Name: Bill E. Lang
Favorite Book: Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Lovers Dictionary
Favorite Cartoons: Ed and Eddy, The Regular Show, and Adventure Time
Bio: "My friends describe me as a cartoon character in the real world." As Bill's childhood best friend, nothing truer has been said. We have been friends since we found out we had the same birthday in kindergarten. Throughout his life, his distinct mannerisms, and outlandish vernacular, has proven him to be one of the funniest and kindest cartoon characters. He always loved drawing and creating very cringy stories about his friends. As he grew up, he refined his artistic sensibilities and got into cartoon making and punk rock jamming. He is an incredible storyteller and has been told during his NYU film class by a bigshot in the biz that his show pitch was near perfect and he should continue developing it. If all the extra clauses in that last sentence weren't clear enough, this is a huge deal and he is hugely talented. I am honored to be friends with such a wonderful and talented creator. It makes sense that the cartoon character should be the one making the cartoons.
K: So what do you feel is the story that you carry that feels lost?
B: Oof that's a story. I mean, definitely transness. There's no transmedia. Like, besides documentaries, there's some good stuff, but like, transmedia wise, I can name like, two mainstream trans movies.
And like I think trans males are slightly more represented than trans females. But still, it's like, nothing. Like, if you ever look at Glads TV and Movies Gender and Gayness Statistics, it's insane. There's like 26 trans people on TV.
I'm actually trans. So I'm a trans creator. And so I have a need to tell that story to represent and be like, yo, these people exist, and it's pretty normal. I want to help normalize that and also help other trans creators get work because it's especially difficult in the entertainment industry because it's very, very hard.
K: What is your personal story, as a trans person. How did you figure out your gender identity?
B: I prayed to God to take the gay away. Yeah, and he made me fucking trans.
So he did take the gay away. I'm straight now, but just in the worst way possible.
Anyways, so how I came to this conclusion: like there's a couple of times in high school and like looking back to my childhood. Like even you probably remember how boyish I was. You know, I was always wearing the oversized hoodies back then I don't even know what that meant.
K: You were. It looked so cute.
B: Yes. But in high school, I remember kind of like, I met my first transgender person, but they were very in the closet at the time because it was definitely not safe to be out at our school. Even though Vanderwelp made gender-neutral bathrooms, but like, I would not like that.
K: They were in the corner of the school.
B: They were hidden, but also, I would not have, even if I realized I was trans in high school. I would have hidden that shit because I'm pretty sure I would have gotten my ass beat. Like dead ass. Like I know I'm a little anxiety bird, but like hearing about some of the stuff white boys would do, it wouldn't have been safe compared to being just a lesbian. Cause no one's gonna punch a girl.
K: Cause you were pretty out as a lesbian, right?
B: I was super out as a lesbian. And I was in a weird position of power for high school. I was pretty big in the theater company. Yeah, but anyway, I did question my gender briefly in high school, like, I remember vividly looking in the mirror and be like, "Maybe I'm a man. What does that mean? I can't do this right now. Because I am the lesbian of the high school. I am helping the other gays, I'll save."
Like looking back, this was definitely not the most healthy mindset, I definitely felt like I needed, it was my responsibility to make sure the other gay kids felt safe. Which is like somewhat true, like as part of the community, like I worried about it way too much. I did not put myself first.
Yeah, and like I was in charge of the theatre company. I had too much shit going on. I was just too busy to deal with that. Grand Rapids Christian High is not the place to explore, you know, and it just wasn't.
K: Could you speak a little bit more about why coming out as trans is unsafe at Grand Rapids Christian High?
B: Like, just the idea of homosexuality was such a big thing. And gender is so much more complex. It's not even that complex when you look at it. But even the gays were scared and like, I personally, I can recall maybe three times I was like, mocked I'd say, for my sexuality. But I'd hardly use that word. Like, I remember three-ish encounters that I personally had in my entire high school career.
K: Or at least big noticeable encounters.
B: Yeah, like three or four noticeable microaggressions. And like I also noticed, too, like, people wouldn't use certain language around me either, because I was confident. Like I overheard these two boys making a tranny joke. They used the word tranny, too. And I just kind of glared at them.
And this was before I was trans too. And they just kind of shut up. I had power and like, so I never experienced a lot. But then when I talked to my queer friends they would be like, "Oh, yeah, I've gotten called fag tons of times." Especially my friend who was not cis. Yeah, they had a really, really hard time in high school. And they were a bunch of other things, too. They're also disabled.
So it definitely was like, yeah, even though we've gotten through it, and there were good environments, there were other not good environments.
K: As a structure, I feel like it was not a good environment.
B: Grand Rapids Christian High was literally divided between safe and not safe. On the right side of the building, you had art rooms and you had the theater department. And that's where the queers went, cause that's where the queers were safe. We had teachers who we knew would defend us.
K: I think the English department was even around there, too.
B: Yeah. And the English department was great as well. And so was the science department.
K: Yeah, they were.
B: But then on the other side of the school, you had the athletic facility. And so we all kind of stayed away from that, and that vibe because that's where the jocks would go.
K: That's even a good representation of just the culture at Grand Rapids Christian in general.
B: Yeah like it is literally divided.
K: It is split between arts and athletics.
B: Which is really sad too, because there were a couple of queers who I knew of that played sports. As a queer artist was so artistic that it almost felt like a little, you know, like a little exclusive in a sense. Like, "Oh, I don't like art though I can't, you know..."
K: Be apart of the queer community.
B: It's like the queer community was almost the same as the art community, which we can't help, but the queer community tried to fix that at Christian High too, they were like how can we, how can we get to the other side because you know, there are people over there, and you know, they're lost. You know they're sad.
Even looking back, which I felt bad, like, one of my other queer friends was like, Hey, I'm pretty sure this kid who I'm not close to is queer. And he's like, fairly popular. And she's like, can I tell him about other queer people in our community?
And I remember being like, no because I don't know this one. And these queers are in my art clubs and in my theater clubs. And so I definitely feel way more dedication to them. Which is really fucked up, though.
Yeah, I felt guilty about that. It should just be like, come on in.
I think I've known a lot of trans people after Christian High. They're incredibly brave. But I couldn't because I put a lot on myself too as a leader. Because I truly feel like, and I hope I'm wrong because I feel like if I were to have come out as trans in high school, I would have lost in a sense, a lot of that power. Not to my queer friends, obviously, but to the other, not queer people who respected me.
But I also hadn't realized I was trans yet because I was ignoring it.
K: Do you think it took you a long time to realize you were trans because you were ignoring being trans or do you think you it was also because you didn't have enough resources?
B: I didn't know a lot about it at all. And like, my queer friends were pretty good at education too. But like, I had a lot of internalized transphobia. I was misunderstood and miseducated.
But simply, honestly, it's representation. I didn't know what a trans person looked like. I knew one trans person. I didn't, you know, I didn't see it. I didn't know what it looked like to be trans. You know, it really wasn't until I started listening to Cave Town and I began to sympathize.
K: Could you expand on what Cave Town is?
B: Cave Town is a musician. I love CaveTown. He's a trans artist. He's a trans man a year older than me.
His music is just like the music he wants to make and it's great. And he talks about some trans concepts. And he talks about love and kindness and lots of different things. And I love him. He's this amazing, amazing artist in multiple ways. He's a painter as well and a Minecraft live streamer.
He's very open. Like, he just is like, unapologetically himself. And like I just really, really related to him. Like, I saw myself in him. And then I eventually realized, oh, it's cuz I'm trans.
K: About when was this?
B: This was like I started loving cave town like senior year of high school.
And then like, I got a binder like in the fall freshman year of college, just before Thanksgiving. I started binding because I wanted my button-downs to close. And then I really liked how it felt. Yeah, I really liked how it felt because I actually had a friend. I actually have a friend who's not at all just totally cis but binds. I'm like, oh, if she can bind, I can bind. And so I did and I'm like, Oh, I like this little too much. Yeah.
And then like I started reading and watching YouTube and looking into it. And then I'm like, maybe I should try packing. Then I ordered a packer after Christmas. I tried packing, and I liked it. And then I went by they/them. And then I'm like, I just want to be called he though. Like it wasn't enough.
And finally, early March, I was in my freshman year, I was like, going by he/him. And then I chose the name Bill like a week after spring break. Even though my deadname is gender-neutral - but then I actually ran into the improv team. Everyone was nice, and they all shouted my name simultaneously. And it suddenly, like, twisted in my gut. And I was like, sitting there talking to them catching up. I'm like, should I tell them that I'm like, trans though. And I was like, no. But like that made me realize, yeah, I want a different name. And then I changed my name and came out to my parents in the summertime.
K: I remember thinking when you came out to me thinking like, Oh, well, your name is gender-neutral. But yeah, that makes so much sense because it's tied to being a woman.
B: It's tied to my femininity. And also too, the thing was, like, even though the nickname I went by was pretty masculine, it's short for something. Like my mom really struggles with that, too. Like, "why do you have to change your name? It's gender-neutral." Yeah, but I'm not gender-neutral. I want a name that is 100% man. Like no doubt about it. And it fits.
K: Yeah it does. I think it's a great name.
B: I like the symbolism of changing the name to taking a step in a new direction now that I'm fully alive.
K: So even like now when I hear someone dead name you or use the wrong pronouns, it feels wrong to me because I can see how much happier you are. You're much more yourself.
B: I have friends at NYU who never really knew me as anything other than Bill. And then they hear my deadname they're like, "Oh, yeah, I forgot that was your name."
K: Yeah so what, what to you feels particularly lost about transness? Could you speak more to the under-representation that you see in trans media?
B: Um, it just feels abnormal. You know, it's like, it's not seen as something that's relatively common, actually. Like, yeah, it's not as common as, like, homosexuality, but like, it's not that odd. It's not that abstract or abnormal.
Like there's a big group of people that experience it. Like you're gonna meet someone in your life who's trans, like, everyone is at some point whether they want to or not. Or whether they even know they did or not.
And like that should be represented, you know, that should be normalized. You know, and that a lot of what I've seen in the media is about the trans story, which is great. Which, we definitely need that. But like you know, like, it'd be nice if it was like, normalized. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina does it great. Where it's just like, okay, Susie said I'm Theo now. Good Girls does a great, same thing.
K: That's awesome.
B: Um, we definitely just want to start being normalized, like, I just wanted to be seen and be normal. And especially I want trans actors voicing and playing trans characters. I Want trans actors playing and voicing cis characters, you know?
In mainstream media it's like, it's weird because all our representation is YouTube and Tik Tok now. I think that's why they're big because there are actual communities on these platforms. Then there's Cartoon Network, which is doing great and definitely improving that. I think nonbinary characters especially need to be normal. Because they exist. You know...
K: Yeah, they do.
B: And they don't need a big explanation of it. I just think there needs to be more execution and less explanation. No one owes you an explanation.
Like I don't need to explain my gender to you. Neither should those characters. You know, like, it's, they should just be able to exist. I think even any LGBT stuff like that needs more representation as a whole.
Things would have been way, way different for me if I had been exposed to a trans character early on and been like, "Oh, that's a thing, that exists. And this thing is okay." Like, even as a lesbian, like, it took me until like, age 12 reading a book that has lesbians in it, and I was like, "Oh, this is an option. This is an actual thing."
Like, I just want it to be normal, you know?
Like I want to put it in kid shows, you know, and just have it like "Oh by the way, like the character takes off his shirt to go swimming and you see scars. Oh, he's trans." Like, it's no big deal. You know, like, I want that casualness. Because I think that's important. And it's hard because it's like, sometimes you just want to see yourself on screen. And I have like, one movie to see myself in. And it's Elle Fanning, you know, and it's like, really.
And like, that's more than some people have, you know. And I have a couple of TV shows. It's like, you know, it's like, even like gay people, need more representation still but at least there's like some variety. At least you have like, three movies you can choose to watch.
K: Even those are white...
B: Just pretty cis gay people. Or they're all hyper-sexualized. Like even the trans movies I've watched, they show unhealthy bad trans habits. Like they film binding with ace bandaged which is super, super bad. And like, if a trans person were to see that as their information, they'll take it seriously. And there are definitely people making improvements.
K: How do you want to be a part of those improvements being made?
B: I want to be like a twist on Rebecca Sugar. I think we need to start younger. I definitely want to make the cartoon series I'm working on right now. Like, there are six main characters and one of those characters is nonbinary.
B: There's no sexuality. Like, I don't think there needs to be an explanation if the character dates a boy or the character dates a girl.
K: That's incredible. Even that is discussing sexuality, though, in a very implicit way. That's a beautiful thing to do.
B: Yeah, and just simple stuff like that.
And also not necessarily defining relationships, because like, even though I'm the type of person that wants to define it, that's not the vibe of all people, you know, and some people kiss one person, some people kiss two people. That's their vibe, that's their personality. So like I want to show like, love is a spectrum. All types of self-love, sexuality, it's all just a spectrum.
You know, like I just want to be casual. Like I have a trans character in it that I personally want to voice. And it's hardly mentioned. Like it's not like this is a trans man, it's just a kid who is very goofy. You know and like, later on, come up like they'll be looking at his baby pictures and he was a female. Like "Oh yeah this was baby Mikey" I just want to normalize it, like, you know some people don't stay their sex, you know.
I want to like to put it into kids' imaginations at a young age so they know how to explore and all that stuff. That's in regards to transgenderism. You know, and then like this will help them to think on their own and this will help them to start discussion with their parents. Or discussions with their friends, you know.
Transphobic parents aren't gonna read into a show about superheroes. Like, they'll just set their kids up in front of the TV. And then like for all those little trans babies and gay babies they can actually look into the guy who made this and see that he's dead ass trans.
I'd obviously like to also put that in music cause Cavetown, that's definitely a big comfort to me because he's trans and a lot of trans men's voices deepen, and a lot of them lose the ability to sing on testestrone which is like a big risk. But Cavetown can still sing on itand his voice is great. He sounds like a man, cause he is.
Your voice is your voice, you know, and that's what matters.
K: Is there anything else you want to say?
B: I personally believe everyone, regardless if you're cis or trans should ask themselves about gender and sexuality. Like you should ask yourself, "why am I personally a female?" Because if the answer is I don't know, you should ask yourself why you don't know. Because like I did not want to be trans. But the thing that helped me be trans, and made me passionate about going into cartoons was when I was in high school, I was driving this gay person home, and I was like, "You know, I did not want to come out in high school at all." And they looked at me and they go, "I needed you to come out. I needed you to be gay."
And looking back, I needed characters and people to be trans. And I still do. And I don't have that. So I think I need to be trans.