Ian Alexander is a rising star to watch. At just 19 years old, the talented Asian-American actor has achieved an incredible amount, being the first transgender actor to join the cast of the iconic Star Trek canon. Apart from the intergalactic cult series the down-to-earth actor previously made their mark on the sci-fi world, starring in the Netflix’s The OA as Buck Vu, a transgender teen.
Alexander, who goes by pronouns they/he, is a proud advocate for the trans community, frequently sharing resources on their social media platforms and speaking out about trans rights and visibility.
Over Zoom, I had the opportunity to meet the funny, sincere and passionate soul, who is currently residing in Toronto filming Star Trek Discovery Season 4. Things kicked off discussing the key issues of 2020: the pandemic, politics and mental health, then moved onto talking about the importance of inclusion for transgender characters in front of and behind the camera. Here’s to the future, Ian Alexander. I’m ready for the change.
Things have been pretty crazy worldwide with the pandemic. If the United States wanted to do a complete lockdown they would need to figure out a way to subsidize the people, because people need to work. Being able to stay at home is a privilege that not everyone has.
It is. Working-class people don’t have the privilege of being able to stay home because they need money to survive because of capitalism.
If you give people the resources they need to stay at home, then they will stay at home. But if you don’t provide any sort of rent relief and then end the moratorium for evictions then landlords just start evicting people that don’t pay rent. Of course, they’re going to need money. It’s frustrating.
At least the potential of the vaccine is promising.
I’m interested to see how accessible the vaccine is going to be. If it’s going to be a real gatekeeper, ableist sort of thing. I always fear for the disabled community and marginalised people who are constantly fucked over. But we will see what happens. I have good faith that Vietnam, China and Japan and even India are all doing great in terms of response…and Puerto Rico. I’m a bit more doubtful about the U.S.
It’s very different not being in the States and experiencing Trump’s re-election. I was in the States in 2016 when Trump got elected and it was insane. So not experiencing the 2020 election first hand was a bit of a relief.
Definitely. Same here. I was anxious internally but since most people here were unaffected by the election I was able to just go about my day somewhat normally. But in the United States, you’re constantly surrounded by people harassing you and people protesting – which is good, but it can also be very overwhelming.
During the 2016 election, I was in high school living in Virginia. It’s a very divided, 50-50 blue and red area. So my high school was split in half, between people who were progressive going for Bernie or Hillary, and those who literally wore Trump merch to school. I got harassed a lot after the election, because you know, they got all confident and proud in their homophobia.
I’m just glad I didn’t have to experience any of that, because I know there were probably some angry Trump supporters riding around LA waiting to see someone to dislike and give them a hard time.
2020 was a pretty difficult year, which led a lot of people to be more conscious about their self-care and mental health needs. How do you manage to keep your mental health in check and do you have any go-to’s for when you’re not feeling your best?
I would say my mental health is so closely linked to my physical health, and that’s something I’ve really been trying to focus on lately.
So just setting myself up with accessible food, like meal-prepping and using meal-delivery services, or getting just ready-made foods has been so helpful for my mental health because I think a lot of times, I would just get into executive dysfunction or cooking or doing the dishes. Just even the thought of trying to decide what to eat would be very overwhelming.
Something that has been very helpful for me – I mean I come from a very privileged standpoint in being able to access this care – ADHD coaching has been really game-changing for me. It’s helping me meet my needs in ways that are much more accessible and easier for me.
I’m finding new solutions for problems I’ve had. I’m still working on my self-care but there are things that I have consistently struggled with like eating, exercising and generally taking care of my body. I’ve noticed a huge difference and improvement in my mental health since I’ve been making sure I’m eating regularly, really setting a routine for myself.
Skincare is one of my favourite forms of self-care; it improves my physical health and my mental health at the same time. If I’m not doing my skincare routine my skin will be bleeding and itchy and really sensitive, so the more I take care of it, the better I feel.
I’ve been through a lot of life changes but I think my mental health is probably the best that it has been in a really long time. I was talking to friends about this recently, I’m like, “oh my God, I’d forgotten what it felt like not to be depressed, to want to create, do things and talk to people and try new things and be interested in learning stuff.” I had lost touch with that side of myself for a while, but, she’s back!
For whatever reasons I experienced pretty bad anxiety prior to the pandemic, so this has just made it a thousand times worse. I think I’ve realized for myself though, that it’s about setting small goals and challenges daily. So one day I’ll challenge myself to talk to someone, another day I will challenge myself to go to the grocery store. Anything that can help to challenge the anxiety.
I’m really proud of you for doing that, because it really is just one foot in front of the other, if you just take it one day at a time. Months down the line you’ll realize you’re able to go out to a park and have a beautiful experience with nature in a very safe way where you don’t come into contact with anyone. Things like that have been really healing for me, too. I really want to do a little safe road trip up to Niagara Falls.
How far is that from where you are?
It’s about 2-2.5 hours. They have some really beautiful Christmas lights, so I’m excited to see that. It will be my first Christmas/holiday season completely alone. So I’m going to just take myself on a whole bunch of cute holiday dates, really just spoil and pamper myself. I’m a double Taurus so I love being a homebody, I love staying at home and plopping on the couch and playing video games or watching TV and drinking tea so I’m going to have a great winter here.
The part that I’m at in my discovery journey is that I’m realizing how much of an incredible, awesome, amazing creative person that I am. So, I’m excited that I’m finally in a place where I’m embracing that, despite the circumstances, you know.
You recently joined the cast of Star Trek Discovery, playing the first transgender character in the Star Trek series. How does that feel?
I feel overjoyed. I also feel really excited for the future. I am manifesting having trans creators both in front of and behind the camera. Behind the camera is where so much of the storytelling takes place. So many trans narratives right now are in the hands of cis people, and I really can’t wait for the day when trans people get the opportunity to make our own stories. To be able to share things that are true to our own heart, in a way that you can’t just bring to the page, you can’t really truly bring that to the screen unless you have experienced that yourself, right?
That’s all that writing is, just a projection of things that you have experienced or other people have experienced that you’ve absorbed. I can’t wait for that day. I’ve already sort of begun daydreaming about ideas that I have and things that I want to make because if I don’t see the characters that I want to see, why not create them?
Exactly. Do you have any interest in screenwriting or anything like that?
I have an interest in screenwriting but haven’t fully gotten into it. I’m finally starting to dip my toes into coming up with video concept ideas for shorter videos right now. But maybe, we’ll see! Now that I am part of this Discord community of transmasculine and non-binary actors, we’ve all been sharing such amazing creative collaboration ideas, and I’m feeling so inspired.
Morgan Sullivan – they are a trans actor – they created a short film that was written, produced, crew, everything, was transgender. And I’m like (gasps) – that’s the beautiful future that I want to see, that’s what I want to do. So I am very very very excited for the future. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be, but it will be lots of collaborations and lots of – hmm I have so many ideas, but I’m not going to say any of them because I want to keep it a surprise, you know.
That’s fair! I noticed that you shared on Instagram a trans/non-binary crew/cast sign up, which I thought was amazing. There definitely needs to be more encouragement for trans and non-binary people to be included and featured in the film industry.
Yeah, I think building that community up – I’ve been so inspired to do that because there’s already a resource online called transonset.com. It’s self-reported, so you submit your information and they’ll put you in either trans actors or trans crew and they have different categories.
Morgan and I reached out to everyone on that website saying, “Hey, we’re trying to create a master master list” and send it out to everyone. Because once we hand over this resource list there’s no excuse, if you want to hire trans people – here’s their contact info, their portfolios, their locations, their pronouns, everything! Just making it as easy and accessible as possible for casting directors, producers, anyone who’s hiring trans people because there should be more of us, there’s so many of us.
There’s really no excuse in the future for casting directors to hire non-trans people for trans roles.
There really isn’t a real reason at this point, I have been saying this for years as a trans actor. A cis person would be taking off a costume, whereas a trans person would not because we’re still trans at the end of the day.
I’m really excited to see the future of this industry; I’ve seen a lot of progress in the past year or so. I’m still getting auditions that are like “I’m non-binary, this is my non-binary story about me coming out to my family” and it’s very clear that the person who wrote it was not trans. That is a bit disappointing to me, but I do think that I am getting less and less of those auditions, and a lot more auditions where it’s like, here’s this cool inanimate object character in this show, and they happen to be non-binary, but it’s not really talked about. They just don’t have a gender because they’re a robot. Cool things like that, where I get to play, I get to just be myself and my identity doesn’t have to be surrounded by the fact that I am trans. Yes, I am trans, and that’s wonderful and beautiful, but also at the same time, I’m so much more than that.
I think that’s what was so game-changing about The OA. It’s that Buck Vu was just a teenage kid who just happened to be trans. There were a few times that it was mentioned, but at the end of the day, he was just a kid that was there to listen to OA’s story and connect with all these other teenagers. I love that, that was my introduction to acting, my first role was just being able to exist.
I would say that most of my roles have been just being able to exist as a person, and I’m really grateful for that because not every opportunity is that way. There are more stories written by cis people about trans people than there are greenlit, approved productions that are created by trans people for trans people.
Yeah, I’m definitely excited for the future. I feel as though the pandemic has created the opportunity for a lot of people to be at home and immerse themselves in new information, and take the opportunity to really educate themselves.
I agree. I think that more people are gaining awareness of the things that might not have been on their radar – most people are kind and compassionate and are wanting to be accepting of other people – of course, there are people who are just ignorant, but they’re kind of a lost cause anyway so why waste energy on them – but the people who do want to understand, they just need more resources to be better allies.
There’s a lot of information on resources available on social media, especially for trans awareness week I’ve seen a lot of people putting up slideshows and really informative posts about pronouns, gender reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy and things to do to be a better trans ally. I’ve thought, oh… these are really helpful and hope cis people are taking notes.
Do you think that there may be a planet in the universe where the concept of gender does not exist?
Yes. Yes, absolutely. I totally believe in extraterrestrial life, and I also believe that in the future I hope humanity has abolished gender. I know that there is probably some planet where there are life forms – maybe they’re sentient, maybe they’re not – gender would just not exist on that planet, because gender is a social construct. I could rant about this for hours and hours, but there is no reason why gender should exist.
Yeah, it doesn’t make sense that gender would exist outside of Earth. It has to just be limited to Earth. I feel like whatever entities there are would just be saying “What is gender? Why are you limiting your minds to this concept, humans?”
Exactly. I feel like an alien would just come by and be like, “Oh. Oh. Why have you done this to yourself? Why have you tried to pin your existence into tiny labels and boxes? No wonder you all are so stressed out. Why are you all so stressed out about trying to make money? Money isn’t real. Why aren’t you all trying to help each other survive?”
There are so many concepts that just seem exclusive to humans.
It’s nice sometimes to just step outside of ourselves and realize that we’re just a speck in the scheme of the entire universe. Everything that humans worry about just doesn’t matter. The ridiculous stuff anyway: gender, sexuality…we’re a speck in the universe – why should these things matter to people?
In terms of my own gender and my non-binary identity, the more I’ve realized non-binary applies to every aspect of my life, and it’s something that I’ve always just fit outside of the system, fit outside of the box and I intend on staying that way and appreciate and love those parts of myself.
I’m just really excited for other people to become enlightened to the fact that gender and sexuality and all these things that we’re trying to define for ourselves, they don’t matter at the end of the day. We should just exist and be who we are and not really stress that much about it.
Stay tuned with the adventures of Ian Alexander on their Instagram. Star Trek: Discovery season 4 is expected to launch in summer 2022. In the meantime you can check out the other seasons on Amazon Prime.
Interview & Photos by Sahar Nicolette @theyshoothem