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Actress Mya Taylor On Self Belief

I'm sitting in the smart lobby of The Mayfair Hotel as a 24-year-old woman sashays through the corridors towards me. She’s wearing furs and a tight-fitting leather pencil skirt, throwing a pout and stare that would make Naomi Campbell proud.

This is Mya Taylor, star of the recent film Tangerine. Directed by newcomer Sean Baker, the movie is a comedy drama about two transgender sex workers in South Central LA. It was largely street-cast, produced on a shoestring budget and shot on an iPhone (and feels all the more authentic for it.)

Taylor is familiar with South Central LA; just over three years ago, she was working its streets herself. She’d escaped an abusive family in Texas, but found South Central just as hostile; men had tried to rape her in their cars, she’d been shot at, and beaten up badly.

Mya was born Jeremiah Taylor, but has since began transitioning. Having been open and – at times, downright hilarious – about her experiences since Tangerine hit cinemas, Mya has fast become a role model for people undergoing gender transition the world over.

Here, she tells Refinery29 about the latest chapter in her remarkable life.
Tangerine, 2015
How did Sean Baker, the film’s director, approach you about the role?
He bought me some food in Jack In The Box, my local [fast food] joint. I always had acting in the back of my mind, and Sean was very sincere about me being part of the film. I loved his personality. I couldn't say no to this opportunity.

What did you want to express about your life, through the film?
I told Sean I wanted to make something real and funny. I wanted to show people the LA I know, what it really is – not all glamour, not just Beverly Hills. I decided to do something I could love, to give it everything. Never, ever, did I think it would make me a kind of star.

What stage of your transition were you at for the film?
When I did my transition in the movie, I wore big shades, and I would always make sure I was fully clothed, because my body didn’t look like this. You could just tell I was still a man on the outside. You see from the film... you saw what my face looked like.

When did you first realise you were a woman?
I grew up in Texas, and there was a person in my family who was transgender. But I never thought anything of it. I thought she was just a woman. I remembered the past, when she was a man, and then how she came back a few years later as a full girl. I didn’t think anything of it because I don’t be caring of other people’s business. I’ve always been like that.

What stage are you at in your transition now?
It takes about five years for the hormones to do all they’re going to do, so I have another two years. I’ll be even more feminine the next time you see me.

How hard is it on your body?
I take a drug that stops my body from producing testosterone. You need testosterone, but I want to be feminine, so I need oestrogen. I take 6mg of oestrogen a day. Women, you know the real women, they create 4mg of oestrogen a day, so I’m taking half as much more than they produce. And then I take prometrium, which is for breast development and hips. All this stuff, my hips, my boobs, are real.

What’s your advice to someone beginning a transition?
Take hormones, eat a lot of food, drink a lot of water and don’t do surgeries right away. And the reason I say that is - you see some transexuals who look like a gerbil, and that’s not cute. Or getting silicone implants in their body - that’s not healthy. I tell people to take their time with their transition, to look after their body so you can see the results.

What didn’t you anticipate?
How much you can eat. I eat a lot. Women are softer. By eating, I’m gaining fat, and my prometrium takes that fat and puts it in the correct spot. So I can pretty much eat what I want and I’ll still get smaller in my waist.

Do you think children are forced to grow up along heterosexual or gender conformative lines?
Yes, I do. I want to say: parents, pay attention to your kids, so you know if they’re different or not. Nobody should be labelled.

The people in your life before this film – how have they responded to your new experiences?
They do understand it. I narrowed down all the people in my life to all the people I really need in my life. I got rid of all the people who are really bad for me, because I don’t need them to be in my life. So the people around me accept me and support me and uplift me.

What did you learn on the streets?
I learnt to not trust everybody!

What would you say to the Mya back then?
To come from everything I went through, and to be here? I would tell her about being shot at, about a family member trying to stab me. I would tell her about being abused when I was growing up, being beaten all the time, of always being scared to come home from school.

I was a good kid, I would do all my chores. I got dinner on the table and I would always finish first. I’d start cleaning up the kitchen; my parents never had to tell me to do anything, because I knew I would get my ass beat. I still have some of the bruises and scars on my legs from that. My grandfather would beat me with his fist, and I can remember the first time I had to fight him to get him off me.

I use those scars now. I look at them in the mirror in the morning. They’re inspiration for me.