New PlayStation Emerging Filmmakers pilot features a trans teen

In 2017, the PlayStation Network (PSN) announced the Playstation Emerging Filmmakers Program, issuing an invitation for budding writers and filmmakers to submit their best concepts for an original television series. Hundreds of creators submitted their best television show ideas; the top ten pitched their ideas directly to PlayStation executives and industry professionals; and the top five applicants were funded to shoot a pilot with the possibility of getting the green light for a series. All five pilots are now available to watch in a variety of places, including online.

Two Roads, created by producing partners Vanessa King & Miranda Sajdak (who is a queer woman), is now streaming live and open for voting to nudge it toward becoming a series. The pilot introduces viewers to the tense world of a family restarting their lives in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Their once ordinary lives turned upside down, each character reflects on their identity in a deep - and ultimately gripping - way. Steph and Ian are the two teens in the family. Steph, played by self-described gender non-conforming, trans-masculine actor JJ Hawkins, was assigned female at birth but has a more masculine gender expression. In the pilot, Steph creates an instant connection with Zoe, a girl in the new neighborhood. 

GLAAD reached out to King, Sajdak and Hawkins to learn more about the character of Steph, why they chose to tell this particular story, and being on the verge of achieving mainstream success:


What made you interested in telling a story about a family in witness protection?
King & Sajdak: We're both fans of crime shows and family shows, and this gave us the opportunity to explore both genres. In addition, we are both drawn to the idea of identity, in our own lives and the lives of the characters we create, and this show gave us the perfect chance to dig into shifting/evolving identities and what that means on multiple levels. So many stories revolve around “who am I?” or “how do I get home?” - to us, Two Roads feels like the synthesis of both of these themes.

Did you always plan to include the storyline about one of the teens in the family being trans?
King & Sajdak: Yes. When this show idea was first iterated, probably around 5 years ago, it always had a trans teen as one of the lead family members. It was always important to us to include trans representation, because we weren't seeing a lot of it on television, and it felt like something underexplored in media in general. Our EPs, Ideas United and PlayStation were incredibly supportive when it came to us developing the character of Steph and crafting Steph’s story, and for that, we were very grateful.   

What about the show do you think might resonate with LGBTQ audiences?
King & Sajdak: We hope the relationships Steph has with various friends and family members will resonate, as well as his journey as he transitions. In addition, we know the LGBTQ community is vast and has a wide range of interests, so, of course, we hope is that our show in general will be engaging - as we explore issues both directly connected to the community and issues that aren't community-specific but still may be personal to our audience in other ways.  

No spoilers, but if Two Roads up picked up as a series, what stories are you most excited to explore?
King & Sajdak: We both adore all our characters, and are excited to explore so many different avenues with them. That said, we've probably had the most conversations between ourselves and with friends and sensitivity readers about our teen characters and how to best portray them in a realistic way. We're very excited to dig deeper into Steph, Zoe and Ian’s journeys, to dive into the reason behind why the family is in witness protection, and to explore their new world and figure out what their lives are now, while coping with the secrets from their past.  


How long have you been acting, and how did you find out about Two Roads?
Hawkins: I've been acting professionally for about three years now, but I started acting for the first time when I was 15. Acting was one of my degrees in college. I was actually contacted directly by Miranda for Two Roads. We have a mutual friend who is really connected to the queer / film / artist community in Los Angeles and Miranda reached out to her when they were looking for someone so specific (ya know, has to look 17, has to be a trans boy, can't have started hormones, good at acting). Our friend had seen me do a live solo piece and asked me to read for a nonbinary character she had written into a pilot, and then she referenced Miranda to me!

We don't find out too much about Steph's identity in the pilot, but are there aspects of Steph's story that you relate to as a trans-masculine person?
Hawkins: Steph is also trans! Surprise! Although not much of surprise, since he knows himself to be so, but hasn't come out to anybody yet except for his best friend from home that he had to immediately cut off contact with when they left for Witness Protection. Every trans and gender non-conforming person knows that isolation, let alone for somebody that has to completely start over. There's an ingrained feeling in us beyond the binary to feel that we are alone, powerless, and surrounded by nobody that would ever understand. (Thankfully the internet has changed that for many gender non-conformers coming to terms with their variance now.)

Steph also responds to his very existential problems with a lightness and a levity that I really connect with. I know the feeling of having to deal with such a weight that it is only manageable at an arm's length. There are so many things weighing on his mind at all times that there's no direct cause and therefore no direct blame, so he spends his time angry and everyone and no one simultaneously. I don't know, his story is my story; his story is every gender bender's story; his story is every teenager's story. There are relatable human emotions in his story that transcend how paralleled our specific experiences are.

What advice do you have for other trans and gender non-conforming actors who are trying to break into the industry?
Hawkins: The only real advice I would have is to fiercely and radically love and validate yourself, since this industry will do no such hint of either for you. There's room for every voice in this industry. Don't try to be like one of the (very few) trans actors that have been given a platform to be heard; we already have them. What we don't have is you. We need you. You are talented enough, you are trans enough, you are powerful enough. Now that media is finally breaching our existence, we need to show how diverse and beautiful that existence is. Find your queer community. Then find community outside your queer community. Perform in safe spaces. Then perform in new spaces. Talk about your queerness. Then talk about nothing related to your queerness. Show your humanity. Show your exceptionality. Know your worth and never accept anything less. When a person walks into a room knowing their worth, nobody can strip them of it and nobody can deny it. And lastly: trust yourself. I'm sure you already know exactly what you need to do. I truly believe there is nothing more astounding and untouchable than a self-possessed gender non-conformer.

Go here to watch (and vote for) Two Roads