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EXCLUSIVE: Broadway’s first Tony-nominated trans actress speaks out

‘It feels like a dream, it feels wonderful, it feels exciting’

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L Morgan Lee is up for a Tony Award on Sunday night. (Photographed by Andrey Strekoza exclusively for the Blade)

“I am just a girl,” L Morgan Lee tells me. That simple statement is her self-definition, a girl taking life one step at a time.

To the rest of us, L Morgan Lee is so much more. She is the award-winning actress starring on Broadway in the hit show of the season, “A Strange Loop.” Her singing talent matches that of any legendary diva, she is creating landmark theatrical projects on womanhood and New York Times articles are being written about her. She is the “girl” in the spotlight now.

She is also, the first ever transgender actor or actress to receive a Tony Award nomination.

While she is not the first trans performer to be seen on a Broadway stage, she seems to have broken the glass (or some might say, cement) ceiling of being recognized in the upper echelon of talent. She is the first transgender performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer. While the Pulitzer recognizes the author, whom she was not, certainly her creative input was weaved into the final book of the play.

L Morgan has journeyed a complex path to self-awareness. “For me, even in terms of being trans, the idea of being anything outside of what I was assigned at birth was just laughable and crazy to me as a child,” she says. “It just, it made no sense. It was not something that I was comfortable saying out loud to anyone or voicing. How would I be looked at by my parents, by anyone else? So, I would sit and dream. The dreaming is, I think, what forms, much of so many queer people’s lives and experiences. Those dreams become our lifelines. I would dream and dream. I have a memory of when I was maybe six years old, in the middle of the night, looking up at my ceiling in my bedroom. Waking up soaked with tears. Saying, if I could wake up and be a girl, a girl, everything would be okay.” 

She adds, “That is why I am so excited to have gotten my first opportunity to be on Broadway, excited to have gotten a Tony nomination. Because I know that there is some kid somewhere, who is also looking up at the ceiling saying that same thing.”

L Morgan’s first adventure into performing was as a kid and ironically projected her future identity fluidity: She costumed up and performed “Karma Chameleon” in nursery school. She allowed herself to explore her true identity under the guise of a Halloween costume quite a few years later. She went in fully fashion glam drag, and it changed her world forever. “The minute I did it, I felt a jolt of energy I had never felt before. I finally felt free in so many ways. It’s as if I finally got to breathe.”

When she started work on “A Strange Loop,” she had been cast under the assumption that she was a cisgender man playing female parts. As the years of work into the play went on, L Morgan’s transgender journey escalated, and she attempted to resign from the play as she realized she was no longer the person they thought they had hired. Not only were they aware, as many close loved ones can be, of her journey, but they embraced her and assured her that she belonged more than ever.

“The characters I played allowed me to, in some ways hide until I was able to be more public about who I am. And once I did that, it certainly brought another layer of depth to what I was doing. I have been that much more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve grown. Transition has settled in more. So, both my viewpoints about the show, the people I’m playing, and my lens of life in general, have evolved through the process. So, certainly the woman I am today, views the show and the script, and the characters I play in a very different way than I did when I first sat down to do it in 2015.” 

Her growth within the show, and the growth of the show itself are intertwined. Certainly, some of the magic of the show is that it is not “performed” as much as it is lived out of the souls of the actors in it. L Morgan describes, “The experience of ‘A Strange Loop’ has been beautiful, complex, layered and ever evolving, for me in particular. Every time I’ve come back to the rehearsal room with this project, my own lens has been slightly evolved or has moved forward in some ways.”

“The piece is as strong as it is because the lens itself, the lens through which the story is told, is very specific and very honest. Inside of that specificity, there are lots of complications and layers and messy stuff. There are things that you don’t ‘talk about out loud’ taboo to discuss. There are things that people see as problematic. There are so many things inside of all of that, but it’s honest and it’s human. It is a 25-year-old, who’s about to turn 26, sort of raging through life, feeling oppressed and unseen and shouting out to find how he fits into the world. It is how he can find his truest voice in a world that doesn’t really allow him to feel like he’s enough. Because it is so specific about those things the show touches so many different people.”

L Morgan demonstrated coming out as a confident transgender actress, with her vulnerabilities unhidden, on the opening night of the play and decisions she made as she stepped into the public spotlight. “I feel a responsibility. It feels like a dream, it feels wonderful. It feels exciting. It’s like everything I’ve ever asked for but the, the most poignant feeling for me is the responsibility. How could I show up for that person that needs to find me.”

“On my opening night on Broadway, we were trying to figure out what I was going to do with dress and hair and all these things. You only get a first time once. You get your debut one time. So how do I make the most of this moment? I felt raw and excited. I needed to show like the most honest and clear-cut version of me I could. I needed to show my shaved head because that’s something that’s important to me. It’s something, I almost never show. I stepped out revealed, exposed and vulnerable on the very public red carpet, speaking to cameras with my buzzed head. Our relationship with hair runs very deep, especially for trans people, and there was something about it, that just felt like, I needed to do it. That kid somewhere under the covers needs to see this trans woman who is in her Broadway debut and she’s in a pretty dress and she has a shaved head, and she seems like she’s comfortable. Then when you hear her talking about it, you hear about her vulnerability and hear that she felt nervous, and you hear that she was dealing with dysphoria and she was dealing with confidence and she was dealing with all these things that we attached to our hair and she reveals those things. Not only because they’re true but because when we reveal Our Truth, our humanness, there is universality there. There is connection inside of our vulnerability.”

While the Tony nomination escalates her Broadway experience, L Morgan does not lose sight of her mortal existence. “On the day that the Tony nominations happened, I fell apart, completely losing it in by bedroom. Then I realized, I still needed to get a couch, and clean up the apartment. I still feel regular. It’s been a wild dream and at the same time, your real life just keeps on going. I am just trying to put one foot in front of the other.”

On the night of the Tony’s, L Morgan will be up against some heavy hitters. Not the least of these is Broadway legend Patty LuPone. L Morgan is OK with that. Her dream has been to see her face in one of the camera boxes on television of the nominee hopefuls.  

“The biggest reason I do what I do is one because I love storytelling. My experience is Black, my experience is trans, but I’m just, I’m just a woman. I am a woman who had a trans experience. That’s my story. I know that somewhere there’s s a kid, as I have said, who is just like I was. It is extremely important for me to make that kid proud and make that kid feel seen and make that kid know that it’s possible.” 

“I want that kid to be able to know that most importantly, they already are who they are dreaming to be. The world is telling you something different, but you know who you are. There’s nothing wrong with you, there is nothing wrong with us. The world has never told us that we were an option.  

“That kid needs to find my story. They need to know that we exist. It is the reason it took me so long to be public about things and to start speaking, because I wasn’t seeing enough examples. There’s a quote, ‘she needed a hero, so that’s what she became.’ I really live by that.”

She needed to see a trans woman Tony nominee. So that’s what she became.

When they call the winner on Tony night, it will be between a Broadway legend and Broadway’s newest star.

However it goes, another ceiling has been broken forever, and somewhere a trans girl in hiding will realize her dream too can come true.

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PHOTOS: Frederick Pride

Annual celebration held at Carroll Creek Linear Park on Saturday

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Chasity Vain is among the performers at the main stage of Frederick Pride 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 10th annual Frederick Pride was held at Carroll Creek Linear Park in Frederick, Md. on Saturday, June 25.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Rayceen Pendarvis hosts District of Pride Showcase

Mayor’s Office celebrates resilience of D.C.’s LGBTQ community with night of entertainment

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Rayceen Pendarvis hosts District of Pride Showcase on June 30. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Mayor’s Office for LGBTQ Affairs will host “The District of Pride Showcase” on Thursday, June 30 at 7 p.m. at Lincoln Theatre.

This event is to celebrate the resilience of D.C.’s LGBTQ community with a night of entertainment and performances that will feature the diverse queer talent.

This event will be hosted by Rayceen Pendarvis, with announcer Krylios, featuring DJ Honey. There will also be a performance by “Real Housewives of Potomac” star Candiace. 

This event is free and more details are available on Eventbrite

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Out & About

Mayor’s office to celebrate older LGBTQ individuals

District of Pride: Seniors Brunch on Monday

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The Mayor’s Office for LGBTQ Affairs will host “District of Pride: Seniors Brunch” on Monday, June 27 at 11 a.m. at Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Arts. 

This event is a celebration of Pride and a “thank you” to the District’s senior community members for their contributions to the LGBTQ+ community.

This event is free and more details are available on Eventbrite

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