MBS: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
AS: My name is Alex Slim and it isn’t short for anything else. My full name is Alex Randy Slim, which my mother gave me the middle name “Randy” after my grandpa Randy. My dad named me after Alex Van Halen, who is one of the brothers from the Van Halen rock band. I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I attended Santa Fe University of Art & Design — SFUAD — where I studied Theatre and graduated in 2018 with my Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree. I have studied Improv; performed in two sessions of STEAM — the student improv team — at the Box Theatre; performed in sketch comedy shows; written and performed my own stand-up comedy; written three plays that were produced and directed; starred in one student film, “What’s Next,” directed by Kevin Brennan as well as written, directed, and starred in my own short film called “A Drunk’s Tale.” I am a Navajo — Diné [pronounced as dee-n/e/] — and I’m a transgender woman.
MBS: What is your life experience like as a trans woman? As a Native trans woman in New Mexico? And how has your journey through transition been for you?
AS: My experience as a transgender woman has been a mix of normal, sad, and scary. Living life as a trans Native in Albuquerque, in Santa Fe, in high school, and in college is in no way easy. I’m a passable trans woman, meaning I register as a cis-gender woman to most people who encounter me. I look like a woman, sound like a woman, and am treated like a woman — so I haven’t been treated well. My “coming out” story isn’t interesting at all. It wasn’t dramatic or grand. I remember when I was 10, sitting in a closet with my sister — who was eight at the time. We were hiding from our parents, trying to avoid doing our chores. I told her, “I feel like a girl.” My sister said, “Alex, I don’t see you as a boy...you should do what makes you happy. It’s not going to be easy but I’ll be here for you. [Just] don’t wear my clothes.” It’s a good thing I didn’t promise anything because I wear her blue sweater all the time. She was the only person who was there for me since I began my transition and she has been supportive of me during my own experience with womanhood. The rest of my family didn’t care. They still use male pronouns when talking to me or about me. I give them a free pass because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
My parents weren’t very supportive of me. I am family so they still helped me out whenever I needed it but I wasn’t raised as a girl, and my parents didn’t see me as a woman. My dad passed away in February of 2019, which took a significant toll on me. I do have two half siblings on my dad’s side of the family — Devin is the eldest and then there’s my sister Charmaine. My parents raised three kids together: my older brother Corey, I’m the middle child, and my sister Camille is the youngest. My parents are both Navajo and Christian, although my mom isn’t very religious anymore. But my dad was very much Baptist. My transition is considered an insult to the Navajo way because women are sacred — it is a matriarch belief system — and if there is no uterus then you don’t have an opinion. My dad was homophobic, sexist, and old school. He grew up on the reservation in the 70s and that was just how people treated queers. But anyone on the reservation — especially at the time — had bigger problems to worry about than homophobia. My mom grew up in Albuquerque in the 70s, and her glory days were in the 80s when she was still in high school. She was a rocker 80s chick but she wasn’t really around queer people. She didn’t know how to talk to me, so we always argue like mothers and daughters do.
“My sister said, ‘Alex, I don’t see you as a boy...you should do what makes you happy.’”
My dad made the entire rainbow — Devin is my dad’s gay son, I’m his trans daughter, my sister Camille is his little pansexual baby girl, my sister Charmaine is straight and then there was his favorite buddy, Corey, the only other straight male. I didn’t grow up with Devin or Charmaine. Charmaine has Down Syndrome and she required special care so I only saw her occasionally. Devin stayed with us from time to time but he wasn’t always there — it was just Corey, Camille and I. Devin, Corey, and my dad were all homophobic and transphobic. Corey would bully me verbally. He would beat me up and just be downright cruel to my sister and I for being our true selves. Devin hates gays — [despite being so himself] — but he hates trans people more. He was psychologically abusive and used to try to push me to commit suicide. My family was never very understanding and that’s just an example of how people treat queers, even when they’re family. I still love them but I don’t really spend time with them.
MBS: What was your college experience like?
AS: College is where I really blossomed into womanhood. I developed my style, I learned how to do my own makeup, I started exercising, and started dating all while studying acting. My college experience was better than high school but they weren’t exactly golden years as I was still treated badly by the campus community and my family. My theatre department was rather judgmental and cliquey. There weren’t important roles for me to play there. Everyone else got casted and their voices were heard. I was excluded and felt like I was just wandering around like a ghost. I started an improv club and a comedy club but they both ended up failing. It was hard for me to relate to other people so I didn’t have any friend groups — I went to class, worked out, went to auditions, stayed in my room, bing-watched comedies, listened to music, practiced stand-up sets alone in an empty auditorium, and rehearsed my own monologues in an empty classroom after hours. I worked hard to find my own voice at my own pace while studying up on comedy.
I started hormone treatment when SFUAD announced its closure. It was an interesting time because we had protests on campus, lawsuits, student deaths, and Trump was elected president. The school — and everything else in general — seemed to get smaller. It was chaotic and our attention was constantly diverted to so many other events that made my treatment trivial. I didn’t have much support from my college peers while going through treatment, so it wasn’t easy to mentally recuperate. Also, no one focused on making creative projects or collaborating anymore. There was so much sorrow all the time and we lost our ways.
MBS: Have people tried to place you in boxes before or had assumptions about you because you are trans? Because you are Native or Navajo?
AS: People have made unfair judgments about me before, especially when it comes to Online dating. When it came to the point where I was comfortable enough to let someone know I am trans, things got awkward. Most men would treat me different when they found out I was trans. Either they saw me as a gay man who’s good at doing makeup or they wouldn’t engage. Some even started to think they were gay or act like I wasted their time. They missed out on making a new platonic friend who is cool to hang out with.
When I was doing comedy I wasn’t exactly friends with any of the men. I mostly spoke to women comics but it wasn’t a community that was open to collaboration, especially for trans women. Most of the comics in Albuquerque are unfriendly straight men who always made me feel unwelcome. When it came to performing for other comedians, I wasn’t relatable. I’m not your typical male comedian with that “nice guy” vibe — the kind that only ever talk sex and objectify women. It was easier to get a regular crowd’s attention than a comic’s attention during open mics because my material was about what it’s like to be transgender and Navajo, so I wouldn’t always be ignored.
As a Navajo, most people assume that I speak the language, have a Native name, look Pueblo, can make dream catchers, don’t speak English, or some say I don’t even look Native American. It’s exhausting talking about my culture because nobody listens. People will make inappropriate jokes about being Native or direct the conversation to be about tipis, cowboys, drumming, fires, the sky, casinos, alcoholism, gambling, spirit animals, and tracking. People ask me, “Do you find the term ‘redskin’ offensive?” It’s a racial slur, so yes, I do find it offensive and people need to quit saying that word. I’ve also had people come up to me and speak Spanish or ask me to translate Navajo for them. Some have asked me to translate other languages like Spanish and Arabic. It’s completely offensive that people assume I can speak certain languages purely based off of how I look. It’s sad because I would like to teach people about my heritage and culture. I would like to speak my own language but I can’t. But also, why give that information to people who will appropriate my culture for their own agenda?
MBS: Is there any specific way that you identify?
AS: I identify as an urban Navajo instead of a traditional Navajo. A traditional Navajo does ceremonies, tells stories, are more superstitious, pray more, butcher sheep, eat mutton, eat fry bread, can weave rugs, speak the language, and they dress in the traditional garments. As an urban Navajo, I am more modern. I don’t speak or understand the language — although I do know a few words — I go see the medicine man with my family, don’t eat mutton, don’t eat fry bread, and I tend to dress like Jennifer Aniston. Last but most definitely not least, I identify as a straight transgender woman and I am proud of that.
MBS: Have you ever seen people like yourself in magazines, TV shows or movies growing up? Have you ever had access to resources that showcased people like you?
AS: When I was growing up, I did not see anyone like myself anywhere at all. It was rare to see queer people on TV and so it was impossible to find transgender representation because nobody wanted to see them. Transgender people have been discriminated and ostracized for so long that it was shocking to see women like Laverne Cox play in movie roles or photographed for covers. Native Americans are not featured and represented on popular magazine covers, billboards, or on television. And as a performing artist, it makes it pretty difficult to find roles to play.
I didn’t have access to resources showcasing people like me. It’s difficult to find projects that feature Indigenous people or transgender women. Even though that is the case, it doesn’t stop me or anyone else from being creative. I have written my own plays, screenplays, made roles for myself as well as other trans women, and Indigenous people. Doing this also allows for more authentic representation because viewers will get an accurate perspective.
“I’ve learned that I really have to look out for myself, be generous, socialize & be professional. It’s changed my life & shaped me into the woman I am today because [acting is] such a complex career path.”
MBS: You have been involved in the acting and comedy industries for quite some time? What has your experience(s) been like?
AS: I have been studying acting since I was in 6th grade. In 2014, I started doing stand-up comedy at open mics around Albuquerque. My time in this field has been very exciting and very heart- wrenching. Rejection has been something I had to get comfortable with both in and out of the acting industry. I’ve been passed on for roles — many times without explanation — but like any other actor it tends to be based on my appearance and how I sound. I went to a lot of auditions but nothing was ever right for me. I never really found that roles were written for someone like me and so that’s why I had to make my own work. I write my own roles, I write my own sets, I go to open mics, I spend thousands of dollars of my money to take improv classes, and I assemble my own film crews. The entertainment industry is a field where you can make your own work and collaborate with people just as or more talented than you. I’ve learned that I really have to look out for myself, be generous, socialize, and be professional. It’s changed my life and shaped me into the woman I am today because it’s such a complex career path.
MBS: Were you ever discouraged by the Whiteness and racism perpetuated within these industries including the misrepresentation of Native and trans peoples?
AS: The entertainment business has been making money off of the discriminatory behavior of producers, directors, and actors for centuries. This isn’t fair but at least White people were given a chance to portray such complex roles in black face, right? Native Americans need more work and more opportunities for work! It’s absolutely insulting to watch a movie with a White woman in Native makeup portray Sacagawea and run around in a loincloth. It’s destructive because this White woman has stolen a paycheck from my people just like how her people stole our land. She runs around in an outfit that isn’t traditional regalia of that tribe and it just shows how little people care about Native traditions. A performance like that is beyond ignorant — it’s full of stereotypical “Indian” elements pulled from multiple tribes with very different cultures. In these situations, it’s not hard to see that there was little to no research put into what tribes are being portrayed on-screen. It’s not fair because in theatre, there is a “proper way” of portraying European royalty using high class etiquette in Shakespearean performances, but there isn’t any research gone into portraying Native Americans authentically and appropriately.
Trans women are portrayed in ways that are so unrealistic to a point that it’s unwatchable, and most of the time it’s poor writing. Trans people usually receive horrible, generic storylines in television, film, and theatre because there is a lack of interest in exploring complicated storylines of these people who, believe it or not, live very normal lives. Trans women are stereotypically portrayed as people who perform in underground drag shows to compete for respect and deal with AIDS [or HIV] complications. Or they are victims of murder or abuse by straight men who fall in love with them, but don’t want to be seen in public by their side.
MBS: Did you ever feel misunderstood and that maybe these weren’t the right industries for you? Did this affect your mental health and self perception?
AS: I’ve definitely felt discouraged in the acting industry because who I am has affected my chances of getting roles. It’s been normalized because it’s not good for business to see the hot intense bad boy fall for the hard- to-read trans woman. It’s not supposed to be personal since it’s just business, but this business needs to change because there are too many conventional love stories that keep being played out.
There were many times I felt like quitting acting for good because I would get self-conscious, embarrassed, discouraged, anxious, end up being ostracized, or made unwelcome. It’s been hard for me to get paid gigs — which is a normal journey for anyone pursuing acting — and it’s affected my mental health in negative ways. Sometimes I felt like I was going crazy trying to pursue this career path. It’s triggering to reflect on my harsh beginnings because there were many personal struggles — I cried a lot, have gotten furious, and have gone up and done bad stand-up sets all because I didn’t believe in myself. I feel like my acting career would have been different if I was an attractive White woman with brunette hair because that’s who people want to see. It hurts me that no one really wants to see me be myself because the industry has made that message clear. It’s very important for anyone — especially trans women — to have self-worth, self-esteem, and to feel safe in being themselves [however they choose].
MBS: Do you think it’s important for trans people to have representation in the media, especially in a way that is accurately and genuinely depicting?
AS: It is very important for trans people to be portrayed with accuracy and with RESPECT. For a long time, trans people have been depicted as flamboyant drag queens, as a running gag in sitcoms, or depicted as oddities or murder victims in crime dramas. Trans people are disrespected in the media so much that our struggles are glorified. The trans person — who is usually a woman who made a very hard decision to be who they truly are — can somehow afford extremely expensive operations, buy themselves designer clothes & jewelry and then come out to their despicable families who reject them immediately. Usually in situations like this, trans people aren’t even the center of the storyline as they are portrayed as a foil and even an obstacle for a cis-gendered character to overcome. Trans people aren’t portrayed as normal people and it’s both discouraging and unhealthy for anyone who wants to transition or knows someone who is trans.
Trans people should be portrayed as normal, healthy people who want to find love, who find their dream jobs, go to bed at a decent hour, stay in instead of going out to the clubs, or dying from AIDS. Trans people make good decisions in real life. Trans people can accept rejection from others. Trans people can let toxic people go. Trans people dress normally — we’re not always done up with a ton of makeup on how most people perceive us. Sometimes, a trans woman like me wants to wear a band t-shirt with a hole in it because that shirt means a lot to her. And guess what? I wear kicks more than I wear heels. Trans people don’t always yell at you if you get their pronouns wrong, although we should because it is exhausting to constantly have to explain ourselves. We have relaxed conversations about our identities, preferably with some food and drinks provided.
“What inspires me is support: people who listen, who show empathy & who get creative in this movement.”
MBS: There has been some coverage of murdered trans people but no coverage that is in-depth or long lasting. How are these crimes not only an injustice, but also the lack of coverage for these cases that only seem to go cold?
AS: It’s despicable that these cases aren’t resolved, there is no respect for the dead, and we don’t honor the innocent people who’ve lost their lives too soon. Trans people are silenced even after they are dead and that isn’t right. The only time people even pay attention to these kinds of cases is when it makes for good TV and then viewers can just turn the switch off, so they can forget about it in the morning over a cup of coffee. We need justice, we need allies, we need people to speak up for those who can’t, we need to come together, and let these criminals who think they can get away with murder know that they’re not going to get far. It’s not right for people to just sweep crimes like these under the rug. Trans people need to let society know that they’re not going to be threatened, that they’re strong, that they have support, and that they’re not to be messed with. But society as a whole needs to hold itself and transgressors accountable because they are the ones harming us.
MBS: What are your thoughts on the “panic defense” claim used by killers — and queerphobics in general — of the past and present?
AS: Panic defense is a strategy used by someone who commits the murder of a queer person because of claims of “unwanted sexual advances.” Perpetrators are typically straight cis-gendered men who make this claim after committing manslaughter. Unfortunately, this tactic is legal and is used to fully or partially acquit criminals (LGBTQ+ “Panic” Defense, 2020). This is a disgusting reason — and a pathetic excuse — to take another human life. It’s not self- defense. It’s psychotic.
Queerphobia in and of itself is plain ignorant and it’s not healthy for anyone in society to think this way. This mentality is taught. It’s taken out of control and there’s absolutely no reason to spread hateful behavior. The crime rate is high and queerphobia plays a major part in that. If we don’t put an end to it, hate crimes will only continue to rise. Mental conditions have increased negative affects on people who also express their queerphobic views. It’s very important for everyone to put an end to queerphobia and start moving towards a brighter future. Queer lives are not worth less than others. We are valuable and we add value. We are children who also belong to parents whether they be biological or not. We have families. We are human beings. And we matter.
MBS: Do you believe there are things at the core of this country’s identity that must change? Do you believe there is anything that won’t change but that perhaps you are working towards?
AS: We don’t agree on important issues, we don’t make smart decisions, our country doesn’t spend money wisely, education is becoming a wasteful opportunity for the youth, we focus our attention on shallow things, we don’t choose wisely who we vote for, and we don’t bring justice to innocent people who have lost their lives.
I don’t understand why we always have to go along with a political system that keeps people poor and tired. I don’t know if we as citizens will ever pick a different system to elect our so-called “leaders.” I don’t know why Americans always fall for glitz and glamour — allowing things to either distract or have influence on their morals and decision-making. I don’t know if I’m able to change society yet but I do know that by me being me — a trans Native woman and actor — is very different from what we are used to seeing, and that can help to spark the change I and so many others yearn to experience.
MBS: How can this country work to destigmatize prejudices against trans people?
AS: Queer voices need to be heard and everyone should feel safe in their own home. Listen to our stories, ask polite questions, don’t be weird, don’t be a pervert and remember that compliments do go a long way. Trans people need to be seen as regular people. We’re honestly not that different. We are human and people need to realize transgender lives are normal. We own it and are proud to show society how comfortable we are in our own skin.
MBS: Is there anything inspiring you to keep living your truth? Any personal changes you’ve made or experiences that have had a positive impact on your mental health?
AS: I’ve been through some crazy times but I don’t dwell on the past as I like to focus on a bright future for myself as well as my loved ones. I focus on what’s important for me including my happiness and laughter. Laughter is medicine and it’s really important to have a good time while you’re still living. Putting logic into everything is important. It’s crucial to not let fear take over. Forgiveness is helpful. I’ve learned how to make peace and let things go. Be happy for other people as well as you. And don’t compare yourself to what others are doing with their lives. Just live yours.
There’s a huge movement to protect our LGBTQ+ citizens. We’re still at the beginning of change and we need to get to a more peaceful point sooner. What inspires me is support: people who listen, who show empathy, and who get creative in this movement. Other trans people inspire me because it’s brave to live your truth. It’s awesome, it’s beautiful, and we want to be happy as well as see others happy.
I’m going to counseling for my mental health, I’m building up my self-esteem, I’m forming healthy relationships, I’m being honest, I’m not taking anyone’s crap, and I drink a beet & berry smoothie a day. I continue to workout and I go on small field trips just for myself to see something new. ■