In My Skin: Transgender student hopes for Broadway career

Louisville freshman London Chandler identifies as transgender. He recently met with a psychic who made him think about his career in musical theatre. He has decided to hold off on transitioning in order to pursue his career as a man. He says it would be difficult if he had surgeries. “I’m good living my life and being who I am,” Chandler said. “If people don’t understand, it’s just not for those people. All I ask for is respect.” (Shot through a piece of beveled glass.) (Adam Wolffbrandt/HERALD)

Allyson Beasecker

In My Skin is a weekly feature series that looks to tell the stories of diverse student populations at WKU. Its goal is to serve as a simple reminder that WKU is location of diversity.

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The lightbulbs above reflect off London Chanel’s glossed pink lips, acting as a stage light that illuminates her world as she speaks.

It’s a world of cheek bones graced with blush, eyelashes coated in coal-black mascara and feet clad in stilettos. A world of bold printed fabrics, sparkles and smooth leather purses. A world that was metamorphosed through the gift of a dark brown wig.

She pays no mind to the disapproving gazes cast by the narrow-minded and she chuckles at the seemingly difficult, yet rewarding, future. All the while, she remembers the past which shaped her.

One day, she will be London forever. For now, she is also Tyler Chandler.

As a child, Chandler looked at her grandmother with all the sincerity a 5-year-old could muster.

“I want to be a girl,” she told her.

Chandler was young and did not yet know what it meant to be gay or transgender, but she was certain she was born in the wrong body. 

“Growing up as a boy but feeling like a girl, I suppressed it,” Chandler said. “ I hid so much of who I was.”

Throughout his adolescence, Chandler dated girls, but it never was right. After days spent quelling his true identity and upholding a tiring facade, the Louisville freshman would arrive within the refuge of her home and succumb to tears. 

With a heavy spirit Chandler whispered ardent prayers begging God to make her straight. To make her normal. But the prayers were never answered.

“I was so mad at myself for hiding who I was,” Chandler said.

Chandler grew up with an absent father and lived in what she called “a bad part of town.” So, in fifth grade Chandler’s mom signed her up for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Chandler was assigned a married couple, Brad and Nikki Cummings, who would help Chandler uncover his passion: acting.

To Chandler, the Cummings were “about the stage,” and helped her land her first role in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Chandler loved the experience and later the Cummings helped get her into the Louisville Youth Performing Arts School, a magnet program at duPont Manual High School.

“Tyler’s ability and desire to not give up got him into YPAS,” Brad Cummings said.

“He has an incredibly bright future and the talent to back it up.”

Chandler did shows left and right and put close to forty productions under her belt. Acting became an outlet for her.

“When I walk through a theatre door, I’m not me anymore. I’m that character,” Chandler said. “Back then, it let me put my life on the side. I could depend on acting and block everything out.”

In his junior year at YPAS, Chandler came out.

There was not a magnificent revelation spurring her decision. She didn’t make a public announcement shocking his friends and family. She didn’t come out after weeks of contemplation. It happened overnight.

“I woke up and I was tired of it,” Chandler said. “It was making me sick. I was tired of not being true to myself.”

The prayers begging for normality ceased. Instead, Chandler thanked God for making her transgender.

“Being gay kept me off the streets, being gay kept me from having kids at a young age,” Chandler said. “Being gay was like my shield growing up.”

Chandler realized she could be a girl. She could change his name. She could change his sex. The first person she told was her cousin, Lachonda Carter. Together they came up with a new name for Chandler — London.

Right before Chandler came to WKU, Carter handed her a shiny, dark brown, shoulder length wig made with real human hair — the color “1B.”

“This London thing,” Carter said as she handed it to her. “I’m all for it.”

It was her first wig, and with it she saw the first signs of his desire to become a woman coming to fruition.

“First time I put it on and she [Carter] made me up I was just like, ‘Oh God! This is it,’” Chandler said.

Chandler began to dabble in wigs. She started wearing makeup and dresses. It was where she was supposed to be, it was how she was supposed to be.

Drag was never something Chandler thought she would do. It was tease, a false and fleeting taste of womanhood. She could spend the day dressed as a woman, but in the end she would have to take it all off.

But, Chandler’s transition into a woman will take time. She dreams of a flourishing acting career and is determined to perform on Broadway. Unfortunately, the opportunities for transgendered people in theater are not abundant.

“The fact I’ve always known I can go into an audition as a boy and just kill it or to a model call as a boy and know I can get the job has kept me from transitioning,” Chandler said.

“It’s something I continue to struggle with. I want to pursue my career first and transition when I am established.”

The limited roles for transgendered people doesn’t discourage Chandler, rather it fuels her determination to succeed.

On an October night in a dimly lit Vino’s, London made her drag performance debut. “Body Party” by Ciara blared through the speakers and London let adrenaline take over as she danced and performed.

The stage was no stranger to her. She was in charge.

Performing always erases her fears and doubts, but drag has another dimension.

“Performing in drag is extra special. It multiples those feelings,” Chandler said.

Drag won’t completely satisfy Chandler’s desire to fully become a woman, but it will pass the time. The wait will make becoming a woman that much sweeter.

Until then, she will wear wigs, slide bright lipsticks on, be herself and pay no attention to those who hold prejudices.

“I am who I am — that’s how its gonna be,” Chandler said. “God knew I could accept the challenge and excel. I’m thankful for it. You can be transgender and play a prince in a play. Be whatever you want to be, that is the ultimate dream.”