leading lady

How Alexandra Billings went from society’s outcast to star of stage and screen

Once upon a time, the idea that a trans person could be a Broadway star or a series regular on a hit network sit-com seemed almost unfathomable. And then came Alexandra Billings.

2020 saw Billings land a guest spot on The Conners as Robin, a co-worker of Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and Becky (Lecy Goranson). What began as a two-episode appearance to examine the issues surrounding transgender equality in the workplace led to producers  extending her role for an additional episode…then another…then another, until she ended up appearing for the rest of the season. Now, rumor has it Robin will return to The Conners as a series regular next season, as well.

For Billings, the achievement followed another major triumph. In January 2020, she made Broadway history playing the role of Madame Morrible in the blockbuster musical Wicked. In doing so, she became the first openly trans performer in Broadway history to get star billing in a musical.

As a life-long queer activist, Billings doesn’t take stardom for granted, or the effect it will have on queer people in the audience. As she told Queerty in January: 

During the run of that show, I got more messages from trans kids than I’ve ever gotten in my life from all over the world. From Korea, from Australia, from the Bahamas, from Alaska—from trans children six, seven, eight years old—writing me to say I can be in Wicked now! Imagine being a 10-year old trans child. And you’re in the dressing room of Broadway show with a 58-year-old trans woman of color who is married, happy, joyful and free. What do you think? You think I don’t have to kill myself. I don’t have to put up with the bullying. I don’t have to listen to the voices that tell me to stop, because I’m looking at my future…I told the mother: “I want you to listen to me. I would have sold my soul to have my mother treat me the way you treat your daughter. So this meeting is as healing for me as it is for you.”

That stardom has come after a long and grueling Yellow Brick Road. Billings has spoken openly about her life on the streets as a transgender youth, her dependence upon sex work, and how she turned to drugs for relief.

She hit a turning point winning several drag pageants at Chicago’s Baton Show before venturing into acting.  Stage appearances netted her positive notice, and a documentary about her life and career titled Schoolboy to Showgirl: The Alexandra Billings Story opened the door to acting on camera.

Roles on TV series such as Grey’s Anatomy and Eli Stone followed before she landed a role as a series regular on Transparent, which made her an international star. Through it all, Billings has also made time to teach, working as a theatre and acting professor for Chicago’s prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre group, the University of Chicago, and the University of Southern California.

For us, seeing a queer person of such a varied life and career finally achieve bonafide stardom on Broadway and network television gives us both pride and hope for our own careers. It also makes us exceedingly proud to have a woman like Alexandra Billings in our queer family.

Alex Berg of Queerty sister site LGBTQNation got a chance to catch up with Billings. Here’s what she had to say:

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