The 34-year-old, who portrayed Toine, a transgender character on a recent episode of Queen Sugar, spoke with GLAAD, recalling that he "began to understand that I was transgender" while studying in college. From there, he took some time to "figure myself out" until he decided to commit to acting professionally.
"There aren't many acting roles about trans people, let alone trans men in TV and films," he shared, adding that he felt "so moved and honored" to play Toine.
"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," Michael continued. "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. But there is so much more to trans people's experiences than those moments. There's so much life after transition that has gone unexplored in TV and films, and as an artist, this is the part of my life and experience that I had been looking to explore in my work."
At the beginning of his career, Michael had some concerns about disclosing his gender history, "without establishing myself as a strong actor first." He thought that it "would exclude me from being considered for non-trans roles."
"I feel that because I began my career post-transition and am not 'visibly trans,' I had the privilege of choosing to disclose or not and I was able to go in for any role that fit my type," he shared, adding that he wanted to become the best actor he could be and continued training.
"I knew that at some point, I would want to take on trans roles but there weren't many," Michael expressed. "Fortunately, in the past five years there has been a huge shift in mainstream TV and film writing. Thanks to the work and advocacy that GLAAD has done alongside trans actors, advocates and activists, like Laverne Cox, Tiq Milan, Janet Mock, Jen Richards, and Jill Soloway, there are more roles, and the roles are rooted in more reality and understanding."
Queen Sugar, created by Ava DuVernay and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey, follows the Bordelon siblings, Charley West (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) and Nova (Rutina Wesley), as they come together to run the family business. For more on DuVernay and Winfrey, watch below.