November Feature Interview: Sophie White

Cover Photo Credits:
Photograph: Steve Hammon
Makeup: Erin Moreau
Producer: Melissa Caudle
Colorist: Easton White

Diversity Rules Magazine welcomes Sophie White as its November feature interview.

Sophie Marie White, married with three kids, is a native of South Louisiana. She draws from her varied experiences as a filmmaker, Director of Photography, Chiropractor, EMT, firefighter, race car driver, and boxing promoter to inspire her acting. She began acting a little over a year ago and since was cast in several feature films including Hummingbird and We All Think We Are Special. Sophie was also cast in Tell Me Your Secrets and Chicago Med, in a guest-starring role, for television.

Sophie is a transgender female, and with her family’s support, they are making their way through the complicated transition process. She brings a unique voice that is extremely under-represented in the film and television industry.

JRK: Before we get into the interview can you tell readers a bit about Sophie White, where you are from and all that good introductory stuff?

SW: Sophie is a transgender female, and with her family, they are making their way through the complicated transition process. She is married with three kids, is a native of South Louisiana. She draws from her varied experiences as a filmmaker, Director of Photography, Chiropractor, EMT, firefighter, race car driver, and boxing promoter to inspire her acting. She began acting a little over a year ago and since was cast in several feature films including Hummingbird and We All Think We Are Special. Sophie was also cast in Tell Me Your Secrets and Chicago Med, in a guest-starring role, for television. She brings a unique voice that is extremely under-represented in the film and television industry.

JRK: Two years ago you made a decision to come out as transgender after many years of being Rory White. What was the defining moment of internal discovery that prompted and empowered you to finally move forward and become Sophie White and come out as transgender?

SW: It wasn’t by choice, years ago I decided to just run the clock out and never come out of the closet. It took a long time for me to admit to myself that I am transgender. I was angry that I was transgender. I was ashamed of who I was. And it wasn’t until my third brush with suicide that I decided to take control of the narrative.

JRK: You said that that you always had a secret that you felt you couldn’t tell anyone, and which brought you to the brink of suicide. Despite the internal agony of hiding, and almost taking your life, what coping mechanisms did you use to come to grips with who you really were?

SW: I started to take control of the narrative. The first thing I did to take control was, I decided that I would just stay on hormones. When I first started taking hormones it was a game-changer for me. I saw a night and day difference in how I felt, and who I was inside started to emerge. However, I had been using them as a bandaid (of course they were black market). I would take them and I started feeling better. Since I felt better I would get off them because I told myself, I’m not transgender. The second step I took was after my first brush with suicide. My best friend convinced me to get counseling. I wished I would have done it sooner.

However, you must remember, not all counselors are good or even know anything about transgender people. It’s not like the movies where you are suddenly better because you reached out. The suicide stuff got a lot more real, but at the same time, things did get better. It was a weird duality that I was going through, getting closer to the edge and at the same time getting better.

After stress got the best of me, I wound up in the hospital throwing up blood from a ruptured ulcer. While I was in the hospital, I could not bring myself to tell the doctors that I was on hormones. I felt that if I did, everyone in my community, small-town, would find out that I am transgender. It wasn’t until my third brush with suicide that I finally said, ‘Fuck it’. If it would not have been for my dog being with me on that episode, I would not be here today. I was on an elevated road and decided I was done. I think that’s the universal feeling that you get when you reach that point. You just want the pain to stop. Anyway, I got my truck up as fast as it would go 120 mph plus. I started to look for a fixed concrete wall to hit. As I reached to unbuckle my seatbelt, something caught my eye. It was my dog Tito, he was sitting in the seat next to me. I suddenly realized that if I killed myself, I would also kill my dog. This still brings tears to my eyes, I would be killing Tito, just so I could hide who I was. I looked at him and thought I’ll just stop let him out and go back to what I was doing. As I slowed on the interstate, I realized that being on an elevated stretch of road with no shoulder, he would get hit by another car so this was no good. So I took the next exit to let him out, and by the time I got to the end of the exit, the impulse was gone.

The next turning point of me was to finally get a medical doctor which my therapist was subtly pushing me to do. One thing that was quite traumatic with my doctor was that she showed me that she labeled me as transgender in my chart. While at the time, I was so horrified that I was being labeled transgender because I knew everyone would find out. I think that was the push I needed to be finally able to publicly admit, “I AM TRANSGENDER.”

Next, I made a list of my family and friends and put them in order for who I would tell first. This was done in two ways. First I had them into two groups.

The first, family the second friends and colleges. Then I arranged then from who I thought would be the most supportive and the easiest. Then I decided to tell each of them one on one sitting down with each in person. I started with family. The first several for me were brutal. It was only after I told my little brother that I realized that I had made up stories about how each one would react.

I realized that I had prejudged all of them. Because my little brother had gotten very religious over the past several years and I just knew he would not take it well that his brother was now his sister. However, I was completely wrong. I was ready for a fight and he never gave me one. He just showed me love and support even though he couldn’t wrap his head around transgender. He still subtly gives me his opinion but he does do it with love which I respect. I shed so many tears over those several weeks. Don’t prejudge like we all do people will surprise you, both for the better and worse. Next, I started posting transgender-friendly articles on my facebook account for several months. Then I started posting pictures of me in female clothes associated with my acting. Never saying I was transgender or any other admission.

I then took my Facebook account and changed my gender from male to female. It went unnoticed publicly for about three or four months. Then one day, I friended a person I knew in high school. She asked about me being labeled as female, on my page, in a very nasty way. My page erupted with support from my Facebook family and they pounced on her with both feet. I did not have to lift a finger, it was divine. At that point, I knew my hiding was over. Yet at times I still struggle with people knowing, but that is getting a million percent better. That’s when I decided to just go all in and embrace who and what I am, a transgender female.

I got three reactions to coming out as transgender. One was many people especially males had no clue that I was transgender. The second group split between male and female that said I thought that you might be. And the third said, it’s about time you came out, which were made up of mostly females and the smallest group. At one point I just started telling everyone, I’d meet people, I was still going by the name Rory and I would introduce myself, ‘Hi I’m Rory, I’m transgender.’ Or the postman came in, I’d say ‘Thanks, BTW you know I’m transgender.’ I think all those years of stifling my feelings were just finally catching up with me. Since then I feel like I have released them into ethers. All of that has calmed down now. When I introduce myself I simply sat, Hi I am Sophie Marie.

JRK: What was the reaction from your family and friends when you began your long journey of coming out as transgender?

SW: So many people will surprise you. In good and bad ways, The biggest thing is to remember it’s on them not you of how they react. I was lucky I’ve had an easy transition because all my family and ninety-nine percent of my friends have stayed friends. You know there is always that one that has to be different. I mean compared to many of my transgender friends which about a third were like me. But so many others have lost family, friends, and even their life because they came out as transgender.

JRK: Tell us about “Hummingbird.” What was the defining moment that propelled you into acting related to this project?

SW: The story Hummingbird is inspired by my transition process and confronts suicide — one of the most significant issues of the transgender community.

In 2017 I won the International Screen Writers Association award, New Orleans writer of the year. During the festival, I pitched a movie called hummingbird that is loosely based on my story dealing with suicide to a producer friend. He loved it and said we should shoot 10 minutes of it and use that to find funding. I told him I could find half the money if he could find the other half. Two weeks before shooting we lost half of the funding. I asked everyone involved if they were on board to shoot it no matter what. They all agreed to make it. So, we stripped away everything that wasn’t essential. Then I called in favors from a couple of great actors like Lance Nichols and John Schneider. Also, I decided to play the lead because it was just a proof of concept. They could always change me out if they felt I couldn’t do the part. After we finished the shoot, I was with another filmmaker who asked what I was working on. I happened to have some of the footage with me and showed him a few of the scenes. He was blown away with the acting and asked if he could tell a friend of his about what he saw. I agreed and a few days later I meet with Kate Adair and she signed me as an actor.

Hummingbird has never been finished. It still hurts my heart thinking about what happened next. One of the transgender consultants on the film was a good friend and local filmmaker. She was supposed to work the last day of shooting but had some problems. Two weeks after we finished shooting, she committed suicide. This ripped the heart out of the project. Because I realized that was almost or could have been me if my family had treated me the way her family treated her. And now the project lingers in a box waiting on the completion of post-production. I wish I would have picked up on the clues that she was that bad off. However, Hummingbird has sent me on a journey of a lifetime and for that I am grateful.

One of the biggest things that have helped my transition is sharing my stories and struggles with others. While each journey is different, most stories share so many common themes. However, the film community portrays the transgender female as a person wearing a dress. In Hummingbird, Sophie’s transition has never been about a dress; it’s about how the world sees her and, most importantly, about how she views herself. Her desire to share her journey will hopefully show others that there is hope, and they are not alone. I just hope one day I can get the courage up to complete the movie and make the feature.

JRK: What advice and empowering words can you give to those who are still struggling with their secret of being transgender? What resources can you suggest to help those contemplating coming out as the person they truly are?

SW: Take control of the narrative don’t let others tell your story. This is your life, embrace it, fighting it only screws with your head. Find that friend that is transgender that you can talk to. That one person that truly gets it. Where you don’t have to explain or justify that you are special. For me, it was two different friends one on the east coast and one on the west coast. But when we talk it’s wonderful. Our journies are so similar that it’s almost scary. I mean it’s like looking in a mirror and seeing myself. Also just don’t take their time.  Become a true friend and give your time. That has made the biggest impact on my life in transition. The next thing gives people time. It can be a shock for them. For me, it took 58 years to finally accept who I am. It might take some of them just as long to accept you and that’s okay. Just be you, because no one else can do it but you. Don’t live or die for other people.

JRK: The LGBTQ community, and more specifically, the transgender community, are targets of the current administration’s efforts to roll back hard-fought rights and privileges that everyone else is privy to. What can we as a society, that cares about the rights of all citizens, do to battle the prejudice, bigotry and hate that has been unleashed because of the reprehensible policies of Donald Trump?

SW: When I first thought of transitioning I thought about just disappearing and popping up somewhere else as Sophie. But then I thought, ‘How does this help my community? People will find out no matter what.’ The best way to fight anything is by having a seat at the table. Don’t run away sand up for how you are. Let them get to know us is the only way to change minds. If they never get to know us we remain the boogieman. But when they get to know us they can start to understand our journeys. It’s so hard to be mean to people you know. They will also start to understand that we are no different than they are.

JRK: You have a couple of upcoming guest spots on television on NBC, and TNT. Can you tell us about them?

SW: I started acting a year ago and these are two roles that I have. The TNT series is new and they have not released a starting date IMDB just put Fall of 2019. The other show is Chicago Med season five episode six, the episode is called “All in The Family.” I was cast in the role of Claire Witherdale. This is a Guest Star role which is huge for any actor. And to be cast in a major premiere time series on a major network in my first year is remarkable. They average around six and a half million viewers per episode. The exposure is tremendous especially given that I am an unknown transgender actor from New Orleans. However, I am not new to television. I have been on the other side of the camera for the past 18 or so years. I am hoping this episode propels me into a spotlight for the transgender community.

JRK: Can you tell us about your upcoming roles in a number of roles in features and short films set to be released, most specifically, “We All Think We Are Special?”

SW: Actually my first year as an actor has been remarkable by traditional standers. I have been cast in three series and twelve movies. One of my first movies named Fire was shot in the summer last year. I played a judge in a music contest. Kirby Voss, a director, saw the movie then cast me in his movie, We All Think We Are Special without an audition. The part started with an eight-page part and grew as we were shooting. I was even brought back for a couple of additional scenes. I played Duncan, a family lawyer. It is scheduled to be finished in 2020. I got to work with up and coming actors Jarred Bankens and William McGovern who are the stars of the movie.

JRK: Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share with readers, that have not been covered?

SW: Remember transition is a journey, not a destination. You need to just do you. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Don’t force it, we are special. Think about the Native American culture of two-spirts. We truly embody those souls and are able to see the world differently than most will ever be able to understand. Be kind to yourself, life is too short to waste it on waiting. Three years ago I couldn’t tell a soul about who I am. It was not until I stood on the edge of the abyss did I start to understand that I could be me. I missed out on so much trying to bid my time until I died. By the way, that’s not living. That’s just taking up space in a miserable existence. You always have to live, love and share your light to truly be happy. As always, Sophie.

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