In a recent interview, Brian Michael, the actor who played Antoine Wilkins, a transgender male police officer in the most recent episode of the family drama Queen Sugar, came out as transgender in real life.
For those of you who missed the episode, Wilkins and a fellow officer approached a suspicious dumpster diver only to discover that the diver was Ralph Angel Bordelon, a main character on probation who was looking for his son’s lost doll. Instead of harassing or arresting Bordelon, Wilkins is a former high school friend of Bordelon who Bordelon used to protect during high school.
In the scene, Bordelon already knows that Wilkins is transgender — it isn’t a reveal, just a scene in their continuing friendship.
“That’s something that I feel like really attracted me to the role and the scene,” Michael said. “It wasn’t this heavy-handed cliché focus on the heavy elements of people’s transgender experiences.”
In an interview with GLAAD, Michael said:
“I think Toine believed he wouldn’t see Ralph Angel again, and he never had the chance to thank him. I think Toine has always had this weight on his heart, so when this moment comes, he gets to reflect on this and can finally let his friend know how much he appreciated him. I thought that was so beautiful. Working on this scene inspired me to do this in my personal life. To reach out to a few of my oldest friends and thank them.”
“There aren’t many acting roles about trans people, let alone trans men in TV and films. And I’ve found that often when things are written by people outside of the trans experience, they tend to focus on these common tropes: the painful disclosure, or the physical aspects of transition itself. The characters tend to be pre-transition or early in transition, and the storylines they are involved in are mainly focused on their transition and them seeking other people’s acceptance or their non-trans love interest or family members’ reaction.”
Michael began his professional acting career about six years ago and has appeared on Girls, Blue Bloods and Law and Order. He also appeared in a Toyota commercial as a lawn-mowing husband alongside New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Here’s Michael’s 2013 Toyota commercial:
Michael said that because he began his career post-transition and is not “visibly trans,” he had the privilege to choose whether or not to disclose his trans identity when auditioning for roles. Early on, he chose not to disclose his gender history over the worry that it might exclude him from non-trans roles.
During his real-life high school career, Michael reportedly played football on the boys team in the fall and ran track on the girls team in the spring. After graduating from Kent State, he taught drama and media literacy to middle schoolers and teens at a University of Michigan summer program.