'13 Reasons Why' Star Tommy Dorfman Comes Out as Transgender

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Tommy Dorfman is coming out. In an interview with Time, the 29-year-old 13 Reasons Why star tells novelist Torrey Peters that she is a transgender woman.

"For a year now, I have been privately identifying and living as a woman -- a trans woman," Tommy says. "It’s funny to think about coming out, because I haven’t gone anywhere. I view today as a reintroduction to me as a woman, having made a transition medically."

"Coming out is always viewed as this grand reveal, but I was never not out," she continues. "Today is about clarity: I am a trans woman. My pronouns are she/her. My name is Tommy."

Her name, however, is something that Tommy does not plan to change.

"I’m named after my mom’s brother who passed a month after I was born, and I feel very connected to that name, to an uncle who held me as he was dying," she explains. "This is an evolution of Tommy. I’m becoming more Tommy... I am actually myself."

Fans have been speculating about Tommy's gender identity for about a year, amid a change in her style and appearance in posts to Instagram. Publicly opening up about her identity, Tommy says, is a way to reclaim the narrative for herself.

"I’ve been living in this other version of coming out where I don’t feel safe enough to talk about it, so I just do it. But I recognize that transitioning is beautiful. Why not let the world see what that looks like?" she says. "So I kept, on Instagram, a diaristic time capsule instead -- one that shows a body living in a more fluid space."

"However, I’ve learned as a public-facing person that my refusal to clarify can strip me of the freedom to control my own narrative," Tommy continues. "With this medical transition, there has been discourse about my body, and it began to feel overwhelming."

Tommy Dorfman
Gizelle Hernandez for TIME

While Tommy considered a version of coming out where she'd "disappear for two years and come back with a new name, new face and new body," she ultimately felt like it was something she "couldn't really afford to do," personally or professionally. Also, she says, "That's not what I wanted."

Through coming out, Tommy wants to shine a light on gender fluidity -- "how fast and dynamic and vulnerable it can be, how it’s an ongoing thing."

One way Tommy's journey is ongoing is through her romantic partnerships. Prior to transitioning, Tommy was in a nine-year relationship with a gay man, but she and he have since decided to become friends instead. "It’s wild to be 29 and going through puberty again. Some days I feel like I’m 14," she says. "As a result of that shift, the types of romantic partnerships I seek out are different."

"I was in a nine-year relationship in which I was thought of as a more male-bodied person, with a gay man. I love him so much, but we’ve been learning that as a trans woman, what I’m interested in is not necessarily reflected in a gay man," Tommy continues. "So we’ve had incredible conversations to redefine our relationship as friends."

While Tommy says that "transitioning has been liberating and clarifying," the change to her romantic relationship is just one of the many challenges she's faced. "There’s a way in which in order to justify transition, you have to say everything was terrible before," she says. "And the sad part is you don’t get to acknowledge some of what you’re leaving."

"One doesn’t have to medically transition to be trans, but for me, it was an active choice. I’m aligning my body with my soul," Tommy continues. "Yet as a result of that, I am losing some things. I have to reckon with the fact that I brought along a lot of people and things who might not end up being there for this part of my journey." 

Tommy Dorfman
Gizelle Hernandez for TIME

When it comes to her career, Tommy acknowledges, "It’s impossible for me to separate my personal and professional transition, because my body and face are linked to my career."

"I’m most recognized for playing a bitchy gay poet on a soap opera, and I feared that by actively transitioning in my personal life, I would lose whatever career I’ve been told I’m supposed to have," she says of her 13 Reasons Why character, Ryan Shaver. "But I’m no longer interested in playing 'male' characters -- except for maybe in a 'Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan' way. Sometimes you just have to say, 'No, this is just who I f**king am.'"

Looking ahead professionally, Tommy says she's "thinking about how I can infuse my trans body into film and television." The actress will appear in Lena Dunham’s upcoming film, Sharp Stick, which wrapped filming earlier this year. The project was Tommy's "first role as a girl," an experience she calls "so exciting and validating."

As she moves forward in this new phase of her life, Tommy says, "All I can do now is look to a future where I am, hopefully, just radically honest. That’s the person I am becoming."

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