Telling Her Story
New web series explores trans identities
"Being new to you doesn't make it any less old for me."
– Paige, Her Story
Seven years ago, Showtime left us all questioning, "Who killed Jenny Schecter?" In the near decade since The L Word's end there's been a noticeable lack of queer women on TV, which makes Jen Richards' (I Am Cait) and Laura Zak's (Tello's #Hashtag) new web series such a hot commodity.
Her Story, which premieres on January 19, picks up where Showtime's lesbian drama left off, but through a much queerer lens, focusing on the (love) lives of two trans women as well as their place under that big LGBTQIA umbrella. "It's The L Word meets Transparent," director Sydney Freeland exclaimed to co-writer, co-star, and co-producer Zak, after reading the script.
"I certainly loved The L Word so I'm happy for the comparison, and it's definitely a similar focus," says Zak. "But with Her Story, we're attempting to elevate it across a broader gender spectrum to tell stories of people whose stories haven't been told yet."
Until recently, Hollywood has typically typecast trans women to one-dimensional roles -– the prostitute, the drug addict, the butt of a bad joke – or sometimes a winning combination of the three. Stories like Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, last summer's Tangerine, How to Get Away with Murder, and even I Am Cait to some degree, have helped usher in a broader understanding and greater representation (and roles) for trans women. What makes Her Story especially unique is the numerous trans and queer women involved both on and off camera.
After watching Freeland's film Drunktown's Finest – a 2014 Sundance favorite that tackles trans issues – Zak and Richards knew that she was the director they wanted. "Our goal was to get as many women of color, trans women, and queers involved in the project as possible," explains Zak (and the majority of Her Story's crew is LGBTQ). "But we chose Freeland because of her résumé." However, during the trio's initial meeting, Richards mentioned author and activist Janet Mock, and Freeland – surprisingly to all involved – disclosed that she too was trans. The rest was "kismet."
"I think [Her Story] shows that you don't have to sacrifice quality for a diverse filmmaking crew," says Zak. For a community whose target films are most frequently B-rate, low-quality, and low-budget, Her Story stands out with good acting, strong writing, and a couple of A-list players. Aside from the creators and Freeland, Eve Ensler (best known for her play The Vagina Monologues) is an executive producer of the series, and Katherine Fisher – the former events director for Ensler's V-Day campaign and founder of Speed of Joy Productions – is the producer.
The seedlings of the series grew organically, after Richards had a small cameo in #Hashtag, in which Zak's character (a lesbian) flirts with Richards' character (a trans woman). "Jen told me it was revelatory for her. Even though it was a small part, it was significant that a trans woman was being depicted as attractive."
The two became fast friends, and that short cameo soon grew into Her Story, which the pair started writing just over a year ago. "We began working on the show before this explosion of trans visibility in the media," says Zak. "At the end of the day, the series is really a love story, but it's also about unseen cis[gender] and trans women overcoming their own expectations about who they're 'supposed' to be attracted to. Ideally, everyone will watch it, but I'm excited for the trans and queer community to watch."
Her Story premieres Jan. 19, on www.herstoryshow.com.