth certificate in order, so that I could live in peace without having to ever explain any discrepancies in my paperwork anymore. 4 months ago I found out that it’s now actually quite easy for me to do (some laws and regulations have changed since then). 3 months ago the bathroom laws started to make the rounds and I thought “Huh, ok, I’ll just wait for a bit, see if I do want to go to NC and cause a little bit of a ruckus”.
And now I am not planning on changing anything for the foreseeable future. At least that piece of paper is something visible, something that annoys “them”. I am not activist, I don’t know how to be one. And I am not very brave – I just don’t know how NOT to do the things I do…