Our Lady J is a woman of many talents: The superstar musician, screenwriter, and TV producer has worked alongside entertainment industry greats like Lady Gaga, Jill Soloway, and most recently, Ryan Murphy.
NewNowNext caught up with Our Lady J to chat all things Pride Month, television pilots-in-progress, and of course, FX’s Pose.
Happy Pride! You were the Celebrity Grand Marshal at San Francisco Pride this weekend. Any standout moments?
Oh, there were so many! The theme was Generations of Pride, and to have so many generations represented—not just celebrity grand marshals, but community grand marshals, people who are really laying the ground to ensure that our rights are protected in the future—was [amazing.] It was an honor, getting to know them and just getting to celebrate. It’s such a tumultuous time that we’re living in, and I think that when we take a moment to celebrate our accomplishments, it really refuels us for the work that needs to be done in the future.
And I saw you brought your dog, Liberace?
[Laughs] I did! Liberace’s my soulmate, slash boyfriend, slash future husband.
To switch gears a little: You’re a classically trained pianist. How did your identity as a trans person affect your music career?
My identity led to my retirement from the music industry. To be frank, there was so much—well, I hate using the word transphobia, but there was just so much transphobia in the industry… When I came to L.A., I met with quite a few people, and they basically all told me that the music industry wasn’t ready for a trans voice like mine. And that if I was going to make it in the industry, I’d have to change my music drastically. Storytelling has always been at the center of my art—whether it’s making music or writing music—and so I eventually switched gears because of the lack of opportunities for trans artists.
And you found more opportunities in television?
I found that television was much more accepting and actually interested in identity, whereas music is so afraid of identity.
Speaking of identity: You famously wrote a short story for Jill Soloway that landed you a spot in the writers’ room for Transparent. What was that story about?
I’m actually developing [the story] into a pilot right now! It’s about a young trans kid in an Amish community struggling to come out. I’ve been working on this pilot on and off in between hiatuses—between Transparent and Pose—for almost two years now. I’m going out next week to the middle of Amish country to get some inspiration on a two-week writing retreat and finish up the next part of it. And then I’ll hopefully shop it around and sell it.
Transparent was your first screenwriting gig, but now your focus is on FX’s Pose. How did you get involved with the series?
I ended up in a meeting with Ryan Murphy and company… And we all sat there, and it seemed like the chemistry was so good. I hadn’t been a room with people where there was so much laughter and so much excitement about a project. I really felt like the magic of Pose was there and obvious from the very beginning, and I said, “Yes, yes, yes, please!”
So you were on board from the get-go.
[Laughs] Nobody had to beg me!
Can you describe the magic you felt during that meeting?
Ryan was really interested in bringing in voices from the trans community. He was very specific about not wanting to tokenize anyone. He mentioned that he wanted to bring Janet Mock on board as well, and I’d been a friend of Janet’s and a fan of Janet’s for many years. And it was really exciting that two of the five writers in the writers’ room were trans. Every step along the way, Pose really has been done right.
Fans certainly seem to think so!
You know, every week [when an episode airs] we live-tweet and watch the hashtags. Just the people who keep saying, “Wow, this seems so authentic, this seems so real,” it’s because Ryan Murphy insisted on it being real… It’s a relief, really, because all of us really wanted to get it right. Making art and making TV is not easy. It’s like cooking: You can have all the ingredients, but if one little things goes off, the whole project is spoiled… Public reception can really be any which way the wind blows.
What storyline are you most proud of on Pose so far?
The thing that I was most passionate about representing in the writers’ room was the HIV storyline. I’ve been positive myself for 15 years now, and I have never really seen a piece tackle HIV like we tackled it on Pose. For Blanca, in the pilot episode, she doesn’t resign to living a sad and a doomed life just because she finds out she’s HIV-positive. In fact, it’s the thing that inspires her to live her life fully, and to become the mother of the House of Evangelista. That’s how it was for me, when I received my diagnosis. I decided that I was going to live. It was the reason I transitioned, in fact. I’d toyed with the idea of transitioning, but I didn’t have the courage to face what it took, which was an incredible loss of privilege… the HIV [diagnosis] really gave me the courage to say, You know what, fuck it. I’m going to live my life fully and brightly.
And are there any upcoming moments you’re dying for viewers to see?
Well, I have to shamelessly say that I do have a cameo in Episode 6, directed by Janet Mock. It’s a musical number. So hold on tight for that musical number. It’s really exciting.