I cherish living in a city where — for the most part — people respect the humanity in others. Moving from North Carolina to San Francisco was certainly eye-opening, but I left because I felt I couldn't be myself in the South. Finding acceptance in any community is a goal we all strive for, but it is especially difficult when society has, until very recently, ignored your struggles. The transgender community has long been celebrated in San Francisco and even globally, but in the last few years it has received more attention and support than ever before.
When I had the opportunity to interview the stars of Fuse's fairly new (it's only been on for a season) docuseries Transcendent, I was eager to hear their stories. The show centers on five transgender women who work at Asia SF, a restaurant and fixture of San Francisco nightlife, where they dance. While I have never experienced the struggle to want to change the body you are born into, I understand not feeling like you belong. Not only does Transcendent showcase their bubbly and unfiltered personalities, it chronicles their incredibly personal journeys. I sat down with two of the stars, Nya and Bambiana, about adjusting to life as a reality TV star, the loss of privacy that accompanies it, and, of course, the glamour (Bambiana is the furthest to the left, and Nya is the second farthest on the right in the above photo). But both women offered invaluable advice for teens — or anyone — who is struggling to find themselves.
Nya and Bambiana had supportive families growing up, but they know that's not the case for many people in the transgender community. When I asked what they would say to teens growing up without the familial encouragement they had, Nya responded "every major city has an LGBT community center, so you can always have resources," and she added, "There are still small-town community centers that you can find help at." In particular, Nya highlighted the Trevor Project, which "helps the T community specifically, especially with teens that are having suicidal thoughts." Bambiana shared Nya's sentiment that "if you have a positive outlook on life, you'll get good things."
Bambiana's mother, who is featured in the show, is especially encouraging. Similarly, Nya said family is not necessarily biological: "There are families we are born with, and there are families that we make — and create." They encouraged people struggling with their gender identities to seek out and build support systems from their friends and even co-workers — as they have at Asia SF.
In my 20-something-minute conversation with Nya and Bambiana, I felt like I had known them for years. I was moved by the optimistic attitude they had toward their haters and even for the bullying they experienced growing up. Bambiana said, "In the beginning you feel sensitive about it, but as you get older, you start to appreciate your haters." But in talking about haters, we also spoke about misconceptions society might have about the transgender community. If there was one misbelief Nya could clear up, it would be "that we all have mental problems and we're all sexual predators and we're all perverts. It's not the case, we're just like everybody else. We're human beings." Both women emphasized that being transgender is not a choice, it's merely living happily and authentically.
While Bambiana agreed with Nya's clarification, she also added that the transgender women we see on TV are not totally representative of the entire community. Bambiana hopes people realize, "we're the showgirls of this community. Not every trans woman is going to look like this and not every trans woman is going to do what we do for a living." Despite appreciating the voice they now have for transgender women, Nya and Bambiana know that their lives are much different from the average person's — just like any other reality star.
If there was one thing I learned from my interview with Bambiana and Nya, it's that finding yourself, in any community, is not easy. Nor does anyone expect it to be. But, as Nya said simply, "Life is what you make of it." The ladies of Asia SF's rambunctious and totally lovable personalities shine on Transcendent; there's drama, reconciliation, but most importantly understanding of people who are really simply human. To catch the season two, tune into FuseTV on Wednesday nights at 11:30 PM ET/10:30c.