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When She Didn’t See Quality Trans Roles, Rain Valdez Wrote Herself Into Emmy Herstory

The writer and star of "Razor Tongue" is the second transgender person nominated for a Primetime Emmy for acting, after Laverne Cox.

Rain Valdez in “Razor Tongue”

Courtesy of the filmmaker

Rain Valdez’s Emmy-nominated short-form series is called “Razor Tongue” because the main character has no problem telling it like it is. That’s true for her creator as well, the multi-hyphenate actress, filmmaker, and newly minted Emmy nominee Rain Valdez. Following her nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Short-Form Comedy or Drama Series, Valdez became the second transgender performer ever to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in an acting category, following in the footsteps of her friend Laverne Cox. It’s an elite group, one she is honored to be a part of, but Valdez is painfully aware of the pros and cons of touting such milestones.

“For me, it’s like a double-edged sword. As an actor, creator, and writer, I have to play a game just to keep going in this industry,” Valdez said during a recent phone interview. “So when we submitted for FYC and then I started campaigning, I had a very specific message, which was: ‘Here’s to adding an option on the ballot that’s queer, that’s trans, that’s a person of color, that’s female-led, and that empowers an LGBTQ community of artists, that’s Asian American.'”

Such calculations are part of what she refers to as “allowing my identity to work for me.” While she’s happy to wave the banner of representation, she hopes this milestone will lead to a future where people from underrepresented groups don’t have to sell their identities to achieve mainstream success.

“People need to know, people need to see it, because that’s part of the change that we’re trying to make. But at the same time, it consistently other-izes me from the other actresses,” she said. “We need the world to know who I am and what I stand for, and where I come from, because there’s so many more of me and it inspires people, and it’s allowing the industry to take steps to a much more equity-centered environment. But at the same time, we also have to keep the doors opening so that many more of me come through.”

Valdez began her entertainment career working in post-production, where she learned about editing, color correcting, and visual effects while waiting tables on the side. Valdez wrote and stars in the the seven-part series, which hails from a crew of all women directors and includes many trans folks and people of color in front of and behind the camera.

“Oftentimes, we’re given a slice of pie, and we’re at a point where we need to be in the kitchen and we need to be making the pies,” said Valdez. “We need to be invited into the actual place that does all the cooking and the baking and all that. And I’m kind of excited about it because I feel like that’s the direction we’re heading.”

Valdez has been living in Los Angeles trying to make it as an actress for years, and appeared hopeful for the direction Hollywood is going in regards to trans representation. According to Valdez, the scripts she receives are less blatantly problematic than those from even a couple of years ago.

“From what I’ve been seeing, I think it’s getting better. The roles that are coming to me are 10 times better than they were a year or two years ago,” she said. “Even though it’s a slow progress, there’s a progress that’s happening.”

She hopes that the tokenizing of marginalized identities, while it can be a shrewd publicity grab for up-and-coming talent, will be a temporary fix on a systemic issue.

“I want to get to a point where I’m not consistently referred to as ‘transgender actress Rain Valdez,'” she said. “And so, for me, I’m at a point now where we just gave the industry option of referring to me as something else: Emmy nominated actress Rain Valdez.”

With any luck, we’ll soon be saying “Emmy winner Rain Valdez.”

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