Welcome to Role Call, where we call up TV’s leading ladies to talk about their most vital, memorable, and feminist episodes.
We can all agree 2017 was a difficult year, to say the least. The current ruling political party took jabs at the women, Latinos, and transgender people, among countless other communities, with abandon. Often, the worst of it came from the President Of The United States, who believed he could tweet about “banning” the latter group from military service like trans service people were serial shoplifters in a mall — or, Roy Moore specifically in the Gadsden, Alabama, mall — rather than genuine heroes who deserve our eternal thanks.
As this trying year mercifully comes to an end, shockingly, you’ll find the salve for your likely anxiety-ridden soul in the network best known for violent, dark epics and comedies that are really dramedies, HBO. On Tuesday night, the purveyor of Game Of Thrones and Westworld premiered its four-night documentary series 15: A Quinceanera Story with “Zoey,” which follows Grease-obsessed teen Zoey Luna as she prepares for her titular quince, which will celebrate her entrance into womanhood in her Latinx culture. Luna also happens to be transgender. “Zoey,” an unabashedly positive, pink-drenched, confection of a tale, is the kind of story we all need right now.
One of Quinceanera’s greatest strengths is how it introduces Luna. Rather than exploit the Mexican-American teenager’s gender as some sort of eyeball-grabbing gimmick, we meet the young woman as we should, as a friend, a pop culture quoter, and a boy crazy 14-year-old; that is who Luna is. The aspiring actress’ gender doesn’t define her, so we don’t even hear about Luna being trans until well after the three-minute mark.
Luna appreciates the respect Quinceanera gave her, telling Refinery29, “[Being trans] is definitely a huge part of my life — obviously, that’s how I identity — but it doesn’t need to overshadow my other qualities. I am a teenage girl. I’m a Latina. I have average problems just like everyone else.”
A lot of transgender girls don’t even know they can have quinceaneras. [But] they definitely can and they definitely do.
While the teen’s gender identity is treated as only part of her story, her journey as a young trans woman throwing a quinceanera does give us the kind of perspective the world is sorely lacking. We see how joyus Luna’s madrinas, or godmothers, are to see this young woman celebrate her first steps into womanhood. It’s an opportunity the all-trans group wasn’t allowed, so, Luna explains, “I’m so glad I was able to dedicate my night to them.” When one of the ladies cries, you probably cry too, because, as one of the wonderful women says, “Zoey is the future.” It’s heartening to imagine a world where trans a Latinx trans girl’s quince can always be as fervently encouraged as any cis-gender Beverly Hills sweet sixteen.
Spreading that idea was Luna’s goal, as she explained, “A lot of people don’t know transgender girls have quinceaneras. A lot of transgender girls don’t even know they can have quinceaneras. They definitely can and they definitely do have them … They’re a thing.” This single episode is living proof of that fact, complete was a table of transgender fairy godmothers handing out crowns, princess dresses, and big emotional speeches about the entire celebration serving as a “symbol of hope.”
Hope for the future is a running theme for “Zoey,” as Luna recognizes the episode “really does highlight the positivity and the light of a young transgender girl who has been supported by her family,” which is especially important in this relentlessly darkening political climate. Throughout the installment we see just how fiercely Luna's mother Ofelia loves her daughter and wants her to have the perfect big night. Now, if people watch Luna's episode, it might end up helping another transgender child down the road. “If people see me, they might think, ‘Hey, this is how my child would feel,’” she mused.
That kind of possibility is especially exciting, as Luna recognizes how her installment is helping revolutionize a traditionally conservative, and oftentimes patriarchal, culture like the Latinx community. “There’s a lot of expectations for a girl, and I really broke almost all those expectations and gender roles in a sense,” the teen admitted, adding of the party, “It was really humbling because I [still] had so much support.”
Now, about a year after Quinceanera’s quince, 16-year-old Luna is using that support to follow her dreams. She is currently looking towards high school graduation and then, hopefully, many more appearances in front of the camera. “I’ve always wanted to be an actress and a director and a writer — those are my passions,” the burgeoning YouTuber explained. Does she have an acting role model? Yes. The presumptive among us might assume Luna hopes to follow in the trailblazing footsteps of the iconic Laverne Cox, but, remember, Luna, like everyone else, is so much more than her gender identity.
Rather, the high schooler looks up to the woman who broke the television mold and saved the world from the apocalypse more times than anyone can count: Sarah Michelle Gellar, a.k.a., the one, the only, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. “ She’s just a great role model,” Luna gushed, explaining Buffy is her favorite show.
In the same way Buffy finale “Chosen” spread Buffy Summers' strength to women all over the world, it sounds as though Luna has accomplished the same feat when it comes to her own relentless positivity through Quinceanera. When asked what she wants to viewers take away from “Zoey,” Luna said, “I want them to realize they should cherish every moment they have, every experience, every celebration, and be grateful.”
After a year like 2017, we should all listen.
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