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As Lexi Haddad-DeFabrizio, Josie Totah rules the school. Lexi is the most popular girl at Bayside High, and her take-no-prisoners wit means she often delivers the kind of biting punchlines that make or break a comedy. Aside from being assertive, beautiful and hilarious, Lexi is also trans. Here Totah, who also serves as an executive producer on the show, discusses the genesis of her groundbreaking role.
What were the early conversations about Lexi’s character like?
Tracey [Wigfield, the show’s co-creator] had these dreams of an aspirational character who was [like Mean Girls‘] Regina George, but with a really authentic and unique past. I think her being trans, and her having this very unique experience, really gives weight to this trope in a way that you haven’t seen before. Seeing her meanness being rooted in her fear of vulnerability, and her fear of self-acceptance, makes the character more three-dimensional and more interesting.
She’s a character that has depth — but she’s still a Bayside kid.
One of the best parts about our show is that we’re able to touch on class. Having this clash of culture and class is really interesting when it comes to talking about people who are from marginalized communities. Lexi is a trans person, but she has been afforded this insane socioeconomic status where she hasn’t had to face a lot of the things that other people from different communities have to face. In some ways she can relate to being marginalized and patterns of oppression, but in other ways her privilege, and her passing privilege and gender identity, make it so she doesn’t have to deal with all that.
Did you have conversations about not making Lexi’s a transition story?
We had multiple conversations about this role. I didn’t really feel inclined to play a trans character that had her story told on the reboot of a fun ’90s sitcom. I didn’t feel like it would be an authentic platform to tell that sort of story. So, although it was important to us to recognize her gender identity, I didn’t want her entire storyline to be about that. I was very frank with Tracey. I was in the middle of my sophomore year in college, and in order for me to leave school it had to be a project that felt really right. The character needed to be authentically represented, and in order for that to be true, I would have to serve a bigger role.
The first season features a scene where a brewing love triangle culminates in a kiss. How did you feel about that storyline?
I think we never get to see ourselves in those positions. Trans characters [are] always the best friend or the wingman, or the butt of every joke, so normalizing that is so important. I have to deal with my own qualms about that. As a person who is trans, I think I wasn’t fully, and I’m still not … I think we’re all not fully accepting of ourselves a hundred percent until we are literally dead. But I had to come to terms with the fact that, “Oh, this is normal for me, too.”
What has the reception to your character been like?
It’s been amazing, hearing from people in my community that they feel seen onscreen. One of my best friends called me, literally crying, and was like, “I never thought I would see myself in that type of role.” That is all that I would do it for. It just made it feel so fulfilling. But also, our show is really fricking funny. I think hearing from the alt-comedy group, the Bowen Yangs of the world, made me so happy, because those are the people that I look up to.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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