Before Caitlyn Jenner stepped into the spotlight or actress Laverne Cox took center stage, Holly Woodlawn, who died Sunday after a battle with cancer, made waves as an unapologetic transgender woman. Famous in part because of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s 1970s films “Trash” and “Women in Revolt,” she helped pave the way for the recent increase in attention paid to transgender people and their representation in the media.
“The importance of Holly Woodlawn’s legacy to transgender and nonbinary people is tremendous,” said Zackary Drucker, who calls Woodlawn her “chosen aunt.” “She was among the first visible trans people in a time when being trans was outlawed behavior.”
In addition to Woodlawn’s notable role as one of Warhol’s “superstars,” she also acted in a number of other productions, including 1990s independent films “Twin Falls Idaho” and “Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss.” Her most recent gig was in 2014 on two episodes of Amazon’s “Transparent,” which follows a transitioning Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) and the response of the character’s family.
Drucker, who also serves as a producer on the Jill Soloway-created series, responded to a number of questions from The Times via email about Woodlawn and her enduring impact.
What about her made you want to call her family, and what did you personally take away from your relationship?
Holly understood the importance of chosen family, of assembling a tribe to offset the likelihood of being rejected by one’s family of origin. She created a family, and she set a wonderful example for all of us on how to navigate a world when you’re a century ahead of your time.
How would you describe Holly for those unfamiliar?
She was a pioneer, an artist in the medium of life and a wild raconteur with a famous appetite for fun.
What lessons can we all learn from the life that she led?
Holly came from a time before there was much language for trans people, from the days when [transgender people] were underground and only just surviving. She taught me so much about our community’s survival. And she squeezed so much pleasure out of a world that was intolerant toward her and shut her out of career opportunities despite being such a giant star.
The trans movement today has Holly Woodlawn to thank for blazing a path into the future. The opportunities I’ve been afforded are a direct result of what Holly did. She always told me that I was her future, and I’d respond by saying that she was my future, that it goes both ways. I know that I can live a complete, satisfying and sustainable life because my Aunt Holly did so under much more dire circumstances.
Follow me on Twitter: @TrevellAnderson.