At the tender age of 25, transgender actress Alexandra Grey achieved one of the hallmarks of fame: She was recognized on the street.
“A woman stopped me and asked, ‘Are you Alexandra? We just saw you on Chicago Med!’” Grey tells NewNowNext. “The only thing I could think about is, ‘Oh my gosh, she knows I’m trans. I got clocked.’”
But her defensiveness faded as the couple explained how much they enjoyed seeing her on the show.
“It was very nice for them, as a cisgender couple, to recognize me with love,” she says.
“That’s what I want—I want to inspire and encourage people, and have them see that trans people are out here. We’re just normal people. We’re just people to love.”
After a scene-stealing turn in the first episode of Transparent this season, Grey is all over the television landscape this fall: Last month she appeared on CBS’ Code Black, and her role on Chicago Med is expected to be a recurring part.
She also popped up on a recent episode of Comedy Central’s Drunk History, playing Stonewall activist Marsha P. Johnson.
In the coming months, Grey will appear in When We Rise, Dustin Lance Black’s LGBT rights miniseries for ABC, and guest-star on CBS’ legal drama Doubt, which stars Katherine Heigl and Laverne Cox.
“I admire Laverne—I know she’s been working for a long time to create a name for herself,” says Grey. “I definitely tip my hat to her and others who opened up doors for us to even be seen.”
It’s a big jump from where Grey was just four years ago, when she decided to start living authentically. After her foster family threw her out of the house, she found herself homeless on Chicago’s South Side.
Grey had felt like she was in the wrong body as early as 4 years old, but, as she told Vulture recently, “growing up in the hood, you don’t know what [trans] is. Being gay isn’t even talked about… I was in foster care. I didn’t have time to be like, ’Hey, I want to be girl!'”
After she graduated community college, she decided it was time to come out to her foster parents—as gay.
“I knew it ran deeper,” she admits, “but I was just telling them, ‘I’m gay, and I’m trying to create a way forward, and I want God to help me.’”
“It became a ‘distance’ thing where I wouldn’t be invited to gatherings,” Grey recalls. Eventually she was barred from joining the family at church on Sundays.
“When that started, I felt like I had nothing to lose,” she explains of her decision to come out as transgender to her parents, who subsequently threw her out. With no place to go, but determined to live as her true self, Grey headed to Los Angeles and took up residence in the LGBT Center shelter.
“Freshly new in my transition, I moved across the country to a place where I knew no one.”
She may have had nothing to lose, but she had also had dogged determination and a dream: “I got my own place—I worked and saved, got my own car,” Grey recalls. “I went to college and studied theater. Finally, this year, I’m able to share my talents with the world.”
She says her success is a dream come true, one she thanks God for preparing her for.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t pinch myself and say, ‘Wake up bitch! Look at where you are!’”
While there’s more visibility in Hollywood than ever, cisgender actors like Eddie Redmayne and Matt Bomer continue to land transgender roles.
The kneejerk response from producers and directors is that there’s just a dearth of experienced trans performers to take those parts.
But along with Cox, Trace Lysette, Jen Richards and Ian Harvie, Grey is part of a new wave of trans performers proving them wrong.
Still, it’s not all about having your name in lights.
“We’re not just doing this because we want to be famous. I’m doing this because black trans women are being murdered—and I’m a black trans woman,” she says.
“At the end of the day, I have to walk out my door and be trans and black. If I’m going to be on television I want people to see that. And I want people to see us as people. I feel like that’s my purpose.”