Shane Henise, a senior psychology major with a minor in LGBT studies, has been enjoying the media spotlight on the red carpet. Henise, from Silver Spring, Md., was one of only seven U.S. students selected to participate in “The T Word” documentary produced and hosted by Laverne Cox. He graciously answered our questions about the project.
What is “The T Word” project?
It’s an hour-long documentary that premiered on MTV and LOGO on October 17. (It’s also available online on the LOGO website.) It broke ground as the first documentary to show transgender individuals in a human light. “The T-Word “didn’t focus on surgery, birth names, or any of the other topics that usually come up when talking about trans people. It focused instead on lived experience and how we exist in the world as transgender individuals, which I believe is a great place to start.
How did you get involved?
I met Laverne Cox last semester when she came to speak at Towson. I had a few minutes to sit with her at the meet-and-greet hosted by the Center for Student Diversity (CSD). We talked about my experience as a transgender individual and what it’s like to be trans on a college campus. After her speech, everyone lined up to take a picture with her. When it was my turn, she tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to wait on the side. She then took me into a room in the CSD and told me she was producing a documentary about transgender youth and asked if I would be interested. A couple interviews later, I found out that I was one of seven chosen from around the country.
What was it like to be featured in a documentary?
It was unlike any other experience I’ve had. I was followed by cameras for 24 hours around campus and my home, which took some getting used to. But even more than the filming process, the experience of meeting the other cast members has been so amazing. They are all the most incredibly warm and welcoming humans. Also, I’ve been propelled into an entirely different world. I’ve been interviewed for Huffington Post, for the New York Daily News, and even got to attend a red carpet premiere for “The T Word.” I was able to meet trans celebrities that I have looked up to and admired since I started my journey.
Would you tell us more about Laverne Cox?
Laverne Cox is a transgender actress and activist. Most people know her from her role as Sofia on “Orange is the New Black.” She was also the first transgender woman ever nominated for an Emmy, and the first transgender woman to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. Having her name attached to the project really gave it visibility and got people excited about it. She is a pioneer in the transgender rights movement.
Did Towson University support your involvement?
Towson has been amazingly supportive throughout the whole process. Not only did we film on campus, but Towson also had an event for the premiere. Although I was in New York, it was amazing to see how much support I have on campus as a student and an individual. Not only did Towson invite diversity speakers who talked about social-justice issues—it also invited Laverne to campus, and that’s what started this whole process.
How has your college experience been affected?
Being involved in the project has really helped me give a voice to transgender students. I have been invited to speak in many classes this semester, and professors are more excited about hearing trans voices. I am now able to share my story and shed light not only on transgender issues and policy on campus, but also to show that Towson has transgender students. By being visible I hope that students can see that trans people aren’t any different from anyone else.
Henise is scheduled to graduate in May 2015. He is applying to doctoral programs in experimental psychology and expects to begin his graduate studies next fall.