Believe it or not, Caitlyn Jenner is not the only trans person with her own reality show.
The gorgeous trans employees of San Francisco’s iconic AsiaSF restaurant and nightclub are also on their own path towards becoming reality TV royalty. Last year their show, Transcendent, captured the ladies’ larger-than-life personalities, fueling plenty of backstage drama. This is reality TV, after all.
This year, the women of Transcendent have been selected to participate as SF Pride Celebrity Grand Marshals. We spoke to two cast members, Nya and Bambiana, about their proudest moments leading up to Pride, on and off-screen.
You can watch what really happens backstage at AsiaSF when the second season of Transcendent premieres on Wednesday, June 8 on Fuse.
What has been your experience as a member of the trans community living in San Francisco?
Nya: I’ve been blessed to have found a family at AsiaSF that supports me in everything I do. Unfortunately, that is not the case for every trans person. What I love about San Francisco is that there are so many resources for trans folks. Whether it be housing, job search and medical assistance, help with name and gender change, the list goes on.
Bambiana: My first experience with the trans community was actually when I started working at AsiaSF. I’ve been there for three years, but I’ve known about it since before it even opened. The owner, Larry, is a close friend of mine. Working with the ladies there has helped me better understand the trans community.
What do you love most about working at AsiaSF?
Nya: I’ve been working at AsiaSF for 13 years. I was 19 when a friend introduced me to the choreographer, Ronnie Reddick. I used to come in and work even if I wasn’t getting paid because I was eager to learn and now I know it was because I finally found a place where I could be myself and not be judged. I was home.
What does SF Pride mean to you as a trans person?
Nya: We’re here, we’ve been here and we are not going anywhere. I am overjoyed that trans people don’t feel the need to hide in the shadows anymore. We can live life to the fullest and celebrate our struggles and success.
Bambiana: I have had the pleasure of attending many gay pride events in other cities and none of them compare to San Francisco Pride. Here, one of the most open-minded and culturally advanced places in the U.S., the whole city celebrates.
Do you think San Francisco overall is a welcoming place for the trans community?
Nya: Of course, there are many ways we can better things, but the city of San Francisco is definitely on the right track. Mayor Ed Lee even banned city workers to travel to North Carolina because of the anti-trans bathroom laws. Trans lives are at stake here.
Bambiana: San Francisco Pride brings visibility to the trans community, but it’s not just a recent development. San Francisco has been supporting the trans community forever. I couldn’t be luckier [to live here].
Trans visibility in media is certainly at an all-time-high, but some trans people are still misunderstood. What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about the trans community?
Nya: That we are perverts and sexual predators. #WeJustNeedToPee! There are more reported sexual assaults in bathrooms by men in Congress. And trans people have zero.
Bambiana: The biggest misconception is that we have options. It’s either we live our life unhappily or we can try to live an authentic life as trans people.
Nya: People think the Ladies of AsiaSF are just dancers but we are much more than that. Yes, we are show girls but we are also educating every single person that walks into AsiaSF. We give people a good show while giving them a different perspective about trans women.
Bambiana: We represent a small portion of the trans community. There are trans women and men all over the world with different backgrounds and experiences. We are as unique as any other community.
Do you think being on Transcendent is helping clear up these misconceptions?
Nya: Definitely. The viewers can see that we are just living life just like everyone else. Is it every trans person’s experience? Definitely not, but it is giving people some perspective on our lives as trans women. We might not change everyone’s minds, but I’d like to think that we are making a difference in our own little way.
Bambiana: We can only hope for so much from a television show. I don’t know how far we can get in opening people’s hearts or minds with our community.
What are some of the most memorable responses you’ve received from being on the show?
Nya: From parents of trans children. It warms my heart when people thank me for just being myself. I’m a girl that came from nothing and is still trying hard to make something of her life. But realizing that my existence is helping young trans people out there find their own paths is the best feeling in the world.
Bambiana: I have gotten positive and negative responses from within the trans community. After the first season aired, I realized that I signed up for an important job – this is bigger than what I thought – representing my community. It’s a lot of pressure and a honor at the same time.
Some trans people get irked whenever Caitlyn Jenner is brought up in conversations about the trans movement and visibility. Why do you think that is?
Nya: It really annoys me when people criticize Caitlyn. Everyone has a different journey and she is living her life the way God intended. She may not have had the same struggles that every trans person has had but she is learning and trying to help our community in her own way. Don’t hate! Congratulate!
Bambiana: They’re mad [at Caitlyn] for the same reasons that they get mad at me. They forget every trans person is different and has a different path. A lot of people don’t agree with how I live my life or the things I say. Caitlyn Jenner has the same problem.
Transcendent aims to portray the real-life struggles you face day-to-day. Do you think showing the not-so-glamorous side is important?
Nya: Yes, it’s not all glitz and glam 24/7. We’re human beings that are trying to make it in life, whether it be in or out of six-inch heels. Season two will explore some of the girls’ past struggles with homelessness, dating as trans women, wanting to start families, as well as reconnecting with families. Spoiler alert: I’m the biggest cry baby this season.
Bambiana: The second season you get to realize how different we [the Transcendent cast members] all are. And how competitive the environment can be working at a place like AsiaSF.