Bea Cordelia and Daniel Kyri are the creators, producers, directors, and stars of The T, a new webseries based on their own lives about the friendship between Jo, a white trans woman from the north side of Chicago, and Carter, a black queer man from the south side. The show premiered with a screening last month at the Chicago Cultural Center, where they filmed part of The T. The Chicago landmark sits across Randolph Street from where the two first connected almost a decade ago.
Cordelia and Kyri first met as 17-year-olds in the After School Matters program at Gallery 37. A mutual friend set them up on a date, but they lost touch after they went away to college. Five years later, Kyri happened to be in the audience during one of Cordelia's performances at Salonathon, the former home for "underground, emerging, and genre-defying art." He was captivated, and invited her to perform at the Dojo, an interdisciplinary arts space in Pilsen, where she read a poem called "The Future." At the time, neither of them was aware they would be working together more closely in the future.
Cordelia and Kyri both felt limited by the opportunities offered to them as actors in Chicago. Kyri was sick and tired of being presented with stereotypical roles that portrayed black men as criminals. After coming out as a trans woman, Cordelia "stopped the acting classes and I stopped trying because I was like, Who's going to cast a trans woman?" Both desired more out of their artistic careers, and so Cordelia and Kyri decided to build something new together. They began working on The T with the hope that a webseries would allow them to reach a larger audience while still maintaining creative control.
What they wrote is a love letter to queer and trans friendship in Chicago. Throughout the first season of The T, Jo and Carter demonstrate the strength of queer community while grappling with their sexual identities. Jo finds herself in a relationship with a cis man who wants her to hide her transness. In response, she proclaims, "I am a transgender woman, I can't turn that off. I am always going to be a transgender woman. I can't hide that part of my history. You can't ask me to be anything else."
In Kyri's favorite scene, Carter comes to terms with how shame impacts his sexual health. He shares his HIV status with another queer black man named Teddy, played by Travis Turner. Upon hearing the news, Teddy moves closer toward Carter and listens attentively. He provides a caring and sensitive response, rather than fear or rejection, which gives Carter room to be emotionally vulnerable with him.
"A lot of the impetus for the backstory of the character of Carter comes from me being a young queer black man growing up on the south side and floundering," Kyri says. "Carter's stepdad is a pastor, which is a reflection of my own religious upbringing. Being told that our desires are bad or invalid has an effect. Shame leads to unhealthy decisions. We have to grow through and grow past that self-hatred."
One of Cordelia's favorite scenes depicts the beauty of sisterhood between trans women. Jo is hanging out with Emerie, a new friend played by Evilyn Riojas, in her bedroom. They laugh together, imagine a trans commune in the woods, and vent about ignorant cis people in their lives. The scene concludes with one of the definitive moments of the show. Emerie confesses to Jo, "I'm just really tired of having to apologize for the best parts of me." This is a rare example of queer and trans people caring for each other onscreen in an honest and everyday way.
In the final scene of The T, Carter and Jo meet at their spot on the beach after they have both had particularly rough days. They huddle together on the shore of Lake Michigan, drinking at dusk with the pink and blue sky above them. They ask each other if they're OK. Jo responds, "Honestly, yeah." Carter answers, "I think so." They're all right because they have each other. They've found love in relationships that affirm rather than ask them to hide their true selves. This deep love and respect is also evident in the relationship Cordelia and Kyri share offscreen.
"When you look at it on paper," Cordelia observes, "we're opposites of each other in about every demographic way possible." Sure, the two of them both identify as queer and were born in Chicago less than 24 hours apart. But, she explains, their differing class and racial backgrounds meant "according to the world and especially according to a city as segregated as Chicago, we shouldn't have become friends. There was no reason for us to have met."
However, they did meet and reconnect, thanks to underground queer art spaces like Salonathon and the Dojo. Currently, Cordelia and Kyri are working together on writing pilots for future webseries and continue performing around the city. Cordelia will be featured in the Fly Honey Show next month at the Den Theatre and Kyri just finished playing the lead role in the Gift Theatre's Hamlet, directed by Monty Cole.
Plans for another season of The T remain uncertain. Two weeks before they started filming, Cordelia and Kyri lost a large part of their funding and were forced to cut a significant amount of the show. The T was largely supported through multiple crowdfunding campaigns and grants. In the future, they hope to receive more financial support so they can continue telling the story of Carter and Jo's friendship. "I want to be able to tell a fuller story," Kyri said. "I want to create a more expansive view of queer life in the city of Chicago." v