In the four-part Australian drama series Hungry Ghosts I play Roxy Ling, an eccentric clairvoyant living and working in the sultry Australian city of Melbourne. It isn’t until halfway through the show that a fleeting comment by Roxy reveals that she was assigned male at birth.
Like most women, I have reservations about the way I look. But as a trans woman, those concerns take on additional dimensions that I dare say are more challenging than most will ever experience.
There were moments in early stages of the show’s production, before shooting had commenced, that I questioned if it was even necessary to acknowledge that very element of Roxy’s identity. However, it gradually became clear that to know of Roxy’s transness is to understand that her appreciation of the world is quite unique. In our cultural industries, the more we are able to offer opportunities to witness alternate authentic realities, the more we are able as artists, to expand everyone’s perception of this earthly existence.
In this exercise of bringing a Queer being to dramatic life, we worked hard to not let her narrative be yet another sob story about the trans experience. I knew it is so vitally important that I present her, first and foremost to other Queer people in the community, if not as a beacon of hope and excitement, then as a comforting alternative image of a self-possessed individual, able to get on with life as any other — successful in her vocation and in her assorted supernatural adventures.
It is now time to perform trans roles for the benefit of LGBTQIA+ audiences.
When I play Roxy, I know that the power of the portrayal lies in the confluence of both her and my transness. It is a trans actor playing a trans role, therefore superfluous expositions around her gender are eliminated. You only need to see my face and my body, hear my voice, to connect with the part of Roxy that has informed her world view.
Roxy and I are not the same person, but there are undeniable parallels in our interactions with this cruel universe, that have been turned into the flesh, which we share in a metaphysical way, that I as actor, bring to the screen. I don’t have to research and practice being a trans woman, as Eddie Redmayne, Jared Leto, Cillian Murphy and countless others had done. I can spend all my time and effort into more valuable things, like telling you a story.
In Hungry Ghosts, the trans woman doesn’t die. She doesn’t get beaten up, and would you believe it? She doesn’t even have to struggle for social acceptance. She is high on life, doing things that she loves, spending every waking moment with people who adore her, as they run around town kicking ass. They all see how fabulous Roxy is, and they know how much she contributes to their community. I, Suzy Wrong too, am loved, with a life that is endlessly fulfilling.
Of course things can be hard, as is the case for everyone, but what I need right now is to see people like me represented in a way that is joyous and full of cheer. For every screen moment that documents our pain, let there be two more that are passionate and fun. For every film and television program that focuses on our adversity, let there be many more that bring us light. Ghosts of the past will always try to hang on, but what we create for today, is almost always simply a matter of choice.
Suzy Wrong is an actor and theatre critic based in Sydney.
Hungry Ghosts premieres 9:30pm Monday 24 August – Thursday 27 August on SBS. Episodes will be available at SBS On Demand each day at the same time as broadcast.