Difference Maker

How trans actor Jake Graf of ‘Colette’ came out and found his voice for equality in film

Graf (center) as Gaston De Caillavet in ‘Colette’

This profile is the first in Queerty’s Out For Good series, recognizing those who came out to make a difference. The series will run throughout October in honor of National Coming Out Day on October 11.

Name: Jake Graf, 40

Bio: Actor, filmmaker, known for his starring roles in The Danish Girl and ColetteHis directorial outings include the short films Brace and Chance.

Coming out: Graf has never hidden being trans. In fact, he has maintained that he is male from about age two. He didn’t officially transition until age 28, and began making short films thereafter, and taking on mostly cisgender acting roles. To raise awareness for transgender issues, Jake decided to go public with his story of life as a transgender actor in late 2017, when he and Hannah Winterbourne, a noted UK transgender activist, announced their engagement. But it is this year that he has really emerged, not just as an advocate for trans causes but as a star, thanks to his role in Danish Girl in 2015 and Colette this year.

Making a difference: Shortly after his public coming out and engagement, Graf made a series of videos about life as a transgender man, including an autobiographical short film presented to the UK Parliament. He and Hannah became something of a celebrity power couple following their storybook wedding in early 2018.

In a recent interview with Queerty, Graf discussed casting transgender characters with cisgender actors, and vice-versa, showing a subtle understanding of how change happens in Hollywood :

A lot of these films, a lot of these representations, you’ve got to bear in mind the reach those films will have with an Eddie [Redmayne, of The Danish Girl] or a Denise Gough [in Colette] playing those characters. And I know that [transgender actors] should certainly have the chance to read for them. And eventually, we will get to the point where we are the best prospects. But I think at the moment, where it stands, it is an industry and films are being shelved on a daily basis…I genuinely believe that with the work, and with people…giving opportunities to transgender actors in cisgender roles, we are ready to build those profiles, build our experience, and we will—sooner than you think—be the only option for those trans roles.

Given his rising star, we already have one actor in mind that could fulfill Graf’s prophecy: Graf himself.

As it is, he’s already found the role of a lifetime as a working actor and filmmaker living as an out transgender man. Given the plethora of cisgender roles, Graf had a lot to lose by coming out and speaking out.

In doing so though, he gave hope to other aspiring transgender actors everywhere that someday only one thing will qualify actors for a role: talent.

Jake’s Words of Wisdom, as told to Queerty:

When I was growing up, there were no visible trans men in the media or on-screen and that made for an extremely lonely, isolating experience during my formative years. When I transitioned and finally became ‘me,’ it seemed almost unthinkable that I wouldn’t come out for the world to see, and live as a proud and visible member of the transgender community.

I am privileged to live in a country where being openly out and trans is accepted, and I aim to show that queer and LGBT people are everywhere and have existed since the dawn of time. It is through being vocal and visible that we give hope to our youth and hopefully ease the journey as each new generation comes out.

My wife Hannah and I were both out and visible in the media long before we met, but neither of realized the hope and positivity that we would be able to spread to the wider community as a couple. Our decision to speak about our relationship publicly and to allow media coverage of our wedding prompted so much kindness and support from not only the trans and queer communities but also from mainstream society.

Through the messages that we receive on our social media, we have become increasingly aware that trans folk need to feel that they too are deserving of someone who loves them for exactly who they are. If we are able to give them even the smallest glimmer of that hope, then we know that living so visibly has been the right choice and is forcing the kind of change that we as trans people so desperately need.