Shawn-Caulin Young on His Role in ‘Heart Baby’

Photo credit: Umberto Mantineo

ATM: What did your family think about the idea of you dressing up as a trans-woman for your role?

Shawn: Regarding my role in dressing up as a trans woman and the movie itself, my family did not understand the context of what this meant to me. The language had been in their world, but they had not known what this was saying. They had never met someone who was trans. My parents are very supportive of my passion as an artist. My dad is a cowboy. He said, “Well, I do not understand, but I am sure you will be great.” There was definitely some apprehension perhaps, but nothing that was outwardly negative. When I chose to do it, they saw and heard the utter hell I went through living this experience. They heard about the harassment, getting kicked out of stores, and kicked off treadmills at the gym because people did not want to be near me. Also, how people stopped, and how I got verbally and physically accosted. They were very worried.

At one point, my mother said, “I am going to come down there to live with you. I am terrified of you being alone.” This was a pivotal moment in my awakening in what trans-women deal with every day. Most of them do not have someone who is willing to do this. Someone who is willing to move in with them. I am not trans, at the end of the day. I had a glimpse behind the curtain.

ATM: It is one thing to read about this horrible treatment, and it is another thing to live it. What did this show you physically and emotionally concerning what trans-men and -women go through?

Shawn: The process was like six months. Once I fully stepped into Crystal and embodied her, I was radioactive. Words cannot describe the depression, anxiety, and the pain that I was experiencing on a day-to-day basis. This was on set. People did not understand that Crystal did not go away but was with me all day and every day. The simple things that we take for granted like walking down the street to go to the store, I was becoming paranoid. I was paranoid because if I was not entirely done up, or entirely like her, it was dangerous. The mindset changed so quickly, and the big epiphany I had was that this is how all women get treated. You are constantly objectified, degraded and harassed daily. This in the smallest and most insidious ways. The danger factor goes high when adding in race. For me, as a privileged white male, I was able to see for the first time the scope of that privilege.

ATM: Even though an average male could support this topic, they still do not know how it feels to be a woman. They do not understand this marginalization happens based on the features a woman is given as she came onto earth.

Shawn: To me, this was my mother, sister, grandmother, niece, my friends and every woman in my life. This was their experience as little girls – what they experienced as a child. I could also imagine this was also your experience. This blew my mind and I thought “what if I was someone like this trapped in my body? Or I did not identify with the sex I was assigned with at birth, and I merely wanted to escape.” Men have no concept whether they are white, black or whatever race of what a woman is dealing with in their life.

They live in a world where they get taught from a very early age that girls are supposed to look pretty for them. They should do these things. They get taught in their masculinity that it is fine to objectify women and expect specific reactions. There is a sickness going in how we raise our children.

We also teach little girls they have to act like this. This was the part where I was like, “What the fuck?” I had no idea. I wish every man would feel it. If every man lived truly as a woman for one day in the streets of LA or NY or anywhere, then we would not treat women like this. Women would also learn how they treat each other. Women are immune to this.

I received discrimination both as passing and not passing as a trans-woman. It was even worse. The verbal action and energy that got thrown at me. I was in the bathrooms as a woman. I must say, the amount of community you all have in the restroom blew my mind. You all are talking, peeing, sitting down, and talking about dinner. Men do not do this shit.

ATM: So, what happens in the men’s bathroom?

Shawn: We do not talk to each other. There is this unspoken rule that if you do this, then you are gay. You are trying to pick up on another man in the bathroom. I have to shield my genital. “Please do not get into my business or make any eye contact.” If you do, then the guys are like “What do you want? What are you trying to do?”

ATM: What did you notice about your oblivious nature of the special treatment our society puts on men? And what does your obliviousness tell you about this male-dominated society?

Shawn: This tells that the programming we have given our young men, our boys, our kids is chaotic. It is even worse once we throw race into it. White men get away with everything. They can get away with lying and going into a bar to shoot people. They die, but this is still a problem. This is an epidemic. We are looking at the common factor, which is the privileged white rage. This rage is among all demographics and not just white people. We have a problem in the way we teach men to be vulnerable.

Straight men cannot process what it feels like to be turned down and not get what they want. So, they result to violence (specifically toward women), name-calling, and anger. We need to teach men there is no shame in being vulnerable or having male expression. I judged any female expression. From where I grew up, if I did not, then I would get the shit kicked out of me. I learned early one that the only way you are safe is to be over masculine to show you are strong. You must walk big and tall, so the alpha males are not attacking you. Fixing this pact mentality starts with educating the female experience to the male demographic. We should have them dress up as a woman.

ATM: What does your experience show you about freedom concerning the main character “George’? In the boxing ring, he is seen to be free. He is still in jail, which makes him not free. Women are free, but are they actually?

Shawn: This movie shows you we are all combined with our self-imposed prisons as well as societal prison. Everyone in this movie was a real person. George was this unbelievably great boxer, who had a chance for freedom to get out and fight for the USA Olympics. He says, “I cannot do it unless Crystal comes with me.” He knew if she was alone, they were going kill her. The fact that this black man, who has been oppressed his entire life had the heart and empathy to recognize another human being, his cellmate, a transgender woman, during a time this term did not even exist, was going to be in main danger than his dream to protect her. This is humanity, and this is a real man.

ATM: In giving up a chance for continued fame for humanity, what does this say about people who risk not living in the limelight in exchange for really helping people?

Shawn: This is the embodiment of true faith. Whether this is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other. This is saying there is another human being, and it does not matter what stones are thrown at me; I have a duty as another human on this planet to take care of my brothers and sisters. This is the whole point of the embodiment. I am here to help you and you are here to help me. It is not from a ‘let’s get ahead’ standpoint but from a ‘we are in it together.’ All George saw is Crystal and that she was a woman. This is some highly evolved shit coming from someone who never had a chance.
What does this say about people who are in power right now? They have all the spoils in the world, yet they cannot do anything for humanity. This is where it gets to asking who is more evolved.

ATM: It makes you think about who is the real famous one.

Shawn: Yes. Like who is the true embodiment.

ATM: It is more of what you do without money.

Shawn: And it is what you do when no one is watching. It is what you do when there is nothing in it for you. Also, sometimes it is what you do when something is in it for you. There was something major in it for George. He chose not to go.

ATM: Then it is how you act after you realize people are watching. Are you going to continue to be the same person that you were when no one was watching? Are you going to change once adding the materialistic gain?

Shawn: Right. We live in a society right now where this gets celebrated. The social ego. Especially, men, they live with this mindset of I got the car. I got the girl. I got this thing. In reality, none of these things actually matter.

What do you have to pass on to those who are coming up? Our ancestors did not go through all that shit for you to have a fancy car or to bang some girl. This is not the reason we are here. I love people who give back to the community. With this movie, we are trying to get George his own boxing gym. This is the least we can do for a hero like him. We help him teach boxing to young kids and give him an opportunity. 

ATM: Would you ever take a similar risk like George?

Shawn: There is no way that I sleep at night now to not help another human being. I help when I can. This is especially for the trans community. I was woken up to their experience. I get really emotional about this. There are some in the LGBTQ+ community who will not support me or this film because I am not trans, and I am playing a trans-woman. But there are trans members and my friends who saw the movie and said, “We do not care. We care that you are getting the story out.” You talk to people and help educate them. You change one person’s mind, which will change other’s minds. This is my responsibility. People are like, “You are an actor. Be quiet. Do not be political.” I am a human being at the end of the way.

ATM: Did you cry at any moment while dressed as Crystal?

Shawn: Oh boy. Did I cry? I am crying right now because of it. Also, about how traumatic it was. The fact that this was someone’s life every single day. They found freedom inside the walls in jail, and this was the only place they could be themselves. This pain, empathy for someone reeks. To be completely real with you, there were nights I would drink myself into oblivion because I did not want to deal with this. I wanted to check out. I was so lonely. Crystal is still with me every day, so I have to get the story out.

ATM: What did they say as you walked down the street? Did they say, “Nice legs?” What did they say? 

Shawn: When I walk down the street, I would hear whistles or comments like, “Hey honey come over here and talk to me.” Or sometimes it was more aggressive, as was the case with the first time I went out fully done up. Two drunk guys asked me if I “was looking for some company for the night”. When I said no and that I was on my way home they called me a “fucking bitch.”

They started following me trying to get me to talk to them. I was terrified. That was the moment I realized how dangerous it is for a woman to move through the world. If they had discovered I was trans on top of it; it would have been even worse.

ATM: How does this film narrative change the realness in the representation of a trans-woman?

Shawn: The film does a great job in broadening the narrative around the trans experience a great deal regarding the fact that Crystal’s essence and her being is different and more three-dimensional than some of the representations that have been put out in the media. She was a self-identified Evangelical Christian; she came from money, was a firm believer that she was a chosen child of God. That alone opens the conversation up to a whole broader platform and ushers in spiritual identification to the conversation of the trans experience.

ATM: What was it like growing up as guy who becomes a part of a world that treats them as the special and dominating gender? 

Shawn: I am not going to lie, growing up as an unaware guy (a white privileged male in America) is great at first glance. Are you kidding?

The world accommodates everything you experience and do for the most part. It is difficult however if you don’t express the way they think you should as a man. You also don’t realize how entitled the world is in your direction. You are blind. Unaware. You think this is how it is for everyone in the world now.

No. It sure the hell isn’t. It is get programmed into almost every one of us from the moment we can remember. The world and our society is structured to support the male experience, specifically the white male experience as the dominating norm. Especially here in America. I can remember pushing against the norm as a child and meeting nothing but absolute disdain and violent resistance from the alpha males I grew up with. It was wrong that I hung out with girls and was emotionally sensitive. I didn’t play sports, so I was a piece of shit.

I felt so horrible about myself that I even tried to hurt myself on a couple occasions. So, though it is a privileged experience, it is a limited and fearful experience if you are not physically dominant, act the way the world thinks a “man” should act or like I said emotionally express yourself. It is a fear-based structure that is complete and utter bullshit.

ATM: From this role, did you feel more masculine or less typically “masculine?” 

Shawn: I don’t even answer the question because I don’t personally believe in masculine or feminine expression. This idea that you can feel more masculine or feminine is a societal norm that isn’t real. Who says that you should only feel or express a certain way to feel masculine or feminine. Now for me, it’s all human expression as far as I’m concerned. I would say I feel more HUMAN because of playing the role of Crystal. I feel whole. Complete. I am no longer hiding or erasing my authentic self for the sake of others comfort.

ATM: What is the feeling like to be unaware of the marginalization and objectification of women? 

Shawn: This is an interesting question. For me, I didn’t feel anything. A feeling of blissful ignorance? It wasn’t until I experienced the objectification, harassment, degradation first hand that I knew everything is as wrong as it is. Now I didn’t agree with how women were treated before, but I never really understood the full extent of how women felt, especially trans women. Now that I know it in my bones, I have seen it with my own eyes, and felt it with my own heart. . . I am pissed! It’s my goal and my mission as a storyteller to supports and tell the stories of women in any way I can. To stand up for all beings no matter how they identify and give them a platform to express their truth. I also no longer allow that sort of bullshit conversation about women into my life. I stand up and call it out when I do. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. It’s my job now to be an interpreter, an advocate for all humans who are marginalized or are being erased.

ATM: What have other people from the trans community said to you? 

Shawn: I’ve been very fortunate that several members of the trans community have been wildly supportive of my portrayal of Crystal and my commitment to living as a trans woman. Many have said how proud they were of me and how grateful they were that I lived their truth and am standing up for them. They respect my commitment to telling their story as truthfully and accurately as I could. I’m happy to say that many of them are now my dear friends.

ATM: How can the idolization of one’s status get in the way of them trying to help humanity or make a difference on humankind? 

Shawn: It’s very easy to lose yourself when you become a prominent figure. When someone is idolized, it’s inevitable that ego will rear its ugly head at you. Convince you of lies about yourself and others. Perhaps that you are righteous in your point of view or that those who think differently than you are all bad people. Nothing is black and white. There is a shit ton of gray. I think idolization can water down one’s ability to effectively communicate and direct the narrative of change. I think becoming an “Idol” brings pressure and a weight that can sometimes consume an individual from the inside out. You lose the ability to make mistakes. To be human. I believe It’s all about balance and being gentle on oneself. You have to do the best you can and keep your feet not he ground.

ATM: Now how do you go to bed and wake up knowing what you know about life?

Shawn: I go to bed and wake up inspired. I am ready for action. I am very clear now on what I can do to help. I may not know all the details of how, but I know what. I am curious in a way that I have never been before. It makes me excited to go out and do everything I can to level the playing field for all expressions of my fellow human beings.

ATM: How can gender privilege get in the way of what is going on in the world? 

Shawn: I think that gender privilege can get in the way of what is going on the world because at its core, it isolates and excludes opinions that challenge that archaic structure. It creates fear and limited belief systems that don’t allow for the progression of the greater good. At the end of the day, the only way that we will survive as a species on this planet is by allowing all voices to have a platform to be seen and heard. Not just the privileged few.