June is Pride month. Rainbows splash across many corporate logos in testament to the support of our community. For many it is a month of celebration of self. It can be a time for reflection and affirmation. Pride unifies people as they look back on decades of progress and the fight for dignity and equality. A month synonymous with rainbow flags, glitter, and festivals can certainly boost LGBTQ+ visibility as a social group; but sometimes we fail to see the people behind the letters.
We certainly did not get here on our own. We now have local and national advocacy groups to lend support. But there have always been possibility models and each generation will stand on those shoulders as they pull themselves up into their own light. We, as a community, aren’t always good at lifting each other up or acknowledging those who paved the way. We can do better and should do better. They are the change-makers, and they should be seen.
This year in observance of Pride, I would like to introduce you to one of those change-makers. Some of you may already recognize him, but maybe you’ll get to know him a little better. By the way, I won’t apologize for focusing on the “T” in our community. In a world where trans people are being harmed and lives taken at an increasing number, I’m choosing to give my trans family something inspiring to read for a minute. Besides, they always say “write what you know.” And for the rest of you; get on board and settle in because this is a guy you’ll be happy to have met.
World…please give a warm wave of your Pride flags! I bring you Emmett Preciado!
Emmett is an actor and singer-songwriter. He is also an out and proud transgender man. Born in Merced, California and raised in Chilton, Wisconsin Emmett is the eldest of 7 kids – he has 3 brothers and 3 sisters. He knew as early as kindergarten that he was different and struggled to come to terms with himself in an upbringing steeped heavily in the Mormon faith. Emmett found himself attracted to girls and knew he was a boy – neither of which fit into the teachings of The Church.
Emmett turned to performance to escape. He started writing music when he was ten years old and was active in music at school. He often put on plays for his family, sang on stage, and competed in talent shows. He remained active in music after the family moved to South Sioux City, Nebraska during Emmett’s freshman year in high school where he found a creative outlet in the Show Choir, played French horn, was Drum Major two years in a row, and an All-State singer three times.
But underneath the surface it was clear that Emmett had been cast in a role he never asked to play, His childhood was an extended run playing a character just to fit in where he wasn’t comfortable. Living as female became most difficult once puberty kicked in. Layers of sports bras and hoodies and short haircuts were an attempt at lessening his body dysphoria. When he wore his brother’s clothes he felt most comfortable. Emmett suffered from severe depression, often seen in transgender youth, but had no outlet to understand what he was experiencing nor the vocabulary to make sense of everything. He attempted to take his own life at age 14. Emmett turned to the one place he thought he could find help. The Church.
After a year studying medicine at community college, Emmett left Nebraska to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Emmett prayed to God. His faith told him God would have the answers and God would help him. He continually tried to settle into the cookie cutter Mormon role all while asking God to make him a boy – an exchange for his faithfulness. He served as a sister missionary for 18 months in The Salt Lake City, Utah Mission. After the mission he attended a semester at Brigham Young University in Idaho. Still struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, Emmett decided the time had come for him to live his truths.
Emmett had had his first conversation about his gender with his parents right after high school. It was another three years – the summer of 2015 – before he would be ready to leave college to begin his physical transition from female to male. He faced the daunting task of coming out to friends and family, stayed active in the church, and worked at Nestle to save up the money for top surgery. He sought counseling from a therapist and support from a Bishop in the church who became a surprising advocate. Over time, family support grew and with financial assistance from community Emmett was able to get his surgery.
After deciding in 2018 to pursue an acting career, Emmett was cast in his first principal role in 2019 where he received screen credit for his role in The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020 Orion release). Despite advice to remain stealth in a climate where trans actors often struggle to be considered for roles, Emmett remained true to himself when auditioning and presenting his resume. He believed there was power in being seen and wanted to make a difference for other trans folks. He moved to Los Angeles, and it didn’t take long for him to start getting cast in commercials and other projects. He has worked with The Trevor Project and The National LGBTQ Task Force.
In the Spring of 2020, Emmett was cast in a recurring role as Rowan, a cisgender lawyer, on Freeform’s Good Trouble, which airs on ABC and is available on Hulu. At the end of 2020, he shot his first Guest Star role as Rio Gutierrez which can be seen on ABC’s hit drama, The Good Doctor. In his breakout performance Emmett plays a transgender man in a relationship with a gay man who while seeking medical care for a growing brain tumor discovers he is pregnant. Faced with a difficult choice and controversial outcome, the storyline is bold and one never before seen on network television. The episode aired in 2021 and can be found on Hulu.
It seems the folks at ABC can’t get enough of Emmett. The 2021 fan favorite Rebel starring Katey Sagal and Andy Garcia brought Emmett’s next recurring role where he plays Mateo, the transgender son of Garcia’s character. It is unclear at this time if Rebel will see a second season. The network has not renewed the show, but it is being shopped in the industry and fans are hopeful it will return.
It is clear that as a possibility model for other trans humans, Emmett is out to break down stereotypes and not afraid to address important conversations in his roles or his personal life. In an industry heavy with cis-gender roles and opportunities, Emmett understands that casting can be tricky sometimes and states, “It’s exciting to see more trans roles being created in both tv and film. We’ve come pretty far even in just the past five years, but it would be great to see even more.”
Ed Reggi, a Professional Actor who is currently finishing his MFA Theatre Education at Mississippi University for Women, shares, “As a cisgender out gay actor, I find gender and casting a little barbaric. Let me first separate “celebrity casting” from the real casting that takes place every single day in the entertainment world. Celebrity casting is when actors are cast in specific roles to draw attention to that particular production and sell tickets. Period. Full stop.
So, what is the solution? Well for starters we need more non-binary directors and studio producers. We need more transgender casting agents. And beyond everything, we need a more accurate version of the gender narrative on stage. I see it taking place with small examples. High schools casting non-binary students in roles originally written for either men or women. I see schools working with playwrights to get permission to change pronouns in those said productions, so the audience sits back and experiences a new norm without being pulled out by a “she or he” line of dialogue.”
Ann Thomas of Transgender Talent says that trans actors dream of landing cisgender roles and has been working hard to make that happen. She goes further to say, “There’s two reasons for this. The first is that there’s so few trans roles, that they need the work, since there’s tens of thousands of cis roles per year, yet far fewer trans roles. So, to get the experience, they need to do cisgender roles. Plus, we don’t want trans actors to end up being typecast. We don’t want actors in our roster relegated to trans roles for the rest of their careers. They don’t want that either, to be limited by their gender identity.”
Ann also points out that currently there are no trans A List actors. In order to even be considered A List, an actor must play a lead in at least 3 major, successful feature films. To her knowledge, no trans actor is even close to that as of today.
The trans actor/cis actor playing trans characters is a debate we aren’t likely to solve today. Currently fewer trans-centric roles are being written. Emmett has overcome the online hate and slurs that plague trans humans and appreciates the opportunities he’s been given. He believes in making room for trans actors to play both transgender and cisgender characters. “We are here. There’s tons of trans talent out there. If someone is trans and capable of playing the part, why not cast them?”
But he also thinks that if casting has done their absolute best in trying to find a trans actor and have exhausted all their options; as long as trans people are being portrayed accurately, then it is fine to cast a cis actor. He maintains, “the more that trans people can become visible in tv and film, the more we can ‘normalize’ the transgender community. And that’s so important to the health and safety of trans youth.”
Academic and author, Judith Butler describes gender as a “performance…the various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all.”
Emmett Preciado is represented by Transgender Talent LLC, a talent management and production company for transgender performers and artists in Orange County, California.