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‘Bros’ stars Ts Madison and Miss Lawrence on reclaiming Black LGBTQ history

Miss Lawrence and Ts Madison in

There’s been plenty of pixels spilled about Billy Eichner’s Bros and how a big studio rom-com is breaking ground by featuring two gay men falling in love — conventionally attractive, white, cis men, that is. But the B plot about Eichner’s character Bobby opening an LGBTQ museum offers viewers a chance to delve into slightly lesser-known aspects of queer and gender-diverse history, as well as scene-stealing turns from actors from those communities. On its surface, this story arc sounds like a set-up for snark, but it’s all heart and smarts.

Ts Madison and Miss Lawrence, who both dazzle in Bros, are hoping this film will push Hollywood to increase Black trans visibility in cinema. In a conversation with Mashable, Ts Madison and Miss Lawrence discuss how Bros is breaking barriers, how they found inspiration for their characters, and the Black trans icons whose stories deserve to be told — and they give each other their flowers.   

Ts Madison and Miss Lawrence found inspiration in groundbreaking actresses and within themselves. 

Miss Lawrence and Ts Madison in "Bros."
Credit: K.C. Bailey/Universal Pictures

Celebrity stylist-turned-actor Miss Lawrence decided to channel her inner Angela Bassett for the role of caring colleague Wanda. Given Wanda’s love for the phrase “holding space” in the script, “I knew then that Wanda was this very Zen, soft-spoken individual,” Miss Lawrence said. “It made me channel my inner Angela Bassett or Meryl Streep, if you will, because they both have these soft-spoken but intense, deep voices and personas… When I realized that, I added the gender non-confirmity piece to [the character]. I brought that as Wanda to my audition, and it stuck. Billy [Eichner] and Nick [Stoller] liked it, and I got cast!” 

As for Ts Madison, she connected to her role on a personal level. “Angela is a strong Black trans woman, honey, and I’m Ts Madison, and that’s just all there is to it — a strong Black trans woman. Period.”

“For this movie, I had to… pull back a bit, because I do have a very colorful personality. But after I watched the film, and I watched how all the pieces of the puzzle fell together, it was necessary for that to happen,” she said. “Also, I’m an actor, so I had the opportunity to be creative and play a character, not myself.” 

Ts Madison wants queer people of color to take center stage 

Jim Rash, Eve Lindley, Miss Lawrence, Billy Eichner, Dot-Marie Jones, and Ts Madison in "Bros."
Credit: K.C. Bailey/Universal Pictures

In the film, the characters are trying to launch the first LGBTQ history museum. In real life, Ts Madison is ready for Hollywood to create space for other LGBTQ stories, especially in the Black trans community. 

“There are so many Black trans unsung voices that are out in the world that even I’m learning about,” Ts Madison said. For example, she learned about William Dorsey Swann while doing press alongside Miss Lawrence. William Dorsey Swann was an enslaved person who was a Black drag queen and an LGBTQ activist who was the first to self-identify as the “queen of drag.”

“When I listened to Miss Lawrence tell the story about William,” Ts Madison continued, “I was intrigued. These are things I want to know, as a person of color. Our entire history has been challenged and erased… There’s so much, so many different contributions.” She added she was eager to discover more stories of “queer people of color whose voices have been smothered.”

Miss Lawrence continued, praising The Lady Chablis, who won an OFTA Film Award for her scene-stealing turn in 1997’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. “She was a Black trans woman [and] her talent was just out of this world — she made that movie,” he said. “She made that movie.” The actress, who passed away in 2016, was one of the first trans performers to perform in front of a broad audience

“I would love for people to know more about who she was… She deserves a rightful place in our LGBTQ history-telling,” Miss Lawrence said, adding, “Baby, she is known for saying ‘two tears in a bucket” —and here both stars spoke in unison — “motherfuck it.” 

Now that’s a catchphrase you need to add to your vocabulary. 

Bros bucks heteronormative rom-com standards with its proudly gay take on love and lust. 

Luje Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros."
Credit: K.C. Bailey/Universal Pictures

In the film, Bobby and Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) are on a journey to accepting their vulnerability and being comfortable in their skin. Along the way, Bros offers audiences a glimpse into some aspects of dating as a gay man, from horny hookups to workout gains, as well as the more serious challenges of learning to love who you are unconditionally when society would rather you didn’t. Together, Bobby and Aaron embark on a journey towards openness and accountability, growing a beautiful union they both realize they need. 

“This movie breaks down so many barriers,” Miss Lawrence said. “I love the teachable moments between Aaron, Bobby, and Aaron’s mom. I love seeing Bobby’s friends celebrate all of who he is, normalizing who Bobby is, and queer love — teaching their children how normal it is and how it makes sense. I think it’s those things and so much more that really challenges those norms that we are so accustomed to [seeing presented in the rom-com genre].” 

Though Bros focuses on a couple of cis gay white men, the inclusive casting creates representation that offers the wider LGBTQ community a chance to be see themselves and their experiences reflected onscreen. The chance to see and embrace yourself is a powerful one, and bringing this up to the stars offered a serious moment of self-reflection.

“There are so many first times that I’ve embraced who I am,” Ts Madison said seriously. “Even coming outside of the work I used to do before, I would stand in the mirror and tell myself I’m more than just this, I’m more than just a lust for men, I’m more than just an adult film performer or whatever, you know? I’m more than what people have thought of me.” 

“I’ve stood in the mirror many times, and I’ve looked at the scars on my body — thanks Beyoncé for saying that line,” Ts Madison added, referring to “Cozy.” “But I’ve looked at the scars on my body and I’ve looked at how I’ve been through some things, lots and lots of things, and I appreciate all of those moments that I’ve been through, because they groomed me to be the person I am today.

“And so when I get on my platform and I’m able to communicate with people out there who’re just watching me or who think that it’s easy, I show them those scars, and I say, you have to get in the mirror and look at yourself all the obstacles that you’ve overcome in your life. You might not be exactly where you want to be but you’re not where you was before.” 

A word. 

Ts Madison and Miss Lawrence reveal their gay icons and personal heroes. 

Miss Lawrence and Ts Madison in "Bros."
Credit: K.C. Bailey/Universal Pictures

Within the Bros‘ museum plotline, Stoller and Eichner highlight the history of various LGBTQ icons. Miss Lawrence and Ts Madison shared with Mashable a few gay icons that they feel deserve the spotlight. 

“Definitely for me, it’s Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera,” said Ts Madison. Marsha P. Johnson not only fought for LGBTQ rights, but also she was one of the key figures standing her ground at the uprising that began on June 28, 1969, also known as the Stonewall Riots. Sylvia Rivera was also a key component in the Stonewall protests at the age of 17 years old and stood out there for six nights and pushed for trans representation to be included in gay advocacy work. 

Miss Lawrence noted, “For me, I look at the Marshas and the Sylvias and the Sylvesters [Sylvester James Jr., aka “Queen Of Disco” and an inductee in the Dance Music Hall of Fame], and I look at them as our heroes. But we still have our icons, right? My sister is an icon. My sister right here, Ts Madison is an icon,” she said, gesturing to Ts Madison.

Miss Lawrence also singled out New Orleans rapper Big Freedia as an LGBTQ icon. “I appreciate her skillset and her talent and her spirit and what she brings and offers to entertainment so much.” 

Ts Madison added, “Laverne Cox is an icon for me, because Laverne broke down lots of barriers in television and film — she crawled so I could walk. We have to nod to the people that were before us before us, and we can also nod to the people who are in the present. Miss Lawrence is an icon! When I walked on this set, I was like, girl, I’m working with seasoned actors, and she is definitely a seasoned actor — like, look at her accolades,” Ts Madison said. “We can give flowers to people who are currently living.”

Miss Lawrence also commended Kevin Aviance, a drag queen and musician known for his personality and signature catchphrase “Work. Fierce. Over. Aviance!” He was also recently sampled on Beyonce’s new album Renaissance.  “The dame, honey. One of the ones, baby, that was on the front lines, literally. He is another one whose story should be told. He was literally in the line of fire, on the front line. He endured the blows to the head, you know, the beatings to his body, you know what I mean?” Miss Lawrence said, referring to the violent, homophobic attack Aviance suffered in 2006. “He is one… whose name should be spoken a lot more than it [is], and it will happen.”

As we wait for more LGBTQ histories to be brought to the big screen, make sure you head to theaters to see Bros, which is now in theaters. 

Mashable