During the #MeToo era, trans actress Trace Lysette emerged in two major ways: First, as a rising trans actor in Amazon Studios’ groundbreaking series Transparent whose on-screen romance showed a cis man falling for a trans woman. And second, alongside fellow trans actress Alexandra Billings in their sexual harassment accusations against Jeffrey Tambor, the cisgender actor who played transgender woman Maura Pfefferman.
How Trace Lysette helped Transparent‘s exploration of trans identity
In the second season of Amazon Studios’ groundbreaking TV drama series Transparent, show creator Jill Soloway cast trans actress Trace Lysette as a trans character named Shea. Shea was a yoga instructor and friend of Maura Pfefferman, a newly transitioning transgender woman exploring her trans identity. Though she wasn’t initially a series regular, Shae shared a memorable scene where she taught Maura Pfefferman, the series’ lead transgender woman, how to properly pronounce “Yas queen!”
Here’s a brief clip of the “Yas queen!” scene between Shea, Maura Pfefferman and Alexandra Billings as Davina, three transgender women who are all friends:
In the third season of Transparent, show creator Jill Soloway made Shea more of a series regular as Shea began dating Maura Pfefferman’s cisgender son, Josh Pfefferman. Theirs was a rarely seen “cis boy meets trans girl” romance where Josh was openly sweet and flirtatious with Shea rather than treating her shamefully like his “dirty little secret.”
However, after Shea reveals that she’s HIV-positive, Josh Pfefferman reacts immaturely, leading Shea to cry, “I’m not your f*cking adventure. I’m a person.” Shea became less of a series regular after her relationship with Josh ended.
Then, something during the airing of the fourth season of Transparent changed everything. Trace Lysette joined fellow trans actress Alexandra Billings in making sexual harassment accusations against Jeffrey Tambor.
Trace Lysette’s sexual harassment accusations against Jeffrey Tambor
In November 2017, Lysette said that while filming the second season of Transparent, Tambor allegedly told her, “My God, Trace. I want to attack you sexually,” after seeing her on-set costumed for a scene in a lingerie top and short shorts. Alexandra Billings, Lysette’s co-actor in the scene, “laughed it off because it was so absurd.”
Moments later, Tabor allegedly approached Lysette, stepped onto her feet so she couldn’t move, leaned his body against hers, and began discreetly thrusting against her. “I felt his penis on my hip through his thin pajamas,” Lysette said. She pushed him away and added that Alexandra Billings wasn’t present at the time.
Lysette’s accusation came a week after Tambor’s former assistant Van Barnes accused Tambor of acting “inappropriately” in a private Facebook post, though it’s unclear if the post explicitly accused Tambor of sexual harassment. Both Van Barnes and Trace Lysette are openly transgender women. Van Barnes is also a trans actress.
Though Tambor denied all of the sexual harassment allegations, show creator Jill Soloway dismissed him from the fifth season of Transparent. literally killing off Maura Pfefferman’s character. In the season’s musical opening, Shea attends Maura’s funeral.
In a September 2019 interview with Vogue, Trace Lysette said during the funeral scene, she centered Shea’s emotions around the idea that she could “mourn Maura the character and all the sweet things about her, without mourning Jeffrey the person.” Lysette also revealed that Josh Pfefferman apologized to Shea for some of the ignorant transphobic things he said, but their scene was ultimately cut from the episode.
Trace Lysette’s profile as a trans actress continues to rise
Regarding the aftermath following her sexual harassment claims against Jeffrey Tambor, Lysette added, “I felt that my name had been dragged through the mud, and to be honest it was dragged more than any other cisgender woman’s in the #MeToo movement [who went through similar harassment] because of my trans [identity]. It’s like our word doesn’t carry the same weight. But regardless, I’m still here, girl.”
Despite any fallout, in 2019 Lysette landed two series roles: One on the FX series Pose as Tess, a New York City clothing salesclerk turned ballroom performer, and a second in the coming-of-age series David Makes Man where she plays Femi, a protective woman who does sex work.
Lysette’s previous real-life experience with sex work in New York City also helped her land a role in the film Hustlers alongside Constance Wu. In the film, Constance Wu and Lysette play scheming female strippers who occasionally engage in sex work in New York City.
Trace Lysette is currently filming a movie entitled Venus as a Boy, a romantic film written and directed by black director Ty Hodges.