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Early in the first season of the new Showtime comedy Work in Progress, we see Chris (Theo Germaine), a 22-year-old trans man, bring his new girlfriend, Abby (Abby McEnany), to meet his chosen family during a clubby, kinky, sex-positive night on the town. Over the course of the night we see Abby, a 45-year-old cisgender lesbian, wade through anxiety-induced trepidation to bridge the gaps between her niche of queer culture and Chris’s. But a giggle and a smile from Chris are enough to convince us that Abby, no matter how ill at ease, will emerge from her adventure just fine—and with a new friend or two, to boot.
Sensitive, sweet, and cheeky, the performance showcases Germaine’s appeal perfectly. The Chicago-based actor first endeared themselves to fans of Ryan Murphy’s The Politician back in September. As James Sullivan, a member of the campaign team intent on electing the precocious Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) to student body president, Germaine’s quick wit and deadpan delivery was a delicious contrast to the melodrama of Platt’s Payton.
When we meet for hot chocolates on a truly blustery and windswept New York day, Germaine is in the city to film season two of The Politician. Until June of 2018, the actor lived in Chicago full-time, working at a coffee shop between local theater productions, small web series, and an increasing amount of on-camera work. By July, they had been cast in The Politician and had to move to Los Angeles with just a few days’ notice. Just before they booked The Politician, Germaine had spent part of June filming the pilot of what they expected to be another indie web series.
“I read the little script that we had. I was like, This is so amazing. It’s trans and it’s gay and it’s queer, and it’s talking about mental illness. I don’t have all these things together [in a series] and I want them,” Germaine, who is trans and nonbinary, recalls. By the fall, the cast was notified that the project was moving forward—but as a network TV series. When the pilot had screened at the Sundance Film Festival early in the New Year, it caught the eye of Showtime’s director of original programming, Dave Binegar, and thereafter found its home on the network, under the name of Work in Progress.
The show, which premiered on Sunday, is based loosely on the life of McEnany, a Chicago-based improv comedian who is also the show’s creator, executive producer, and star, playing the titular in-development Abby, a self-identified “fat, queer dyke” navigating depression, anxiety, and a new relationship with Chris, who is 20 years her junior. McEnany and Germaine, as the freewheeling love interest, shine in the tender portrait of an intergenerational queer couple trying to overcome traumas past and new, together.
“It’s very interesting and new to be in a position where I’m doing one project about politics—and it’s about people being catty, sneaking around, and doing things behind each other’s backs, and having it be weird and whimsical and satirical—then to go and do something that is all about mental illness, queer identities, and gender identity, and is all about the work in progress that everybody is,” Germaine says. Having roles in which queerness and gender identity are tangential to the plot as well as roles in which these aspects are all but inextricable is a rich and beautiful reality for them.
“Something that’s been really important to me about working on The Politician is not having to talk about gender identity all the time,” they say. “It is really refreshing. It feels really good that more things have opened up for me in a way that I didn’t expect. It’s very easy, when people are writing trans content, to make it tokenizing and not very nuanced.”
With Work in Progress, Germaine enjoyed a remarkable level of agency in shaping the language around important scenes. One such scene sees the new couple disclosing recent STI test results. “Abby turns to Chris and blurts out that she has herpes,” Germaine explains. “In an earlier version of the script, Chris said that he gets tested regularly and that his recent tests have all come out ‘clean.’ I said, ‘I feel like Chris, because he’s so savvy about things, would be very sexually positive. He should say, “My tests came out negative.”’ I’m really interested in destigmatizing STDs—people need to know that they’re not dirty if they have [one].”
When they’re not in front of the camera or perusing scripts, the actor is passionate about watching and championing content that features trans actors and centers trans people in meaningful ways. They have a soft spot for Ryan Murphy’s projects, thanks to the inclusivity the showrunner championed since well before it was cool to do so. “Pose is my favorite show. People have said to me, ‘There was “before Pose” for trans representation, and now there’s “after Pose” for trans representation.’ We’re at a spot where we have so many trans women working on a major TV show in the Murphy-verse and we have one of those actresses, Angelica Ross, jumping from Pose into American Horror Story as a series regular and playing a nurse. We have Dominique Jackson going from Pose to playing an actual goddess in American Gods. We see Leo Sheng, a fantastic Asian American trans man actor working on the L Word: Generation Q reboot, which I’m really excited to see him in. We also see people like Janet Mock, who earned a huge Netflix deal. All these things are happening and they all feel historic.”
Germaine has also taken to getting to know their temporary home of New York City, preferably on foot—they jump at the chance to catch a show at Club Cumming or to pop into the Stonewall Inn. Other times, a walk will turn into window-shopping—or “real shopping,” they admit with a smile. “I love Marc Jacobs so much. I’m obsessed. He recently released the Grunge Redux collection, and I’ve been trying to collect every single piece that I can find.”
“With my style, I like fucking with gender, whatever that means. I try to wear the things that I like wearing, and I don’t really think about it as, Is a boy gonna wear this or is a girl gonna wear this? Because everybody should just wear whatever they want. Going back to Marc Jacobs, one of the reasons why I like his clothes so much is because not only does he make all of this amazing stuff that I think everybody can wear, but he himself is also like—I mean, look at his Instagram. He’s so fabulous! He just wears whatever the fuck he wants. That’s how I want to be.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue