Leo Sheng | Image Credit: ‘The L Word: generation Q,’ Showtime

What is “the L-word” anyway? Is it love? Or Lesbians? Maybe… Lasagna?

For today, at least, the L-word of the day is Leo Sheng.

Best known as the lovable Micah Lee on The L Word: Generation Q, Sheng is a self-proclaimed “community builder-turned-actor” who approaches all of his work with an activist’s spirit and always keeps us inspired.

Born in Hunan, China, Sheng was adopted and raised in southeastern Michigan by two social worker moms, and even went to college to follow in their footsteps before destiny called: he was cast in his first professional acting role, the indie drama Adam.

Since then, he has continued his career in the arts—which has included a role in The Matrix Resurrections and a part in the excellent trans media representation doc Disclosure—while sticking close to his roots as a community builder, especially as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.

Sheng is also proof positive for why representation is so important: As he’s previously shared, it was the transmaculine character Max on the original L Word that empowered him to come out as trans—a moment that would came full circle when he was cast on Showtime’s Generation Q sequel series over a decade later.

A year removed from Generation Q‘s emotional series finale, we reached out to Sheng and invited him to be the latest guest of our rapid-fire Q&A series, Dishin’ It. In our conversation, the actor reflected on all the lessons learned from The L Word, the pop culture obsessions that inspired his name, and his favorite activities when he needs to un-plug, unwind, and stay grounded.

Is there a piece of media—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, theater, video game, etc…—that has played an important role in your understanding of queerness, the queer community, or in your own personal journey? Why does it stand out to you?

Disney’s animated Mulan was huge for me growing up. It was the only visual representation I had of someone like me; an East Asian person who was socialized as a girl, but who also wore “boy’s” clothes. Obviously, the reasons were different—I wasn’t going off to battle in my father’s place, but that movie and the character of Mulan were monumental parts of my life. For a lot of people, it helped them understand my tomboy nature. It’s also how I found my middle name!

Also, when I was trying to figure out what my name was, I was super into the show Charmed. I was looking for portrayals of masculinity that weren’t toxic or harmful, and the character of Leo spoke to me a lot. So. Leo it was.

It’s been just over a year since The L Word: Generation Q, your first recurring television role. Looking back, what’s one of the most important lessons or takeaways from your time on the show?

I learned so much on that show. It truly was on the job training. And one of the biggest gifts. Landing a series regular role like that—I still can’t believe it.

I think one of the biggest takeaways was to simply find the joy in the job. I still feel so new to the industry and there’s so much I don’t know. Gen Q, and projects like it, are so much more than just TV shows or movies. They reflect real, lived experiences. They make people feel seen. And with that, comes a sense of responsibility. I think it’s important to honor that. And it’s just as important to lean into the joy and excitement of it all too.  

And speaking of The L-Word. What’s an “L-word” in your life (we’ll say, aside from “love”) that you can’t live without and why?

That’s a great question. I think “laughter” would have to be my L-word. I love to laugh. I love to make others laugh. It feels like such an important way of connecting for me.

Where’s one of the first spaces you can remember that made you feel a part of a queer community?

When I was a teenager, I joined a group for queer youth. I’d just come out as trans and started my social transition. I hadn’t felt quite as connected to the term “queer” until a few years later. But this group was the first time I felt like part of a larger community. And the work we were doing around school policy really informed my journey as an activist as well.

If you could do an all-queer reboot of another TV show (or movie!) from the past, what would it be and why?

Oh my gosh, that’s so hard. Ugh. Honestly, it would probably have to be Charmed. I just really loved that show. And I love fantasy and science fiction. I know one of the characters in the reboot was queer, which was awesome. I want more! I want to see more than one main character who gets to be a queer superhero or magical being.

Who’s a fictional character you had a crush on at a younger age (or maybe still do!)? What do you remember loving about them?

When High School Musical came out, all the girls in my class had a crush on Troy (Zac Efron). I thought I did too. Same with Jacob from Twilight. Then, later, I realized it wasn’t that I had a crush on them, but more—I wanted to be them.

Another few years later, as I continued to come into my queerness, I realized: it was a mix of both.

More often than not, the news cycle and the state of the world can feel overwhelmingly hopeless. What are some activities you like to turn to to rest and rejuvenate your mind. DO you have any advice for folks out there who might be feeling defeated or scared?

I love to write. I love to go for hikes. I love to listen to music. Watch TV. Read. Hang out with friends. These all help me feel grounded in my life.

Who is a queer or trans artist/performer/creator that you think is doing really cool work right now? Why are they someone we should all be paying attention to?

Ahhhh. I can’t pick just one!! I’ve been watching the new season of Loot and I think Joel Kim Booster is absolutely hilarious. Also, Fawzia Mirza is a director who just premiered their feature debut [The Queen Of My Dreams] at SXSW. Really excited to see more of their work, expanding representation.

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