James Rose (they/them) is a broadway actor, writer, and social media influencer with platforms on Instagram and Tik Tok. As an educator on Instagram, James has used the power of their following to raise awareness in the following topics: inclusive sex education, nonbinary 101, decriminalizing sex work, tackling diet culture, amplifying trans and nonbinary voices rather than speaking over them, Black Lives Matter and colorism, gender as a social construct and spectrum, and the transphobic use of the word ‘womxn.’
AT: How does your acting career relate to your social media presence?
JR: I always wanted to be an actor. I like how stories connect people to experiences they don’t have. For me, it's not about the glamor of the industry, the fame, or celebrity status; it's always been about being a storyteller. Being a storyteller somehow grounds my body and pushes me through the joy, pain, and trauma all at once. Social media is a big part of my life though I'm very new to it; a year ago, I had 5,000 followers, I was somebody who had a little bit of traction here and there, and now here we are. Through storytelling, I can share who I am and whose stories need to be heard more.
AT: What inspired your work as an LGBTQ activist?
JR: My identity almost requires me to be an activist. Nobody genders me correctly or knows the necessity of what it means to be trans and needing to be respected in all spaces. Pronouns aren’t an immediate thought to everyone; other people look at pronouns as an activity, I look at it as survival. Being an activist is a form of survival. I did not have the language growing up to give myself the freedom of who I was. I needed space to feel respected, affirmed, and supported. My environment conditioned me to be who they thought was acceptable. My then-community would say, 'you make sense to me, but nonbinary-ism doesn’t make sense.' Perhaps one day, I'll understand being misunderstood. But there's a difference between being misunderstood in daily interactions and at the core of my being. I exist at a privileged intersection of my identity. I am assigned a privilege that is misgendering. People offer me male benefits because of my facial hair and Addams apple. I am given male privilege even when I'm not a man at all. If people listen to me because they see me as a man, they shouldn’t listen to me. If I speak about trans youth and gender inequality, and trans violence, it makes the world a little safer for everyone else.
AT: Do you believe a system can change from the inside (representatives/elected officials), or must it be changed from the outside (grassroots movement, non-profits, people as a community)?
JR: There are so many complex systems at play in our society. Both changes, internal and external, are needed, but I don’t think both of them are the complete answer. This system is so screwed up that we have to wreck it and build it from the bottom up. We call things now by new names, but they are still the same issues we had 200 years ago. I don’t think we can fix [these issues] with a broken system. Congressional representation is essential, but we need an overhaul of that. We need those who an unjust society has drastically impacted at the forefront of lawmaking. But the systems are inherently flawed. What can we do right now? Engage in our local communities. Engage in mutual aid.
AT: What does social justice/advocacy mean to you?
JR: An innate responsibility to make the world a safer place. Social justice, to me, is an intangible concept where our society is socially fair. It's a constant process and practice. It's constantly changing what we have learned by the patriarchy and white supremacy. It's amplifying the voices of marginalized people. Ask yourself these questions: Who am I advocating for? Whose voice am I making sure gets heard? DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is not the most helpful framework because all it asks is, 'does this look diverse?' Honestly, anything can look diverse. But, it's about whose missing, whose not here, using tools to platform people who don’t have the same privileges.
AT: What advice would you give to youth who are struggling with their gender and sexuality?
JR: What you feel is real. You are the expert in your experience in gender; you are the only one who can decide what labels are appropriate because you are you. That is your truth. You never have to come out; you don’t have to give yourself the label; you don't have to go through that emotional wreckage. Some people feel euphoria when coming out, but the reality is that that is not always the case. Coming out made it easier to live with myself but harder to live in society. But it's a catch 22 because it's so much harder to lie to yourself about who you are. Your gender is a work of art. You don't have to share it with anybody, but it will narrow down the people you consider friends if you do. Your queerness doesn't make you unlovable. I want young people to know that you don’t have to be an activist. It is not your full burden to bear. There are people who are doing the work so you can live as fully as possible. You deserve unbound love and joy.
AT: What advice would you give to your younger self?
JR: I would tell myself that my relationship with my dad will get better. I wouldn’t say everything turns out okay because it doesn’t, and I think younger me would laugh. I would also tell my younger self to sleep more and that they have an eating disorder in high school, and that my grades don’t matter. I would tell my inner child that I'm sorry because there were many times I stifled my own self-expression because I felt unsafe. I did what I needed to do to survive in Florida and not be annihilated. I would say I'm sorry to the little kid who ran around wearing long skirts and heels. I would say that I'm sorry because I'm unpacking now how that affected me.
AT: Any last thoughts you want to share?
JR: Yes! The queer narrative in the media centers around white, wealthy, cis-gender, gay guys and girls. The media pushes aside the most marginalized queer population (trans folk, people of color, immigrant queers). And I can't wait to see a movie with queer characters that isn't about being queer; I want to see a film where they simply exist and live and share joy. Not every LGBTQ+ movie has to be about coming out; there's more to us than that.
Instagram handle: @jamesissmiling