Art imitating life

Actor Brian Michael comes out as transgender by playing trans on TV

Photo: Ben Esner

Brian Michael, 34, an actor who recently appeared on OWN’s Queen Sugar, has publicly come out as transgender

In the episode, which aired on Wednesday, Michael plays Tonie Wilkins, a police officer who has a confrontation with the show’s lead character, Ralph Angel Bordelon (Kofi Siriboe). Michael interrupts Siriboe as he digs through a trash can for his son’s favorite doll.

“When I saw the breakdown for Toine, I felt this was the role I was looking for,” Michael told GLAAD. “It was a dream come true in so many ways.”

“Because I began my career post-transition and am not ’visibly trans,’ I had the privilege of choosing to disclose or not and I was able to go in for any role that fit my type,” he said. “I knew that at some point I would want to explore my trans experience in my work, but I wanted to make sure my self-understanding and skills were sharp enough to do justice to this deeply personal subject.”

In the past, Michael has only performed in cisgender roles. His credits include Blue Bloods, Girls, Person of Interest, Gossip Girl and The Detour.

“As I kept working, learning about myself, and resolving issues I would uncover in therapy, I became more comfortable with bringing my more challenging life experiences into my work, and I wanted to start exploring my trans experiences.” Michael started searching for trans roles that might let him do that, but says “there weren’t many.”

Then the Queen Sugar script popped up. The episode is called “Caroling Dusk,” and Michael said he knew it was the chance he’d been hoping for.

“I loved that this scene was about gratitude and friendship, and that Toine being trans was just a part of their story, and not the focus,” said Michael. “Working on this scene inspired me to do this in my personal life. To reach out to a few of my oldest friends and thank them.”

Now he’s hoping more roles like this one will come along.

“I want to continue to take on any roles that resonate with me and that allow me to challenge myself as an artist and impact audiences,” Michael said. “I’m happy that I am working at a time when there are roles like Toine being written. At a time when writers, producers have been open to the input of trans artists and advocates and are holding space for full and authentic trans narratives—and reaching out for trans actors for these parts.”

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  • Felecia

    This individual is a shining example of why the world needs to accept and understand trans-folk; Brian makes a damn fine-looking man, and I’m a stone cold life-long lesbian, lol….I can see the happiness in his eyes at finally having the correct gender, and now he can concentrate on living the life he deserves. Congrats, Mr. Brian Michael; I will look forward to watching your roles as you act the hell out of them and blow Hollywood away with your performance, lol….what a fantastic article, and thanks, Queerty….!!!

    • Danny595

      She’s a woman. A masculinized appearance doesn’t make you a man, and it doesn’t make her a man either. The reason that you think she is fine-looking” is because you are a lesbian and you are attracted to other women, including Ms. Michael.

  • Kangol

    That was an excellent episode, and the queer-affirming/trans-affirming stance the Ralph Angel character took, which has been expressed on the show before, was one of the best pro-LGBTQ things I’ve seen on TV in a while.

  • peterblaise

    [ @Danny595 ], not that you have a hope in hell of partnering with Brian Michael ( why else would care anything about their gender ? ) …

    … but, legally, our Constitutional laws recognize our brain as the definitive part of our biology.

    Most of us self-identify with, and think with, our brain.

    [ @Danny595 ], if you self-identify with, and think with, your genitals, I suppose that’s your right ( and explains a lot ).

    But legally, you cannot demand that others identify themselves the way you identify yourself.

    All people are equal under law, same for cis gender people, and trans gender people, in that we all register our gender with our self-governance the exact same way:

    — SELF-identification,

    — a state-licensed physician’s supporting statement,

    — no operation necessary.

    See how to register your gender with our Social Security Administration via a Google search for [ How do I change my gender on Social Security records ]

    So, a trans gender female is legally equally female as is a cis gender female, and a trans gender male is legally equally male as is a cis gender male.

    In the US, we do not discriminate between legally equal people.

    Striving for equality, including more formerly excluded people with each generation.

    It’s what MAKES US GREAT.

    Always has.

    Re-read our credo and promise of our Declaration of Independence, for a start, [ @Danny595 ].


      @peter that is well meaning but ultimately pseudoscientific BS. If the brain is the ultimate grounds of gender identity then what happens if, say, a penised trans woman is brain dead in a coma, female hormones no longer in the system. By your definition in what sense is that person still a female? That said I believe in giving the courtesy of treating people as the identity they want to be known as, within reason.

    • Danny595

      If being a man is merely a matter of self-identification, then it is circular and meaningless. The word has to refer to some mental or physical attribute to actually mean something. If you self-identify as a man, and all “man” means is that you self-identify, then your self-identification is simply a statement that you self-identify.

      At a certain point, transgenderism forces you into one of 2 outcomes. Either your attempt to understand “man” and “woman” collapses into illogical circularity as described above, or you rely on sex stereotypes to define what “men” and “women” are. Either outcome is harmful and regressive, which is why trans activism is harmful and regressive.

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