â€ťHello, itâ€™s me.â€ť The feminine voice purrs softly.
I always like it when my interview subjects are prepared for my call, but none have ever greeted me so informally. Just as Iâ€™m about to reply, she continues. â€śIâ€™m either on my motorcycle or in class right now. So leave me a message.â€ť
I do as directed, wondering if Iâ€™ve gotten the wrong number. I try to imagine Calpernia Addams maneuvering a motorcycle through the streets of LA. Instead I conjure up an image of the raven-haired actress lounging pin-up style across the spine of a bike. Before I can worry about my perverted mind, I remember I saw the picture on her home page.
When she calls back a moment later, I learn that her answering machine message is just a hint to Addamsâ€™ complexities. Thirty-four-year-old Addams is a biker chick attending classes, a Hollywood actress more likely to be called for her expertise than for a role, and a woman best known for enduring personal tragedy who considers herself â€śan old-fashioned funny southern girl.â€ť
Addams is also a former Marine, a Gulf War veteran and the showgirl of Soliderâ€™s Girl title. That 2003 film portrayed the real-life murder of Barry Winchell, a soldier who was beaten to death with a baseball bat by fellow recruits whoâ€™d discovered that his girlfriend, Calpernia, was a transsexual.
Soldierâ€™s Girl also served as Addams entrĂ©e into Hollywood.
â€śIt was a terrible way to get on the path to my dreams.â€ť Addams says, acknowledging the persistent grief over Winchellâ€™s tragic death. â€śSoldierâ€™s Girl kind of put me on a track that was parallel to my dream but actually a completely separate thing.â€ť
Rather than furthering her acting career, Soldierâ€™s Girl provided Addams with the first of many opportunities to consult on a film or television project containing a transgender character. The filmâ€™s screenplay was based in part on Addamsâ€™ autobiography, Mark 947: A Life Shaped by God, Gender and Force of will.
After she had sex reassignment surgery, Addams moved from Nashville to Chicago in 2002. There she met trans activist and ad executive, trans woman, Andrea James who founded the website TSroadmap.com to guide transsexual women through their transition. It wasnâ€™t long before the two women became business partners, initially developing a video training transgender women how to raise their voices to a more feminine pitch.
â€śThat took off,â€ť Addams explains. â€ś And it sort of formed the bedrock for Deep Stealth.â€ť Deep stealth is slang describing those who pass completely in their chosen gender without their trans-identity being suspected. (Think Billy Tiptonâ€”the jazz musician who performed, lived and married as a man but was revealed in death to be biologically female).
Admitting that the moniker may seem an odd choice for a company that publicizes transgender lives, Addams explains. â€śWe also think having the tools to be able to assimilate as well as possible is a valuable thing, so Deep Stealth kind of nods to that as well.â€ť
In addition to consulting on television shows like CSI, Deep Stealth (deepstealth.com) has completed filming a short comedy film, Casting Pearls, which they hope will be ready for the 2006 festival season.
â€śCasting Pearls shows a trans actress going on a series of auditions. Each different audition shows sort of a different experience that Iâ€™ve had on a real audition. Or a different horrible thing that somebody has said.â€ť
In the meantime, Addams and James are enjoying the attention theyâ€™ve received around the Oscar-nominated film Transamerica. Deep Stealth was brought on by director Duncan Tucker early in the creative process to perfect the story of a pre-op transwoman on a cross-country road trip with the son she just met.
â€śThe director sent Andrea and me the script and asked us to go over it page by page and to sort of say this doesnâ€™t ring true, or this does; or even down to [minute things like] this medication is spelled wrong. And Felicity [Huffman] called and she came over to our house and talked to us and worked with us on her voice and things like that. That was amazing, getting to work with an actress of her caliber.â€ť
Addams says she defends the casting of Huffman, a biological woman, in the role of transsexual Bree.
â€śI think the best thing about the film to me is the lead character Bree, because she is a likeable human being that audiences will find sympathetic and enjoy watching. And thatâ€™s really the kind of trans portrayal that I think we need to see.â€ť She pauses before adding, â€śAs opposed to the prostitutes, punch lines and psychos.â€ť
FTM writer Jacob Anderson-Minshall can be reached at email@example.com.