Disclaimer: Language and terminology varies between countries and cultures. Zamora uses the word “transexual” to describe herself and refers to “transexuality” throughout the interview. According to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide, it is best practice to use the word “transgender” to describe trans people unless they refer to themselves otherwise.
Interview was conducted in Spanish and translated into English / SPANISH ARTICLE
Trans Day of Visibility is on March 31st, and to celebrate GLAAD had the pleasure of chatting with Abril Zamora at her home in Madrid, Spain. Zamora is the creator and star of Dafne and the Rest (Todo lo otro), an HBO Max show nominated in the Spanish-Language Outstanding Scripted Series category at this year’s 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards. After being greeted by her dogs Hellen and Hannah and her cats Arya and Shinji, who made regular appearances during our conversation, I noticed the shelves on her wall were stocked full of comic books, manga, movies, and figurines. Sailor Moon, a magical girl anime from the 90s, stood out to me. “I’m a huge fan!” Zamora told me and showed off her most recent tattoo: the Crystal Star on her wrist. We joked about the show having made an impact on many LGBTQ millenials.
Zamora and I discussed her work, the future of trans representation, and her nominated series. She stars as the writer, director, and protagonist of Dafne and the Rest, placing her as the first out trans showrunner in Spain. Zamora has also acted alongside Sophia Loren in The Life Ahead (La vita davanti a sé), a film also nominated for a GLAAD award last year. Other credits include roles in Locked Up (Vis a vis), The Mess You Leave Behind (El desorden que dejas), writing credits in Élite, and the creator, director, and writer of Dangerous Moms (Señoras del (h)AMPA).
Abril Zamora describes her show Dafne and the Rest as “a simple series about personal relationships that talks about the frustration of not having met the objectives that have been imposed upon you. Previous generations, when they were our age, had a house, a job, a mortgage, some kids, and that causes anxiety when we see that we’re adults that keep acting in childish ways…I live intensely like an adolescent and I love to have the right to make mistakes. It seems like something we’re not allowed to have but it’s important, you know?” Dafne, the main character played by Zamora, falls in love with her best friend, struggles in the modern dating world, hates her job, and searches for purpose alongside her “30-something” year-old friends. Despite the complicated context, “there’s a halo of optimism which is a message that I love to share…There’s always something to hold onto to keep moving forward.”
“See! And I didn’t say the word trans or LGBT at any moment!”
Zamora intentionally did not want to center the story around Dafne’s gender. While Dafne’s everyday experience as a trans woman is an unequivocal element to the plot, “transexuality is something like an adjective of the character.” Zamora tells us that this kind of representation is her dream role as an actress, and not something she sees enough of.
Visibility is important, because as Zamora puts it, “What we can’t see, doesn’t exist.” Throughout history, LGBTQ people have searched for themselves in popular culture, looking for this kind of evidence and recognition. Therefore, it’s important to Zamora to be in the public eye and to serve as a reference for others. “I often go to television programs or to red carpets just so that I can be seen…Then someone can say, ‘Wow, I’m just like that person,’ you know?”
“For many people, fiction is a window to the world. If you live in a small town or you don’t have any LGBT people in your life, what you see in that window is what you can normalize. So when your daughter tells you, ‘I’m a girl, I’m a trans girl,’ you’re going to understand it much better. In this way representation is not only for the new generations, but also for families of these generations. This representation is important, and although there still isn’t enough, little by little we’re fighting for more visibility, and positive visibility.”
As we celebrate Trans Day of Visibility, it is worth considering that not all visibility is good visibility, just as not all representation is good, fair, or accurate representation. For Zamora, it is important for her to depict trans stories that are positive and celebratory, but also average and ultimately human. She wants LGBTQ characters to receive the same amount of complexity and genre diversity as their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. More specifically, Zamora wants LGBTQ representation to move away from dramas.
“A few years ago when I was young, if you saw a gay person in fiction, their only conflict was HIV, or being rejected, or trying to come out of the closet. Those are conflicts that still happen here in Spain, but we already know that reality. We need to show other realities from a positive place, and I even think being frivolous with some of these topics can normalize them.”
“For example, when I started my transition I didn’t know anyone trans and it really scared me because the references I know from Spanish fiction or from TV were references very associated with dark things or prositution. In Spain there’s an 82% unemployment rate within the trans community. 82%! …It was really difficult for me to understand who I was because I associated it with something negative.” Despite celebrating shows like Veneno, the winner of last year’s Spanish-Language Scripted Television Series, Zamora wanted to represent the experience of a trans person whose conflict encircled modern mundanities in Dafne and the Rest. Zamora and I joked about this.
“So many stories about trans people only have to do with transition,” I told her. “We don’t get to see everyday trans people who also go out and fall in love and go grocery shopping-”
“Of course! Totally!” She exclaimed. “And get drunk and suffer and cry and have shitty jobs and have aspirations and have dreams. And then there’s the transexuality which for me means that I take some hormones in the morning and that’s it, you know?” We both laughed at this.
“That’s it! I always say that taking hormones is like brushing my teeth,” I told her.
The trans visibility Zamora wants to see, and to offer with her series, requires this kind of authentic and nuanced representation. “When I created this series Dafne and the Rest I realized that I had a lot of responsibility since there are few trans characters in fiction, and if I did negative things there could be negative consequences. But I tried to forget about that and focus on representing a character with ‘lights and shadows’, who messes up, does things that are wrong, does things that are right, makes mistakes, and I think the humanity encourages empathy in others…I wanted to talk about my life, what I know, and I don’t identify as a perfect person.”
For Zamora, trans visibility in media also includes considering trans actors for a wide range of opportunities, and not only for explicitly LGBTQ roles. “There aren’t any casting calls here that I can do. No one ever calls me because I’m a trans person and casting directors only call me for a role if it’s described as trans, even though I could play a waitress, a lawyer, the girlfriend of the protagonist, or a girl who owns a fruit store, you know?”
When there are trans roles, often they’re given to cisgender actors. Recently, Zamora was hired by Netflix to voice Laverne Cox’s character Sophia in the Spanish dub of Orange in the New Black, as she was previously voiced by a cisgender actor. “When I did the series Vis a vis, which was my first series, in every country men would do my voiceover. It’s very frustrating.”
“In Money Heist for example there’s a trans character who is played by a cisgender actress. She’s really talented and all but ugh, for one trans character there is a year!…It’s important not only for the scriptwriters but also for the creators, the producers, and the casting directors to promote this visibility and help give trans people opportunities”
“When I listened to the dubbed version of Dafne and the Rest, I realized that a trans actress does my voiceover, and that made me very happy…The series has helped me, but it’s also helped a trans actress who maybe wasn’t working before to get her a job, you know? That’s a chain of positive factors.” Zamora smiled at this, touched by the thought of the project making a larger impact.
In this way, Zamora recognizes the power of visibility as a tool to raise awareness, but also wishes for more. For her, trans representation is an integration of trans stories, and trans talent, in front of and behind the camera. Trans visibility deserves to be complex, human, and loving, not only for the fictional characters, but also for the real-life trans people playing, writing, producing, and directing these roles. It is clear from our conversation that Zamora is dedicated to providing opportunities for others while creating the representation and being the visibility she wants to see.
“Normally here in Spain it’s usually ‘you can’t say this, don’t do this, remove this, this can’t be done.’ So it’s a bit frustrating as a scriptwriter, but this time I had a lot of freedom which is why I don’t know if the series will be liked or disliked, but I’m proud because it’s been a very authentic project and the contributions of the actors, the contributions of the crew, the contributions that I made came from honesty and real life and the love we had to tell this story. It’s been one of the most positive experiences of my life and separately, even if it seems arrogant to say it, I think representation like this didn’t exist in Spain and it was a necessary moment to tell it.”
Dafne and the Rest is available in the U.S. streaming on HBO Max, and was one of the first Spanish original titles on the platform.
Alex Escaja (they/he) is a consultant at GLAAD in Transgender Representation and Spanish-Language & Latinx Media. They are also an award-winning filmmaker, an advocate for LGBTQ youth, and one of GLAAD’s 20 Under 20 Rising Stars.