With the positive reception of Laverne Cox’s breakout role in “Orange is the New Black” and Jill Soloway’s “Transparent,” scripted television shows are increasingly featuring transgender characters. But for Seattle-based trans activist, producer, and artist Aneesh Sheth, rarely do these representations dare to be different.
“I find myself watching the same type of trans stories in the media,” Sheth said. “Either they’re focused on the process of the transition, or the spectacle of discovering that a character is transgender.”
“I often feel shows and movies add trans characters just to check off a diversity box; almost like, ‘All the cool kids are doing it, so should we,’” Sheth added.
Sheth says her webseries “CRAVE” will bring a depth to stories about transgender characters that she’s been hoping to see.
“I definitely find my ethnicity and stories like mine absent from the latest trends of trans stories out there,” Sheth said. “Trans visibility to me is exactly what ‘CRAVE’ is hoping to do; get more stories out there that don’t rely on sensationalizing trans people and their lives. Yes, the main character is trans, and yes it is important to point that out- but only to show people, ‘Hey! Look! Here’s a trans person too and they’re just living their lives like everyone else!’”
Sheth has launched a Kickstarter to get her project off the ground. The campaign is active until July 6.
“CRAVE” revolves around the lives of three people: Bobbi, a gay man stuck in an abusive relationship and a job he hates; Karen, a military housewife who finds her marriage crumbling after her husband’s return from a year away in Afghanistan; and Maggie (Sheth), a trans actress trying to make her mark in show business. The show will be shot in Seattle and the cast includes Jeremy Behrens, DeRon Brigdon and Angela DiMarco.
During the fundraising campaign, the pilot episode will be available through July 6 at craveoriginalseries.com.
Sheth says it’s important for media representations to challenge the way trans identity is defined. Her representation of Maggie focuses on life after transition.
“People will really get to see the fully realized lives of these characters,” Sheth said. “We never talk about Maggie’s surgeries, or procedures, or what her name used to be, or a lot of the intrusive questions trans folks face on a daily basis. We see Maggie as a fully realized human being, and while her being trans is important—it is ultimately the way she defines herself—it is not the main focus of her character’s storyline.”
Sheth is most recognized for a guest starring role as Kami Sutra on NBC’s TV comedy “Outsourced.” She calls herself “one of few out transgender actresses, and the first of South Asian descent on network television.” She says one big goal is for “CRAVE” is to increase trans visibility at multiple intersections.
Sheth is partnering with local production company Honey Toad Productions, “CRAVE” needs to raise $5,000 per episode. Sheth has a goal of raising $35,000 to produce a full season.
Before launching into a career in drama, Sheth spent a few years as an LGBTQ counselor for suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project. Since then, she has worked with theatre companies like PlayGround SF, Playwrights Foundation and The Asian American Theatre Company. Two years ago, she was honored by Advocate Magazine in their 40 Under 40 list.
While she’s less focused on activism in recent years, she hopes for her artistic work to be a source of empowerment.
“I hope to empower, not just trans people of color, but all those who feel like their voice isn’t heard,” Sheth said. “I hope by creating more work, I can advocate for those people by getting their stories out there, creating visibility and fostering change. I may not always be carrying a banner in the front of the line, but I hope by being the storyteller that I am, I’m able to have a similar impact.”