"The presence of the unseen beneath the surface is no less important than what one actually sees." —Jack Babuscio, "Camp and the Gay Sensibility"
Somebody get me an ice pack! Anyone? My head is killing me. Okay, no ice pack? How about a bag of frozen peas, because I know you didn't eat them yet. I haven't had a vegetable in a decade, and I can't blame that on the pandemic. But back to the matter at hand. I hit my head and need ice!
Don't worry, I'm gonna tell you why. I'm happy to. In fact, I'm truly honored to be asked by the Television Academy to explain myself.
Here's the story.
I hit my head on the glass ceiling. Yes, that glass ceiling. After 25 years in showbiz, appearing in everything from nightclubs and comedy clubs, to benefits, music videos, indie-films with low-to-no budgets, documentaries, and "blink and you'll miss me" TV cameos — I made a crack in the glass ceiling. Twenty-five years is a long time. How long? In TV terms, in 1997 South Park's first episode was released. And that's been on a hundred years.
Up until this year, I've been banging my head trying to get through. I'm almost done with the metaphor, but because the ceiling was glass, I could see through it. I could see what was there, the potential, my dream...the gap that I could fill. I was The Boi in the Plastic Bubble. I just couldn't get to it no matter how hard I tried. This business is full of rejection, until it's not. And even then, it's always around the corner.
I get it, I'm a little different than the other guys. If I had a nickel for every time "TV people" said to me, "We just don't know what to do with you," "You're too niche," "What are you?" well, damnit, I'd be a millionaire and have good health insurance.
I've been referred to as a grab bag of things by folks in the industry. Even today, it still blows my mind to be sitting in a meeting, at a table read or on set fully suited up, and be called "her," "she," or "drag queen." I never quite could wrap my head around the fact that the diverse live audiences I've performed for got it, but TV industry folks saw me as this walking episode of Unsolved Mysteries. As some kind of anomaly. Which in turn, made them afraid to give me a break. There was, and still is, no frame of reference for someone like me.
Two people helped me make a dent. Jonathan Ames gave me a cameo in HBO's Bored to Death in 2011. It wasn't until ten years later that Bridget Everett cast me as Fred Rococo in HBO's Somebody Somewhere. She took a chance on me. HBO took a chance on me. For the first time in my career, I got a role that was not a cameo, but a full three-dimensional character, who also happens to be transgender.
Somebody Somewhere showed people that they can relate to a character like Fred and to someone like me. The heart shone through. The humanity shone through. And you know what, in my opinion, heart has no gender, no label. It's a feeling that all of us can relate to, no matter how we identify.
Showbiz is about storytelling...and in my case, also about making people laugh. I'd like to see more gatekeepers of the industry see us as just the same as they see everyone else. To me, that's equality. I don't want to be referred to as transgender actor Murray Hill. But just me, Murray.
I started performing as Murray twenty-five years ago with the mission to exist and persist in mainstream and queer communities and to raise the level of awareness and visibility for guys like me. There was such an imbalance of representation that I made a promise to myself I wouldn't give up until I could spread the word on a larger level.
My career has been based on what I said to myself in the mirror in 1996: "If you don't see yourself represented, then go out and represent yourself." For those actors who don't feel seen, don't wait for people in the industry to see you. Make yourself known! And to folks in the industry: Take a chance on us, all of us, and you'll see our stories are just as valid and valuable and entertaining.
So, twenty-five years later, I broke through that glass ceiling. I'm here now, albeit eligible for AARP benefits. I guess I don't need an ice pack, but a double-shot espresso, because there is a lot more work to do and I'm just getting started! Showbiz!
Murray Hill is a comedian and actor on Somebody Somewhere (HBO), Life & Beth (Hulu), Welcome to Flatch (FOX)
The statements and viewpoints expressed in the article above are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions or viewpoints of the Television Academy, the Television Academy Foundation, or their members, officers, directors, employees, or sponsors.