Michelle Hendley

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Photo by Kyle Devlin
Photo by Kyle Devlin

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]roundbreaker.” “First-rate.” “Superlative debut performance.” The critics have sung the praises for actress Michelle Hendley for her luminous appearance in the quirky dreamy film, Boy Meets Girl. Move over Caitlyn Jenner—another trans woman is transcending!

Michelle gives a tender and brilliant performance. She even bares all. Bold girl. A native of Columbia, Missouri, the twenty-three-year-old will be moving to New York City to continue her acting career. “I’m looking forward to auditions and getting into the grind. It’s all very exciting and super nerve racking, but I think it will all work out fine. I got this.”

After attending Truman State University for one year as an art major, Michelle decided to enroll in cosmetology school. Currently, she works by day as a hairstylist and by night, the ambitious “Show Me State” resident delivers pizza! Over the past several years, Michelle has documented her captivating

Illustration by Davidd Batalon
Illustration by Davidd Batalon

journey on her YouTube channel. Don’t miss it. Through it all, she’s had the support of family and friends.

Michelle is in town for a few days and we take a day trip from Los Angeles to Farm Sanctuary, a non-profit animal rescue group. We kibitz while sitting at a sun-baked picnic table under large trees in the intimate entrance area. The majestic Sierra Pelona Mountains dot the background. We finish the tour after meeting and greeting pigs, lambs, cows, and chickens.

Ruby Comer: What a beguiling place! Those animals are so damn cute. [Michelle heartily nods.] I think I made a friend with one of the lambs. Really. Michelle, as you know, I absolutely loved your performance in Boy Meets Girl—so much so that I’ve watched the film twice! [She graciously beams.] Tell me, what was your favorite scene?
Michelle Hendley:
[She instantly responds.] Definitely the car scene with “Robby”! Michael [Welch) and I were able to play off one another really well, and it made for some incredible takes.

I can’t believe you guys shot that entire film in just two weeks! Shocking. What was your overall experience on the shoot?
An absolute privilege, Ruby. The cast was nice, talented, and most genuine. They were so willing to help out and throw me a few tips here and there. We all had fantastic chemistry on and off set.

I love that outdoor scene, more than half way through the film, between your character, Ricky, and David [Michael Galante], where he wrestles you to the ground in anger, revealing a secret—no spoiler alert here! What was it like shooting that scene and how many takes did you do?
Oh, I love it too. My favorite part was how, in that moment, Ricky didn’t have to hold back. She told David to fuck off. Like hiding their secret wasn’t enough, he had the audacity to confront her and try to pull some crap. She throws it right back in his face. Her life is in turmoil, and this man isn’t going to add more flames to her fire.

Like most of the scenes in the movie, we shot it fairly quickly. We only needed to practice how he was going to push me and how I was going to fall.

Divine! Did you get especially close to anyone while filming?
All of us still try to keep in contact, but I’ve seen Alex [Alexandra Turshen] whenever I visit New York. She’s very much my big sister in this industry.

Say, what comes to mind when I say the word “AIDS”?
The stigma those who are diagnosed must live with every day. People can be cruel.

How so?
People fear what they don’t understand, and when they’re afraid they lash out. For the longest time, HIV and AIDS was considered a “gay disease.” Science has progressed and there’s more information out there, but the stigma still lingers. [She stops to pet a furry grey cat that has brushed alongside her leg.] A couple of friends of mine live with the disease.

When did you first hear about the epidemic?
When I was in the sixth grade. We learned about sexually transmitted diseases.

According to the CDC, there is a high rate of infection within the trans community….
It does not surprise me. Many trans people live in exile and are left homeless and without employment. Such conditions often lead to an especially difficult life.

Any idea how we can reach out more to trans people, or for that matter anyone, about HIV prevention?
We need to continue providing sexual health education in our schools. By informing our children, we can better prepare them for adulthood. As far as reaching out to trans people in particular, I think the trans community must be acknowledged as a valued part of society before change can be made.

Excellent point, Missy. When we met at the premiere of Boy Meets Girl, you mentioned that you hadn’t been involved with the HIV community yet but would like to.
Yes. [Michelle looks off a moment, eyeing the pomegranate-colored bougainvillea that lines the parking lot.] At some point I’d like to work with Broadway Cares. I’ve heard some wonderful things about them.


 

Broadway Cares is an iconic organization! Maybe you’ll land a Broadway show and be in their annual Broadway Bares. You’ve been naked once for the masses—let’s do it again! [She smirks, stares at me playfully then hiccups in a succession of giggles.] At what age did you know you were trans and what has it been like for you?
I suppose I have always known I was trans, but I didn’t always know its name. I used to pretend every single day that I was a girl. I remember imagining myself with a long ponytail in gym class when I was in the first grade. I would change my outfit throughout the day: a jumper at recess, a ball gown for the classroom. It was those secret pretend games that got me through the day before I could go home to be with my dolls and dress-up clothes. [She takes an extended breath.] Later in high school I heard the word “transgender” for the first time. I initially resisted believing that the word described me, but I just kept thinking about it over and over until it really made sense.

How did you come out?
I first came out to my friends around the age of eighteen, and they were all totally cool with it. I officially came out as trans to my parents a year later. I was fairly certain they would be supportive and understanding. I was less optimistic when it came to the rest of my family, but as it turned out they were also very supportive and accommodating to my new found identity. In fact, nobody was surprised to hear that I identified as a woman. [Michelle pleasantly sighs.] I am so very fortunate to have so much love in my life. I could not have asked for a better family.

Thank your lucky stars—and kudos to them! Michelle, when did you first get tested?
Right after my first sexual encounter. I think I was eighteen. I’m kind of a late bloomer. [She shrugs, chuckles, and gently rolls her expressive browns to and fro.] I make a point to get checked whenever I have an impromptu sexual encounter, or if I’m starting a relationship. Just as a sign of good faith, you know?

Right-oh. Tell me, do you always have protected sex?
Not with long-term boyfriends, but hook-ups for sure! I like to get checked together before we have sex. Even if we are both certain we are negative, it’s nice to see on paper that neither of us was wrong.

Photo courtesy M. Hendley
Photo courtesy M. Hendley

Now when you date someone, when do you tell them you’re trans?
That is information I prefer to get out on the table prior to the first date. I don’t care to waste my time with guys who won’t be cool with my situation.

What’s the most challenging thing right now for you being transgender?
Personally, I want to make sure I am representing my community as a transgender actress in a positive and informative light. We are witnessing a trans revolution with our greater visibility. It’s so important that we educate and bring attention to trans issues.

Any final thoughts about the epidemic, before we go over to the barn and pet that three-month-old calf? I can’t stand it. He’s so a..dor..a..ble!
I think a lot of misconceptions about the epidemic have been nullified with the advent of the Internet. The more information we can share about the epidemic—and those affected by the disease—the better off we’ll all be.


 

Follow Michelle Hendley on Twitter @chellehendley.


 

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].