This is the sixth feature in a series that aims to elevate some of the transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals who have played a significant role in the ongoing fight for trans and queer liberation. Check out the previous features with CeCe McDonald, Kate Bornstein, Laura Jane Grace, Buck Angel and Calpernia Addams.
Ts Madison is an entertainer, entrepreneur, former adult actress and transgender woman whose work and visibility has reshaped the way that the public conceptualizes transgender and gender-nonconforming identities and experiences.
Roughly three years ago, Madison rocketed to viral fame due to her massive following on Vine and, in particular, a clip called "New Weave 22 Inches," which showcased her naked body -- a body that didn't fit into traditional notions of gender presentation and disrupted a mainstream binary understanding of gender identity, as well as its ties to genitalia.
Since utilizing social media channels as massive platforms to complicate how many people think about trans identity, Madison has grown as both an activist and entertainer, most recently working with RuPaul on his latest album.
Unapologetic regarding her roots as a sex worker and her outspoken worldview when it comes to the intersection of trans people and the general public, Madison is an important voice for what she calls "people that identify as 'real people.'" The Huffington Post recently chatted with Madison about the role sex and sexuality play for trans people in transitioning, her own personal journey as an entertainer and how technology can help to elevate historically silenced voices.
The Huffington Post: To start, tell me a bit about your journey, the platform that you've developed and the work that you do.
Ts Madison: I’m Ts Madison and I am an entertainer. My background happens to be in the adult entertainment industry, which I am unapologetic for and unashamed of because I think what we have done in America with trans people is we have omitted the actual, "real" trans people that started this stuff. [A large number] of transgender women have came through the sex industry circuit. I happen to be one of those girls and I turned my job into a brand -- I branded myself as owning my own adult entertainment business, owning my own production company, owning the rights to my imagery, my brand, my name -- I was the machine behind myself. I’m proud of that because there are times that girls get involved in the adult entertainment business and they are the puppet instead of the puppeteer. And they’re not able to take control of their career or their lives and say, “OK, well I’ve done this.” Because I can say to you now -- “I’ve done that, I did that.” And that’s something I’m still making money off of even when I’m not in that anymore.
I’ve moved on to music and I’m a hostess, a philanthropist, a vlogger and I have a huge fan base that has had the opportunity to grow with me. They've had the opportunity to transition with me. They’ve been there since the time when I was an adult actress and then became a business owner and now I’m a writer and all of these things. So I’d say, whole heartedly, that Ts Madison is an entertainer.
I have a huge fan base that has had the opportunity to grow with me. They've had the opportunity to transition with me.
Earlier in this series I interviewed Buck Angel and he talked a lot about the role that sex and sexuality plays in transitioning for trans people. What kind of role have they played for you and how important do you think sex is to the ongoing process of transitioning?
Well, the first thing that people really are introduced to growing up is their gender identity. You identify with what you feel like on the inside but you also have to look at your genitalia. So with sexuality you have to be aware of a penis and a vagina and you have to be aware of the way creation works. You have to be aware of that. And I think that it’s so important that we don’t hide these things from children and we openly speak about it and openly educate people on it because it's the way that we all are created.
Now, after creation there comes identity. After you’ve been created it comes to growing and evolving into who you actually are. And I don’t think the penis or vagina identifies exactly who you are -- it’s who you are inside that identifies who you are. And I think that sexuality and gender identity and all of these things grow you into becoming the individual that you are supposed to be. I’m gonna tell you this and I can honestly say this to you openly, I have had sex in my life -- and we all have had sex in our lives, whatever -- but I can go tomorrow and not have sex anymore and I am still a woman. I’m still a trans woman. I’m still A WOMAN. Sex and sexuality does not define me -- it lets me know where I came from and who I was but I became who I am.
I know you initially built a large part of your brand through your Vine following. What role do you feel like technology has played in your personal development as an activist and entertainer and how do you think technology has changed the way queer people connect and develop community with each other?
Technology has placed queer people in a realm where we should’ve been twenty years ago.
Right. I completely agree.
It has placed our voices, it has placed our appearances, it has placed our experiences in an arena where nobody was looking it at it before. No one was paying it any attention until social media came around and then they saw all of these silent voices that were out there speaking out and not getting any television play, didn’t get any write-ups in the newspapers -- the only thing you saw on TV [before social media] was a man in drag being murdered. Or you saw in the newspaper a homosexual beaten and killed. You didn’t see that we actually lived lives outside of danger. You didn’t know that we were successful individuals -- you didn’t know there were doctors and lawyers and teachers and business owners. I think that one of society’s first encounters with [queerness] on a massive scale, I don’t want to say it was with me but – it was with me [laughs]. I was on social media and I was exposed nude and people were going crazy because some people had never seen it or cared to see it and it popped up on their timeline and the world went crazy.
I think the first time I ever saw you was the viral “22 Inches” Vine.
That’s right! The world went crazy after that and I think that it drew them in because there were people that had never seen breasts and a penis! They’d never seen that! And they didn’t even know it existed because, hey, they weren’t gonna watch a porno, or their parents aren’t going to talk about it, you know? And I think the technology reaches an audience of people now that matter – like the youth. The youth are so tuned into their phones and their iPads and all of that -- Instagram, Twitter -- it’s important. It’s a gift and a curse.
Technology has placed queer people in a realm where we should’ve been twenty years ago.
I’d like to shift gears a little bit and talk about your role as an entertainer. Calpernia Addams was a part of this series and she talked a bit about gay bars and queer spaces as places where entertainers can evolve into their authentic selves. I want to read you this quote from her: “I’ve always said that the stages of gay show bars are one of the only places in the world that a chubby loudmouthed effeminate boy could become a star and even a sex object. One of the only places a skeletally thin, lisping sissy could become a drop dead gorgeous bombshell. I took as much of that magic as I could, and made myself from it.” How important have gay bars and queer spaces been to your development as an entertainer, if at all?
Gay bars and queer spaces were the first places that kind of accepted me when I exploded on the social media scene because, you know, there were people upset that I had exposed the world to “wild transsexuals.” And I began my rise in the club scene and people started to come out -- they started to come out not to see me with my clothes off but to see me with my clothes on and actually hear what I had to say. It gave me more of a platform and more of a connecting highway because who I’m filling in these clubs with now are not gay people – I’m filling in these clubs with straight people! Couples!
People are coming out because they want to be in the presence of Ts Madison – they’ve allowed Ts Madison to speak to them about having fun, having safe sex and also about the dangers and the issues that are actually going on inside of our community. And they are taking away from that club night the good time and probably going home and having some good sex, but getting up the next morning and saying, “I love Madison and I did not know that trans people or gay people or gender-nonconforming people actually had it as bad as they did. Because I didn’t care at one point. But now I care! I came out to the club and had a good time with this girl and she let me know in that little 15 or 20 minutes of whatever time she had on the stage -- she informed me about a life that I had no idea about.”
Often when someone ends up in the public eye they’re often automatically expected to be a role model for whatever community they've come up out of. Do you feel that pressure? Do you think that’s fair? Do you worry about having to the represent “the trans community”?
I do think that it is unfair that once you become a celebrity, a “translebrity,” a public figure, that you automatically have the weight of trying to represent an entire community on your back. But I also think that is is imperative once you are given that kind of exposure and have fame of that nature that you [do something with it] -- because society only gives us so many [people who can be that]. They only give us a few people. So I think that if you’re one of the chosen few, it is your responsibility to try and keep some of the negative stigma down. This is why I had to go and I clean my brand up. I had to do it. Because it’s important when you have millions of people watching you that you don’t have them watching you destroy or you don’t have them watching you fuel those negative thoughts that they had about an entire community -- because you are looked as the entire community. It’s not fair – but that’s what you are looked at: as the entire community. And you have to scale back and keep in mind, ok ma'am or sir, I know that I don’t speak for all. But people are LOOKING at me as if I speak for all. So I’m going to be me but I’m also not going to do a lot of things because it’s bigger than me.
I think that is very wise. I have one last question for you – when you think about everything that we’ve discussed, particularly in terms of the idea of representation, what do you want your legacy to be?
Ts Madison has already changed the world. Already in a three-year span, I’ve restructured the way that even Vine allows you to place things on social media now -- they police stuff now and they weren’t doing it before. And I’ve also evolved so many different times in three years and the people following me have evolved with me. I’ve seen that I’ve touched countless lives and inspired people to go after their dreams. So I think what’s in Ts Madison’s future is a brand almost as influential as RuPaul or Oprah – I see it coming.
I’m doing more music because music has no sexuality, it has no gender. Lyrics and voice in music has an effect on generations to come thereafter. I’m also going after television roles and working in reality TV. My goal is to actually have a talk show somewhat structured around the Wendy Williams Show.
I want to use my voice, my influence and my unapologetic character to be that other side that people – people that identify with themselves as “real people” can relate to.
Check Huffington Post Gay Voices regularly for further conversations with other significant and historic trans and gender-nonconforming figures. Missed the first three interviews in this series? Check out the conversations with CeCe McDonald, Kate Bornstein, Laura Jane Grace, Buck Angel and Calpernia Addams.