Wednesday, June 04, 2014

My Interview with the One & Only, Marlo Bernier, as She Talks About Her New Show, "Myrna"

With great pleasure, I'm super excited about my interview with my dear friend, Marlo Bernier, writer, director and creator. She has a new TV series that will be her 5th project as producer/co-writer and her 6th in an originating-creative capacity. The interview took place via Skype, so to the best of my ability, I jotted down all of her answers. Never once, has there ever been a show quite like this before. A few select movies have made their way across the board, but never one so truthful and so raw. Not only is this show entertaining, funny and revealing, but it also sends off an inside look into what is involved personally, and what it's like in the everyday life of being a transgender woman. It demonstrates the misunderstanding of society, the importance of knowing who you are in life and the bravery of those who take that next step to be more comfortable in their own skin. In this interview, Marlo (who plays Myrna) answers some typical questions that anyone else would ask. This is a show about Marlo's life - "Myrna's" struggles as an actor and what she has to face when her past rises up to the surface. Not many people know there's an etiquette on how to approach someone who has transitioned or who is still in the process of becoming who they truly are. This series should be a reminder, a lesson, perhaps even a course in life itself. With the vast majority being ignorant to the unknown, to which this topic is based upon, I'm hoping that Myrna shines the light on all of those gray areas. These questions I have posed will answer anybody's inquisitive mind when they hear someone say, "I'm transgender."

What inspired you to create Myrna?

A couple of different times over the past few years, I saw a couple of advertisements on Craigslist where someone had posted that they were a Reality Show content producer or looking for Reality Show content, with the key phrase, “character driven”. I submitted my personal story which was my one woman show out here in LA called, At Least I’ll Own a Dress, and I got responses back shortly after I sent it off and they said, “This is great, this is exactly what we’re looking for,” and I then chimed in with an email back saying, “Hi ‘so & so’, that’s wonderful - when can we meet? I have some ideas.” I was trying to - without saying upfront, I was trying to move that person off of the reality show concept and more into a scripted kind of show concept.

Anyway, it never worked out and approximately two years ago I saw another ad, similar to the ones I had seen before and I thought, oh - you know, it’s the same kinda’ thing again… So I sent off my PDF of my story with a little note and within minutes I got a response. A woman called. She said it sounded great and asked when could we meet and so on and so forth. I said, “To tell you the truth, I am a little reticent about a reality show - I mean, my life is not that interesting in of it itself - I mean, I get up, I take a shower, I have my coffee or vise/versa...and that’s about it. I struggle looking for work - that’s it.”

So we met and I brought into the mix one of my filmmaking partners, Ted Campbell, who happens to also be the co-writer on the Myrna pilot script. I asked if he would want to do something with this and he said, “Let’s meet with this person and find out.” So we talked with her and she said she needed us to create what’s called a “sizzle reel” which is kind of a teaser of what the show might look like. So I asked, “What’s it going to contain?” And she said, “You know - your daily life - like fixing your hair, putting on your lipstick and...” I just said, “Good Lord, I’m gonna go to sleep already. This is not, you know - a ‘trick’, it’s not a magic show.” I eventually ended up doing it, so we put together a little thing and kinda’ made it all up. I then said I wanted a script - a couple of pages of dialogue where my manager is the one who comes to my house and offers me this ready made Reality show, all about me. At the time, the show wasn’t called “Myrna” it was called “Marlo”. This comedic over-the-top moment happened, when we edited this little piece together with me getting ready in the mirror and given a list of chores to do by the woman of whose house I resided in - and then my manager showing up, it became this kind of - offbeat kind of comedy thing.

So, I said to her at that point, “I don’t want to really investigate the reality concept any further, but if you think that your connections can get us in front of people that will be willing to look at a scripted television pilot, then we will produce and deliver a tv pilot.” So she said she would be willing to take a look at it. So we began the writing process of putting together a ‘dramedy’ or ‘comedy’ as opposed to a sitcom. It kind of started out like a sitcom kind of morphing into more of a dramedy - a full half hour. No commercial breaks, titles and credits at the top and in the back end, and that’s basically how it happened. Our first attempt at a crowd funding campaign almost two years ago was unsuccessful. (But we’re now underway with a fresh outlook and financing campaign that myself and my co-producers, Jennifer Fontaine and Ted Campbell are confident that this time we will deliver the pilot).

We learned a big lesson from the first campaign, we walked away from it and in the meantime, I kind of drifted away from the Myrna concept, because with Myrna, I’m putting it out there that I have this transsexual past. I had come to a point in my life, since beginning to transition seven years ago, to make this voyage, from male to female, from Mark to Marlo, at a certain point, I kind of crossed a line where I no longer felt gender dysphoric. I no longer had an “gender identity problem”, because I was finally presenting and living in the gender that felt and feels…correct for and to me. I also came to the self-realization that one can be born transsexual, but that one does not have to remain transsexual if one chooses to undergo hormonal and surgical therapies and/or treatments in order to align one’s mind with one’s body. So I steered away from Myrna and walked away from it for a long time.

Back around the holidays, out of the blue, a dear friend of mine asked, “What’s up with Myrna?” I had explained that I wasn’t going to do it anymore and that I wanted to move on. I’m not saying it’s not a valid project, but I was no longer interested in bringing it back to the fore. A couple weeks later she brought it up again and said, “You really oughta’ take another look at it and you really need to do it. You, Marlo need to find a way to get this made and you need to play Myrna, it’s important.” So I thought about it long and hard for about a good month and got back together with Ted and brought it up with him. I asked Ted, “Do you still think that it’s a viable project and should we reboot it? Should we resurrect it and take another look at the pilot script?” So that has led us to this point where we kind of changed the tone of the show for the better, I believe and along with Jennifer Fontaine, my other filmmaking partner of many years plugged back in, we are well on our way to delivering Myrna to the audience. It’s a bit of a happy mistake that we didn’t raise the money to shoot what we had two years ago - I really do believe that.

So that’s about it, the way Myrna came to be and now we’re back on track again to put it into production and get it shot - the full pilot episode and the goal at that point is to get it seen by industry people who are in a position to, you know, who can make a decision one way or the other, whether they dig it or they don’t. We’re hoping they can put it into a time slot on one of the networks or a cable network where we feel Myrna will be best served and have the most impact.

What are you looking to achieve from airing Myrna - is there a subtle or strong message to the mainstream public?

Yes, absolutely. That’s a great question and that has not been answered yet. Most of the time, any kind of trans character is played for the joke or made out to be the brunt of the joke. Myrna does not do that. Our show allows for the joke, but the joke is not in any way related to what anybody’s ever seen before. I mean - I make fun of myself, you know, but I’m allowed to do that. Listen, there’s been some really decent of portrayals of trans women, specifically like Transamerica, which is one that comes to mind because of Felicity Huffman’s solid portrayal of Bree (should that role have been played by an transperson? Perhaps. But maybe you’ll ask me that kinda question a bit later and I’ll really p-p in someone’s Cheerios - ha!) I want Myrna to be a teachable moment, in a very gentle, nonjudgmental, non-preachy kind of way. If people feel differently about what it is that they see, or feel differently from what they’ve heard - it’s a free country. You can say whatever you want to say, but Myrna will not speak for or pretend to speak for the trans community at large. It’s impossible...it’s impossible. Myrna can only tell the story through my worldview, which are words that I’ve written because they are influenced by and originated with my world’s view. I’m writing my truth. This is all I can do.

In your career, as in the show, do you find people turning you down business-wise because of your transition?

That’s a good question too, Debra and I don’t know the answer to that meaning, but it’s been a tough road being seen again and getting connected again outside of my immediate circle. With the advantage of the internet and how easy it is for people to vet you before they’ve met you, if they type in Marlo Bernier, the top five results on Google are going to be IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) related links which will have the credits to all the work I have done. And all of the work in front of the camera will be seen and credited as “Mark”. Although there are new and current photos up there of me - now - there are also three or four that are lingering from the past that are from when I did work as pre-Marlo. I cannot be responsible for how people react to me, I can only be responsible for how I present myself, as well as how I respond to others.

There seems to be a lot of confusion among the general public about the difference between sexual orientation vs. gender identity, for instance, if you’re a MTF, that you are most likely attracted to men. Does this preconception frustrate you?

It doesn’t frustrate me, but I do understand where the confusion can come from. I wrote a quote many years ago towards the beginning of my transition that says, “One’s gender identity is invisible to everyone…except you.” And what I mean by that is: you can appear as a man integrated into society - good job, blah-dee-frick’n - blah -blah -blah, date women in a straight heterosexual kinda’ way, and, you can still be gender dysphoric. You can still have the essence within yourself - of seeing yourself - or feeling yourself as female, yet we would never know. Their sexual preference is that they prefer women - that they’re attracted to women, romantically, erotically, etc., etc., etc. When a person transitions, if it so happens, they might still maintain their same sexual preference, or it may change. And it’s not on purpose, because we don’t choose who we love, or to whom we’re attracted to. The transition does not mean that they are now going to switch from liking women to liking men just because they’ve transitioned and vise/versa. But I’ve heard of such a thing happening. (Ahem,…it happened to me.)

How do you feel when you’re cornered in a situation where you have to reveal that you’re transgender? Also, how do you feel revealing this to someone special?

This is important. To tell or not to tell, that is the question, yes? I’ve only had this happen a couple of handful of times. And I will state this, upfront, for the record that I am very fortunate, and I know that I’m very fortunate, that I have been able to assimilate into the conventional binary - the female of the binary, segment of society.

For instance, I’ve been to the doctor’s office about a handful a times in the last couple of years, where I had to fill out the form where the questions asks, what type of medications are you on, blah blah blah, and when was your last period. I sometimes would either leave it blank or I would answer in some kind of way by saying, “I don’t have one.” I never lied about it. Then the nurse would take my vitals and she’d look at the form and she would say, “So when was your last period?” And then I would say, “I don’t have one.” And then she would look me up and down and look at my age - my chronological age, and say, “Oh, when did you stop having your period?” And I would say, “I’ve never had a period... I’m transsexual.” I would always get the reply over and over again, “Really? I wouldn’t have known!” When you hear that enough times, you start to wonder - like - okay - is this because I have assimilated into my gender well? And people would ask me questions that they would ask any other woman, because for all intents and purposes, I am ‘any’ woman of middle age. So, when to reveal it and when not to reveal it is the question.

Without getting into the specifics - although it is quite funny - I tried online dating. I met this person to whom I felt it incumbent on me to tell them that I had this transsexual past and to which they wanted to ask me all the personal and anatomical questions. And so, I quit online dating seconds after that little coffee date, because I really didn’t want to be the object of curiosity. I just wanted to have a conversation with another human being. If it went further than that, then perhaps, there was something there. It just didn’t work out.

A friend of mine - a male friend - (just for reference) told me something very important a couple of weeks ago when I relayed the story to him. He was laughing hysterically because I didn’t leave out any of the details. So I asked him, “Do I tell or do I not tell?” He’s a fairly conservative guy, so his response was, “You’re a woman - you’re a middle-aged woman. Period. End of story. There’s a difference between something which is private and keeping secrets. And if you so choose to share some part of you that is private with someone, that is because and should be because they have earned the right and/or privilege to be told that piece of private information. That is not the same as keeping a secret.” When he said that to me, it really rang true and it really made sense to me and I thought ok, that’s how I’m going to handle it from now on. “It is impossible for me to escape my past. This does not mean however, that I must continue to reside in it.” To conclude, I haven’t had the experience to be confronted or challenged with that item, ‘do I tell, do I not tell,’ or ‘is this person special enough for me,’ but if you type my name into Google, you’re gonna find me...and you’re gonna find my past. So it takes two seconds and you’ll know, unless you’re blind and can’t read English…ya’ know?


For young viewers transitioning themselves, what advice can you give them having had your own experience?

That’s a tough question because everyone comes from a different and unique background. Even though we are at our core symbiotic in nature, I can only tell you from my experience, my only regret is that I didn’t stand up for myself sooner in life. I kept convincing myself that it was a phase, that I would overcome it, that I would triumph over it and that it would eventually dissipate. At the same time I was saying that to myself, there was the voice deep inside me telling me, “try as you may, you know that this isn’t going to depart from you. This is who you are and you know it.” And I refused for many, many years - decades - to listen to that voice until it became imperative for me to transition or to die when I was faced with those choices. I’m no medical professional, so please don’t quote me, but the sooner you deal with - if you are indeed - and I don’t know what the politically correct term is these days, whether it’s gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder - even though it’s not a DISORDER in the conventional sense - this condition - and I will call it “transsexualism” where you are faced with that option to continue to live against yourself, or come to terms with yourself, my suggestion to you would be to seek professional help - and that means good psychotherapy. You may need to go through three, four or five therapists until you find one who can help you and one who’s not just feeding you the company line. You need to find someone who really takes it seriously. There are good therapists out there who understand the condition. A good therapist who knows people, that kind of therapist can help you even if they don’t have that “speciality” attached to their name. I know from personal experience because it took me going in and out of therapy multiple times for years before I found the therapist who told me the truth - not what I wanted to hear, but the truth. I am eternally grateful for her. And I’ve been with her now, for seven years. She saw me through my entire transition - from start to finish and with some really tough places throughout. I would have died had it not been for her.

You also need to have the talk with your parents, if you’re young enough, where you’re under their roof and even if not - they’re still your parents and hopefully you have some kind of reasonably loving relationship with them. Tell them, be open with them - it’s gonna be hard. No one’s going to be doing cartwheels down the middle of Colfax Avenue when you tell them. Just know that. The other thing you have to remember is, once you say it, you kinda’ can’t take it back. It’s not like saying to somebody, “Oh hey Jim, I’m thinking about taking up hang gliding tomorrow - whaddya’ think?” It’s not the same thing. I always knew that, even as a little kid, that once I said it, there’d be no taking it back. You have to know those things going in. This is not "I’m thinking about taking up fly fishing next weekend" This is your life and the longer you wait, and if you are so lucky and fortunate enough to begin transitioning before puberty takes full control and begins to really do its job on your physical body, the better off you’ll be.

It’s no secret that I was born in 1959, so when I became aware of my gender incongruity (transsexualism), and didn’t know what to call it at the age of four. I later found out that they were treating people (diagnosed with transsexualism) by the time I was eleven or twelve, it was a little tougher in the 60s and I was always on the brink of telling somebody and I didn’t until I was thirty-three years old. Even then, that was many years before I decided to transition.

Looking back, what was the hardest step to take in your journey of transitioning? 



Marlo, as "Myrna"
The hardest step was deciding, heels or flats?! No, really…the hardest step? I would say was coming to the realization in my mind that I had to give people the liberty to respond to me however they were going to respond to me, no matter their political and/or social awareness. The fact of the matter is, I’ve been surprised every time by the reaction of my friends and/or family no matter what their political or social leanings were. For the most part, people have been very kind and understanding to me. And the second part which was difficult was just being able to be me. No smoke, no mirrors - just me. The word “transitioning” has a limited meaning - to transition to a final product. What does it mean to be “done transitioning” and are you ever “done” transitioning? And, was it really ever, a “transition” spiritually?

I’m of the mind, of my mindset, of my philosophy that for me, there was a beginning. There was a “beginning” and there was an “end” to my transition. That had little to do with my having had surgery, meaning - I was done transitioning a couple of years ago, because I was living four years full time at that point. At first, I wasn’t quite comfortable in my own skin, but certainly a couple of years after beginning, I was. I had made the journey through to where I was just “me” - I was just being me. I was no longer hiding from myself or others. And for me, that speaks for the spirituality part of this question. It’s the way that we carry ourselves. Listen, hormones are not some kind’a “magic pill”, this is not what makes one a woman, or makes one a man. It is however (I believe), when one owns their presence with assuredness. This character trait is what defines each and every one of us, regardless. I can go into the store with no makeup and no whatever and have them say, “Anything else Miss,” and I wonder what they’re looking at - because in my mind I’m thinking, how could you possibly not know…? But they don’t. So obviously, something has happened to me, that I’ve allowed myself to finally be comfortable and confident in my femininity - and I’m not particularly “ultra feminine”, either. But I have arrived to a certain level of comfort, regardless of what kind of clothing I have on. Do I wear the clothing that is appropriate for females? Yes, of course, but clothes are not what defines a woman.

Biblically speaking, transgender people were here from the get-go. There’s not one word listed about the sins of transgender people, however there are a ton of scriptures about homosexuality. What are your thoughts about this on a religious point of view, even if you’re not religious?

You know, we like to ‘pick & choose’ our sins. So I’d like to ask you, of the 613 Levitical sins, which one will you choose? We like to pick the top two and wave them in everybody’s face. At the end of the day, you have to answer to two people: yourself, and if you believe, “God”.

There are many people with strong opinions that being transgender is purely a physical notion. How do you explain your inner most spiritual gender that you have always been - the one that has no physical attributes, surgery or genitalia?

I’ve known people who have known me for three decades, four decades, five decades, who’ve said, “I never knew.” And it was at that point when I realized, I know that you didn’t know because I hid it from you. It was my deep dark secret - the one that I would hold onto forever. This is why I say, 'one’s gender identity is invisible to everyone…except you.'  Because, you’re the only one who knows. If it’s never dawned on you and you’ve always felt female, or male and you were born ‘natally’ so - then no issue. And it’s not the same as somebody saying, “Ya know, I wish I were a man.” That’s not the same. I think we’ve all said that sort of thing - “It would be easier to be a man,” like from a woman, you know? If a person is saying, (let’s just say, a transwoman) “I was never a boy,” - I understand what they mean by that. What they mean by that is - “My essence - my spiritual essence - my gender identity was never male.” I get it. But the fact of the matter is that probably 99.9% of the time, they were born anatomically male, however, that doesn’t mean that one’s sex is congruent with one’s gender identity.

In the show, does Myrna start transitioning from the physical attributes of a male or do we only get to see Myrna after feminine qualities have been introduced?

Myrna was always, for discussion’s sake, “mid-transition-ish”. It’s not like she started yesterday, or we’re gonna watch the whole transition take place before our eyes - she lives as a woman, she’s been living as a woman for X amount of a reasonable length of time. We didn’t want to do that ‘thing’ - you know, the entire transformation, not that it’s a bad thing, but that was not what the show was about.
Myrna is about a woman, a middle-age actor, who has lost her career and is trying to get it back, who just happens to be on the road to having a transsexual past.

Her struggle is two-fold:
  1. Coming to terms with herself, being comfortable in her own skin, regardless of what others have to say.
  2. Regaining her place in her profession and garnering respect for the work that she delivers.
How do you feel, or what’s your take on whether non-trans actors should play transgender roles in television and or film? And I’m talking specifically about the whole Jared Leto controversy with his having been cast as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club.

HA! I thought perhaps you’d let me slide on this one. Guess not. Okay, so here we go and I will try to break it down the best way I am able. So let me first kinda bullet point it.
  • Film, especially film is known as the director’s medium - so she, or he (they, that director) can cast whomever they want in whatever role…
  • And when one has investors to whom they must give account (as in answer), and those investors/producers want to know who it is that you’re going to consider for the role of “____” and will that actor bring cinema goers to the cinema show and you the director tell them that it’s so and so “insert no-name actor” and they go,…ah,…um,…who? Never heard of ‘em! (you see where this is headed)
  • And additionally, are we then saying that “trans-people” can only play trans-roles? This is an (in my opinion) “Fool’s Errand” - and no, and before you begin with the hate mail, please, I’m not calling anyone a fool. But it’s a “Lost Leader” kinda thing. If we say this kind’a thing, then we will ultimately paint ourselves into the proverbial corner from which there will be no escape.

So now let me put more than my “toe” in the water on the Leto controversy and Dallas Buyers Club by saying this: the text did not lend itself in any way (other than cursorily) to Rayon being transgender (in the sense most people would consider someone transgender.) Gender Non-Conforming, perhaps. Though it’s impossible for me, or anyone else for that matter to “see” inside the mind of the writer, I really didn’t get a feeling that the character (Rayon) was a person in the throes of transitioning. And as far as I can recall, no one referred to Rayon using the correct pronoun. I mean the story itself is about a guy, a straight guy who has found out that he has AIDS and he’s got a month to live and all that he’s faced with and how he’s going to push through and triumph over his circumstances.

But again, regarding the whole controversy over the Dallas Buyers Club and whether or not Jared Leto should have played this character as opposed to an (authentic) trans-woman, well I think his work was solid. My only desire would have been that we’d been allowed to see more of Rayon - Rayon the (trans) woman you kept telling us she was (in the press) afterwards, maybe then it would have been more fully flushed out in the picture.

And listen, I absolutely want trans-people to have a shot, to be considered for (quote unquote) non-trans-related roles in television, film and on the stage. And that one day it might be the norm for one of us, or if we really catch a break, for many of us to actually “smash through the Glass Ceiling” (there has been one woman I personally know who did just that back in the 60s-70s and her name is Aleshia Brevard (she’s also attached to play a role in Myrna). Aleshia played women’s roles. Period. (and no one knew of her past - ah, the days before the advent of the “on-line machine”)

And myself as an actor of many years, I have been cast as gay men on more than a couple of occasions for instance. And no, I wasn’t (in real-life) a gay man. But I am an actor and I can only hope that I delivered the truth in those roles, regardless.

We could go further back and look at John Lithgow’s work as Roberta Muldoon in George Roy Hill’s, The World According to Garp - Lithgow’s portrayal was superb and deftly handled and Hill didn’t use Roberta as the joke. (some may disagree with me and that’s ok)

Then we had Vanessa Redgrave’s work as Renee Richards in the TV movie, Second Serve. And again I will tell you that yet another actor delivered an honest performance.

Also, let’s not forget the indelibly haunting performance delivered by Lee Pace as Calpernia (Addams) in Soldier’s Girl (a Frank Pierson picture) - breathtaking master class work at every turn.

And now, thank god - today we have Jill Soloway’s show (which just got picked up for its Season 1 on amazon.com Prime) called, Transparent with Jeffrey Tambor in the role of Mort, a middle-age person who has finally made the massively impactful decision to transition from male-to-female. Seriously, who, which, what (authentic) trans-actor should Soloway have found to play Mort? I couldn’t think of a better person to play Mort than Tambor. He navigates the piece and plays the role as if he has his fingers lightly wrapped around the neck of a finely tuned Stradivarius - yeah, he’s that good. Period. (could I have played that role? yes, but I already have a vagina. oh no, here comes the “hate-mail” - ha!)

And lastly, my question back to anyone who’ll listen and not just “knee-jerk” react, is this: Do you want to change the dialogue? Seriously change the dialogue? In Hollywood and yes, even in Middle-America et al? Then we must change that dialogue from inside, from within the room “at-the-table”, not from outside the bubble looking in.

Which means we must (continue to) write, produce, shoot and screen our own work. Work that will tell the kind of stories we want and need to tell.

And this is exactly what we’re doing with Myrna. Myrna’s worldview isn’t going to plug into everyone’s philosophy, but I promise, we promise that she’ll tell the truth, the whole truth, “warts ’n all”.

Well, this concludes our interview. I just want to thank you, Marlo for taking time out from your busy day to answer a few questions that I had. I'm hoping this will educate as well as inform those who are either unexposed or those who are either transitioning themselves. This interview was a very important one. I'm completely honored to have had the chance to ask you these important questions.

And thank you, Debra, and all of us involved in the making of Myrna are very excited that you took the time to talk with me (about me) about the show.

To learn more about Myrna, please click here and "LIKE" her Facebook page so you can get the latest updates. Also, if you'd like to learn more about Marlo Bernier and what Myrna is all about, please visit this page for more detailed info.
Please CLICK HERE for more info on Myrna! 

For more of Deb's articles, please visit: www.debrapasquella.com or join her on Facebook and Twitter. Check out her cooking blog for some of her famous recipes!

4 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you. I found this fascinating.
Personal integrity is such a minefield. Too many of us (me included) conceal and sanitise who we are. Which is so very wrong. And certainly not limited to transgender issues.

Shelley the Artist said...

Thank you Marlo, that was a very illuminating interview. You definitely cast a great deal of light on to the subject. I would love to see Myrna on television and I really hope the series gets made as its such an important issue

Karen Mohan said...

Thank you Marlo, for being true to yourself and sharing with the rest of us. We knew each other as kids,how boring! :-) I'm enjoying getting it know you now! XOXO

Marlo said...

Thank you, Every 1 - for taking the time to read Debra's article/interview. She's one of the most insightful writers I know. <3 Marlo