Fuse's groundbreaking reality series Transcendent has introduced us to the colorful cast of women from the transgender-owned and operated cabaret and restaurant AsiaSF. The group is depicted as a sisterhood of radically open and vivacious trans women who help and support each other as a queer family.
We sat down with Nya and LA for a chat about trans visibility, the world of AsiaSF, and reality TV regrets. Check out the conversation below!
Can you describe AsiaSF?
LA: AsiaSF is like a cabaret/restaurant/club. You can't just walk in. You have to make a reservation. There's pan-Asian fusion, you watch the show, you have a good time, you watch all the girls on the stage. It's a whole experience! One of the best parts of the show is that your servers are all transgender women. You don't get that in a normal restaurant. You get to know the girls, you have to be very respectful. For most people, it's not everyday you get to see a trans woman. Being at AsiaSF helps people understand who we are. We are proud transgender women. We're here to share our story, we're here to share our story to the world.
LA of Fuse's "Transcendent"
What drew you to AsiaSF? How did you get involved with the girls?
LA: One of my best friends introduced me to Nya. This was before I started anything, before I started my transition. I didn't know what AsiaSF was at the time -- I was very very very innocent. When they first took me to Asia they showed me such a wonderful time and they treated me so special. They gave me food, showed me the dancers, got me drunk. We had a really good time. I wouldn't say I'm involved in the whole scene, I don't work at AsiaSF yet. I just go there cause it's a place where I'm at home and where I feel comfortable. It's a place of no judgement. All the girls are family to me.
Nya: I was always a dancer. I knew I was a dancer since I was in the third grade. At AsiaSF all of the servers were performers, and they just happened to be trans. It was a place I could be myself and do what I love to do. It was intriguing to me. I was 19, and at that time this kind of place was unheard of. I've been working there since then!
How was the process of filming the show for you?
LA: Well, at first for me it was so overwhelming. I really just had no clue. But in the end, I'm just always me. I have a “I don't give a bleep personality." My parents taught me to do whatever makes me happy as long as I'm not stepping on anyone's feet. So the whole experience was a blessing to me. Everyday I would wake up and be like “Oh my god, this is really happening.” The one moment that made me open my eyes was when we started doing photoshoots and I started seeing myself on billboards. And I'd be like, “is this real? Slap me in the face!”
Nya: It was very interesting. It's a lot of work! A lot of people don't understand how hard it can be to just put yourself out there and be completely vulnerable. Not everybody is going to agree with who we are. Not everyone's going to accept us. It can be quite scary.
There's been a lot of discussion about the extent to which trans narratives focus on transition. How was talking about your transition in public?
LA: I always am coming from an educational standpoint. My goal in this whole journey is that I wish to inspire everybody. It's not just the whole LGBT movement. The show hopefully teaches everybody to be themselves. Everyone should have that privilege. In a way it was hard [to talk about all of these things] but I'm doing this for that one person I might be inspiring. Like, the “next generation” … but I guess I am part of the next generation too. I told myself “Ok girl, you're doing this. You're not doing this just for you, you're doing it for others.” I just want everyone to relate to my story. Because if I can touch one soul or one person, that's everything to me.
Nya: I think it depends on the individual. I don't think that people are going to understand someone going through a transition unless people see it. I know that I was watching somebody talking about labels, and they were like, “We need labels to help people understand.” Hopefully one day we won't need labels, but for now we do. That's why we have the word cisgender now. That's very new; I've only heard the word in the past three or four years. I'm ignorant about some things too, and it's OK for people to be ignorant as long as people are willing to learn. So, I think that if someone is willing to share their story, the media should also be very respectful of the risk they are taking by being so open. Transitioning is one of the hardest times in someone's life, and it's an honor for someone to let you in. People aren't going to learn unless someone lets them know what's going on.
Nya from Fuse's TV show 'Transcendent'
How do you feel about the media attention given to trans people nowadays? Is it progressive?
LA: I think it's amazing, epecially for us. Out of nowhere: five girls. Five trans women. Who are we? The fact that people don't know us and that they get to see our stories, it makes us more relatable. It gives people strength and courage to be brave and confident. It allows people to say “It's time for me to take action. It's time to get out of my shell.” I really believe that there's progress. It's not going to happen overnight but change is going to happen. It's only just begun!
Nya: Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Carmen Carrera. I've been lucky to meet all of these ladies and I think they're all a great inspiration. I think visibility of trans people is necessary. People might say we're not good representations of the trans community, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But people need to know that not all trans people are cookie cutter. There are different types of trans women all over the world. Just because we're not the same doesn't mean that we don't deserve to be respected.
So many reality stars regret their TV experiences. Is there anything you'd change about yours?
LA: I'm loving every single part of the journey. All five of us, we just have fun with it. At the same time, we love being ourselves. We're ready to share our stories. There's no shame in our games. That's what makes us relatable: we're all very organic. We don't give a f*ck! We're just being who we are!
Nya: I wouldn't change it for the world. Even though we had fun doing it, there's still a lot of worry about how the world is going to perceive us and how they're going to take it all in. But, the reaction has been good so far. A lot of people who know me very well are actually learning about me for the first time. When we're at AsiaSF, we look like we're on. We always look like we're strong and confident women, and yes, we are -- but even people who know us don't know that we struggle, too. It's not always glitz and glam all the time. But it's our job. We're like everybody else. We have struggles. We have bills to pay.
Tell me more about your relationship with the other girls.
LA: My relationship with the other girls was really effortless. Especially with Nya. We've known each other for six or seven years now. You wouldn't have even recognized me then. Even with all the other girls. It's just so easy. With them, I'm so thankful. They took me under their armpits! Under their wings, I mean! They were not only teachers -- at the end of the day we're sisters. It's not about the drama for us. It's about family. A dysfunctional family, yes! But a family. No relationship is perfect, we're five hormonal women. It's amazing to have a support system like that. Especially for me, because it's not easy to transition.
Nya: AsiaSF has been open for over 18 years now. There are some girls who have been there for 18 years. I do feel like I mother some of the newer girls, but some girls have mothered me. We're a sisterhood. We're a family.
Check out the 'Transcendent' family below! The season finale airs Wednesday, Nov. 4.