Mila Jam Drops New Music Video, Reflects on Transphobic Actor Who Nearly Ruined It

"It takes more than being visible to be understood. It takes work."

Although today, March 31, is International Day of Trans Visibility, transgender recording artist Mila Jam had to do a bit of blurring.

In her new music video, “Like the Last Time,” Jam is pursued through a lush green forest and gets intimate with a mysterious guy whose features are blurred to the point he resembles a Predator alien in camouflage mode.

This blurring is how Jam and team salvaged the project after an unprofessional model hired for the shoot discovered Jam was transgender and insisted his image be removed. Turning lemons into lemonade, the video now represents a message about “the reality of silenced lovers…kept secret…in the shadows,” according to a title card at its start.

Jam certainly isn’t one to be silenced or relegated to the shadows. She shared her truth through “I’m From Driftwood” in 2015—the first-person LGBTQ storytelling archive recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with Jam choreographing a performance for its NYC gala—and her 2018 EP, Bruised, confronted the issue of violence against trans women with a music video featuring Laverne Cox and Pose actress Mj Rodriguez.

To get all the tea behind her new video, NewNowNext gave Jam a call.
 

What was the original vision for the “Like the Last Time” video?

The inspiration for the style was Britney Spears’ “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know,” one of my favorite Britney songs and videos, and I wanted this guy to be my long lost love in a tropical forest. We put out a little casting notice in Orlando on Craigslist, looking for a guy for a music video, with the compensation and hours. One guy sent a photo over, and he’s not someone really in the business of acting or had a strong résumé, but he fit the vibe. I told him we’d be playing an elusive couple, there’s some mystery, there’s an attraction, and there’s a scene where we’re close and it looks like we’re making out, and I think there was a high level of attraction. We had a great time filming and became really good friends on set, but it took a dark turn after we filmed everything. He shifted gears and feelings about everything we did that day.

Didn’t he sign a model release so you could do what you want with the footage?

We sent him the release [after the shoot], got an email back the day after, and he was like, “I didn’t know Mila was trans.” He researched me and found out I was trans and said he was very open-minded and supportive in theory, and I was like, okay, so what’s the issue? He went from “I’m okay with it,” to another two days later, “I’m having second thoughts and don’t know I want to be part of this,” or “don’t put my face in it.” Then it turned into, two weeks later, “just take me out.” He’s in every shot. I felt like, look, I want to tell this story because it’s real and raw.

How frustrating.

This just represents what my sisters and I go through in dating. We’re often pursued by men who don’t know we’re trans, and I feel it’s always on our shoulders to inform them and talk about it, when I feel there should be more accountability from the heterosexual community to be aware that it’s not impossible for you to be attracted to a trans woman even if you’re not necessarily looking to be with a trans woman. All these hoops we have to jump through for men so they don’t have to be accountable for their actions and how they treat us. I think I’m just really tired of having to go above and beyond as an upstanding, classy woman who does checks and balances. I don’t go around using and abusing people. This has nothing to do with my character and who I am. That’s what sucks.

I’ve got to say, that guy is just so Orlando. A model in New York or L.A. would never pull that shit.

The other thing I wanted it to feel was real, not so Hollywood. I wanted it to be about chemistry, energy, and feelings, and that’s what he gave on set. If you just saw his photo, you would be like, okay, he lives down the street. He’s a good-looking guy but not a model. There’s a meme going around about how it’s always guys who look a mess or unkempt that are always being the most combative. But what do you have going for yourself?

Do you want to hear from this guy after the video hits?

I don’t really care either way. I’m not looking to hear from him. I want this to be a lesson and inspirational. He was someone, when we filmed this, trying to do his acting thing, and this is what I do, trying to make my music happen.

What message do you most want to get across on this Day of Visibility?

It takes more than being visible to be understood. It takes work. We have a lot of work to do for ourselves as trans people and I don’t think it’s too much to ask of people who are not trans to do some work on themselves—how they see us, how we are in their society or neighborhood or friends, and how there are many colors to our experience. I think what comes next is the conversation and communication and connecting. I don’t think it’s cool to write people off, so the next step from visibility is connection and that’s what was on camera. If you could see the actual footage you would feel all that good, beautiful energy, but we can’t even share that because of that guy’s restrictions and restraints on how he sees me, and that’s a representation of how men see us and interact in general.

Lawrence is a New York-based travel and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Time Out New York and The New York Post.
@LawrenceFerber