“We love ambiguity in characters, whether it’s moral ambiguity, sexual ambiguity – why not gender ambiguity?”
Bex Taylor-Klaus has amassed a dedicated cult following in recent years for playing tough-as-nails characters on television shows such as The Killing, Arrow and Scream, as well as films such as The Last Witch Hunter, Hellfest and Dumplin’.
This year, the actor took on their biggest role to date: as Casey Ford in the third season of Netflix’s controversial teen drama, 13 Reasons Why. The character is significant because their gender identity is never specified on the series, which has been lauded as a significant step-forward for trans and non-binary representation.
“We love ambiguity in characters, whether it’s moral ambiguity, sexual ambiguity – why not gender ambiguity?” Bex passionately tells us over the phone. “I am a big advocate for loud and proud characters, but I’m also an advocate for subtlety.”
We spoke with the star about their divisive new character, how coming out as trans non-binary has changed their experience in the film and television industry, and why ‘Gays for Trump’ and ‘Women for Trump’ are “the same as ‘Chickens for McNuggets.’”
So, I thought the third season of 13 Reasons Why was a major improvement over the second.
I am going to tell you the truth… I have not seen the second one and never will. The first one triggered me really badly, and I almost had a relapse. So I tried the first episode of season two, after I already filmed season three, and found myself on the borderline of getting triggered, yeah no, that’s not happening.
At least you know your limits and you’re at a point where you can say, ‘I can’t watch this, it will affect me in this way.’
Exactly, which is why I’m so glad that they have that new announcement at the very beginning of the first episode of season three. They have that video of the cast saying, ‘This might not be the right show for you, and that’s okay. If you still want to watch it, make sure you’re with someone.’ That’s really helpful and it’s huge for kids. I’m fortunate, I’ve done a lot of work on myself, my emotions and all that stuff, so I’m aware of what my limitations are, but very few kids are.
Why did you decide to take on a role in the show?
I actually called Tommy Dorfman, we grew up together in the same city, his cousins are my cousins cousins – it’s a whole small Jewish community thing! Anyway, I talked to Tommy and I talked to him about my fears and I told him I couldn’t watch season two, and I barely got through season one and I said, ‘Should I do this?’ He said that from what he knew and from who he’d spoken to, season three was going to go in a whole different direction and they really wanted to fix what they’d done. They wanted redemption, and I’m a sucker for a redemption story, I believe in the power of redemption, I believe that it’s possible if you truly want it and if you truly work for it. You can’t just want it, you have to work for it. They were willing to put in the work and so that’s the real reason I signed on. I was promised that it didn’t have to do with Hannah’s suicide anymore, and that they were working to redeem themselves.
Casey has proved to be quite the divisive figure among fans…
Casey is both the best and the worst. Oh my god, every single episode I want to grab Casey by the shoulders and shake her and say, ‘No, just stop it! Stop it! Stop it!’ It’s so true to life and I’ve had a lot of people commenting going, ‘How dare you play a role like this, it gives “leftists” a bad name.’ I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, “leftists” who pull the shit that Casey pulls give “leftists” a bad name.’ And please note that every time I say “leftists”, it’s in air quotes because it’s stupid, it gives “leftists” a bad name… people doing bad things give people a bad name. I’m playing a character that is mimicking what’s actually happening in reality, like come on man! I’ve had people send me tweets with photos of Casey and Ani saying, ‘Bring back Bryce in exchange for these two.’ Like really? You want the rich white racist pig face motherfucker back instead of two complex female characters, what is wrong with you?
Eh? People are fucked.
It’s fascinating seeing the reaction. I love it when people say they hate me because of Casey or when people say they hate Casey and they don’t know how to feel about me, I love that it means that I’ve gotten who Casey is across to them. Casey is complex, Casey isn’t going to be liked by everyone because Casey does things wrong, a lot! Casey’s intentions are good, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Although you said Casey is a strong female character, it’s never truly specified in the third season whether Casey identifies as male or female, which is quite rare. Do you think we’ll be seeing more ambiguous representation in television and film?
Absolutely, it’s really interesting. We love ambiguity in characters, whether it’s moral ambiguity, sexual ambiguity – why not gender ambiguity? It’s something we’re drawn to as a culture and yet so scared of at the same time. The media is all about pushing the limits, media is all about pushing perceptions and changing big ideas and kind of reflecting what’s happening in society. And so yes, I do believe this is something we’re going to see more often. Casey will wear shirts that have the female sign or the female paradigm or pins that identify female, but I love that that’s the only way that you get any sort of insight into how Casey identifies. Yes, I am a big advocate for loud and proud characters, but I’m also an advocate for subtlety because it makes you think just a little bit more.
And because it normalises it better.
Yeah! One the writers on the staff for season three, Julia Bicknell, is a non-binary writer, and they are brilliant. I absolutely adore them, we’ve met, we’ve spoke, we’ve hung out, I like to consider them a friend. I don’t know, I hope they feel the same way! But they’re absolutely a wonderful person, so getting to meet them after playing Casey was like, ‘Oh I understand where they got Casey from.’ Not the attitude, but definitely some of the ideas for Casey as an ambiguous character, I see it now.
As well as Casey, you’ve played quite a few characters that are really outspoken and and go against the grain. Would you say you’re drawn to strong roles?
Oh yeah. I can’t remember who said this or whose line this belongs to, but ‘there’s no such thing as small characters on small actors’. It sort of goes the same, there are characters that can be written weak, but they can be cast strong, and so I’m of course drawn to strong characters. Give me a character and I will make it strong!
You came out as trans non-binary on Twitter last year – was it important for you be as authentic with your fans as possible, especially because you have quite a good repertoire with them on the platform?
Yeah, and that’s something that I’m working on right now. I’m working with an energy specialist actually, to make sure I am truly being as honest and authentic in all facets of my life as possible. I like to say that my power is in my authenticity, and I want to make sure that I’m backing up what I’m saying. I’m not just talking the talk, I’m going to walk the walk as well. I’m not just going to stand here and say, ‘I’m authentic.’ I’m going to continue to be weird and strange and unique and honest. I’m sitting on, right now, a photo that I really want to post but I’m not going to post until I get consent from the other person in the photo. It’s not glamorous by any means, but it’s what is actually happening in life. So I have these days where I struggle. Yes I’d love my Instagram page to be aesthetically pleasing and a beautiful layout and all these collages and aesthetics, but I also want to be honest because life is strange, it’s not always pretty, it’s ridiculous.
Has coming out as trans non-binary changed your experience in the industry at all?
I was afraid to come out as not straight. I was afraid to come out as queer, be it queer sexually or queer gendered. I ended up doing both and I’m still here, I’m still working! I got to audition for a boy role yesterday. I got to go for this character that they weren’t sure if they were going to have be male, female, or non-binary. The casting director brought me in to read with other women, and then he brought me back to read with the men. It was so nice and I ended up getting a response from the casting director saying, ‘So they’re not going with you, you were a close second, I pushed really hard.’ The actor they ended up going with was a friend of mine, so I was like, ‘If I was going to lose this role to anyone…’ I said, ‘I’m good, I’m happy, thank you so much for giving me the feeling that being able to go in for both sides gave me.’ I was in there wearing my little slacks and a shirt, up there with all these boys in beautiful suits and I thought, ‘I am not scared.’ It felt really cool.
Within the LGBTQ community, the gender non-conforming and non binary identity is still quite misunderstood – do you find it exhausting to constantly having to defend yourself to people who are members of your own community?
When that happens, all I can do is think about my bisexual and pansexual siblings, and how hard it was for them to deal with the same thing. I will never understand how people from a marginalised community can look at someone and say, ‘Well, it’s okay for me but not for you, my identity is valid but not yours. You know what it feels like to have someone look at you and say that exact same thing, how fucking dare you say that to anyone else.’ I will never understand that, ever, so when it gets to that point I’ll try, but I won’t always try very hard. It’s not worth my time, energy or effort.
It always seems to be the white, cisgender members of our community.
The first time I said I identify as trans non-binary out loud, it was in the face of a cis gay white man. He started the suffering Olympics of, ‘I’ve been out in this industry as gay since before Ellen, and I’m Jewish, do you know how hard this is? Now I have to be careful using the word ‘transitional.’ I said, ‘Excuse you? You know I identify as trans non-binary?’ And he clammed up. I was like, ‘You don’t want to play the suffering Olympics in a room full of queer women of colour, who all identify as not straight, not cis, or trans binary, you don’t want to play this game, trust me!’ White cis gay men act like the ones who have been hurt the most.
There’s trans women of colour who are being murdered weekly in the United States and members of our community are more worried about what type of pronouns to use in a conversation with someone who’s non-binary…
Yeah, it’s fascinating. Any ‘Gay for Trump’, look at the person holding the sign. You know it’s going to be a cis white gay boy. I like to say that ‘Gays for Trump’ and ‘Women for Trump’ are just the same as ‘Chickens for McNuggets.’
I’m stealing that. On the topic of Trump, how important is it for you to be as visibly queer as possible in our current political climate?
It’s arguably the most important time to be visible and loud and proud about who you are. Honestly, just loving yourself for being different is a radical act in today’s political climate. If that’s the strongest thing you can do to fight back against what’s happening, that is a damn good fight, and you should not be ashamed. If the only energy you have to fight this current battle is to love yourself, you’re in a great position.
How do you think we can bring more awareness to the experiences of trans, non-binary and gender non-confirming people?
I always think that media, media, media is the way to go. There’s so much to consume these days, so not everybody is going to watch any one thing. So you might as well make it anyway because the people who need to see it will see it. I don’t believe that it’s okay for anyone not to see themselves represented on screen, it’s not okay, it’s not. I think we’re going to keep seeing progress and if nobody else is going to be out there doing it, I’m going to be doing it. There’s not a chance that it’s going to slow down, and if it does slow down, we’re going to pick it right back up.
The third season of 13 Reasons Why is now streaming worldwide on Netflix.
Photography Luke Fontana
Stylist Veronica Graye
Groomer Shaina Paulson