Tommy Dorfman — Get Up, Stand Up

Grayson Vaughan
Chris Horan
Cordelia Speed

“I’ve always been a person that dresses in a way that challenges the norm.” Whether it’s in a Thom Browne skirt-suit or in an-alien-landed-on-Earth-in- Andie-MacDowell’s-backhouse kind of fit, Tommy Dorfman knows how to make a statement. The 13 Reasons Why and Love in the Time of Corona actor is passionate about the art of storytelling and generates something almosttangibly electric in the air as they share their  thoughts and aspirations with us on everything from queer representation in television, to the fight for equality in the United States. Tommy speaks with a striking self-awareness that not only inspires others to embrace their individuality but encourages them to thrive off of it.

Miaou top, Staud trousers, ASOS shoes, Kendra Scott earrings

Cordelia Speed: Hey Tommy! How are you holding up during this uniquely unsettling and odd period we are finding ourselves in?
Tommy Dorfman: It’s a strange, strange world. I think I’m doing as well as I can.
CS: So, you spent some of lockdown filming Love in the Time of Corona. How did it feel to make something that was so relatable for the entire world?
TD: It was an extremely unique experience to have the opportunity to work on something that was so topical and timely and be a part of the renaissance of television during this time and finding a way to still tell stories under new guidelines and new restrictions. I was just grateful for the experience to work again in a safe environment with people that I love! It was interesting to be a part of a sort of time capsule for this time period.
CS: I feel like lockdown has been a time of self-reflection for many and has perhaps forced many of us to confront things we have traditionally pushed aside. What have you learnt about yourself these past few months?
TD: I’ve had to learn how to actually sit with myself. I think I’ve spent the last few years since I’ve been working on a plane every other week, constantly shooting or travelling, extremely busy and it’s easy in that space to not actually do any self-care because work provides the schedule for me to stay distracted and not deal with emotional or personal stuff. It’s funny because usually around the holidays I get really sick every year because I’m burnt out from January to December, and then I’m sick for like three weeks in December and exhausted and I tend to just sleep through the holidays and then pick back up again. I’ve had to learn how to just relax during this time and deal with personal stuff when it comes up, not sort of push it to the side because I have other things going on, which I’m grateful for. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot in the last seven months.
CS: Sometimes we don’t realise how much we need a reset until it’s forced upon us!
TD: Yeah, totally! Getting to know my dog better, getting to know my husband better. All of these people in my life that I’ve been with for a long time and haven’t gotten to spend quality time with for so long just helped me refocus on what’s important. Cutting the fat in some ways! Like, what do I actually need to live a serene life, to feel fulfilled? I realised that a lot of the things that I thought I needed to be a part of my life I actually don’t, and my hope is that I can take some of that with me as we transition out of this period, although in America it’s getting far more complicated than just coming out of isolation and quarantine.
CS: You seem to be a real advocate for self-expression and understanding, but I imagine it wasn’t always that simple or easy as a kid trying to navigate your identity and sexuality. Can you tell me about school and growing up?
TD: My gender expression was always really fluid as a kid. I would say significantly more “fem” than “masc” presenting as a child. Of course, that came with consequences, unfair ones from bullying to harassment. Middle school was a period for me when I felt the need, in order to protect myself, to present as male and as cis as possible. It took me like ten years to come back to a place where I was really comfortable with my gender-fluidity and presenting in ways that aren’t accepted in every part of the world but in ways that make me feel truthful and honest in myself.
CS: I think it’s brilliant that young people going through the challenges of youth now can listen to you speaking about your journey and these issues, which is something that you do through your work too. Instead of shying away from controversial and difficult topics such as sexual assault, selfharm and suicide, 13 Reasons Why is a show which tackles them head on. How does it feel to be part of a show which is so revolutionary in its openness to take on such real issues?
TD: I’m really grateful for that opportunity, I think it changed my perspective on the type of work that I want to be engaging in for my career. I was so grateful just to have a job, I mean it was my first job! To be on a show like that, which took off in the way that it did and had such a global impact made me realise the power of storytelling and what you can accomplish through it. It also helped me become confident in not shying away from the person that I am. Even though, the first couple of years out there I did wanna mask certain parts of myself because I thought if I showed too much of my queerness or my fluidity that it would prevent me from getting certain jobs and opportunities, but I found myself getting really depressed when I was suppressing it and the game wasn’t really working in the way that I thought I needed to play it. Recently, since I’ve just owned all of these facets of myself and not tried to hide them in any way or manipulate them, I’ve been far more successful and far more happy in my endeavours. I’m actually doing work that feels truthful and I think a lot of that comes from 13 Reasons Why being my break-in into the industry and sort of setting the tone for the type of work that I wanna do in the future.

Thai Nguyen coat

Longchamp dress, Miaou corset

CS: What inspires me about you is that you not only tackle issues on screen but do so equally off screen. You seem to be harnessing your fame to advocate for causes that you are passionate about such as rights for the LGBTQ+ community and gun control. Do you think it’s important for those with public platforms to use their voices as a force for good?
TD: I think we have a responsibility to and I also understand why some people don’t. I understand that some people’s advocacy lies in educating themselves and doing things on a less public facing level. I also realise that some advocacy is performative and there’s a fine line between those things. So for me, I’ve always been a person who has been outspoken, even prior to having followers on Instagram; I’ve always been a person who has stood up for what they believe in, whether that’s on a local level at school, or in Georgia when I was growing up as a kid, or in college in New York City planning a Planned Parenthood rally right at the beginning of 2017, before 13 Reasons Why. I’ve been doing that kind of work for a while and it just feels very organic and natural to me. I do my best to educate myself prior to posting things or engaging in stuff; there’s so much noise and I think more and more I’m learning the importance of developing my own position in thought patterns around some things prior to just supporting them. I’ve found that the more focussed I get in my efforts, the more successful I can be in my advocacy.
CS: In everything that you do, your authenticity shines through. I wondered who inspires you to be your authentic self?
TD: My grandmother, who passed last year. She was marching on the streets in the 60s in Georgia for equality and for Black lives as a very Catholic white woman! She left the Catholic church in the 90s during the big, explosive headline era of the child molestation that was happening. [She was] always centred, in my belief, on the right side of history. I try to think a lot about what I do before I do it, what I say before I say it, what I engage with and why, and I think about her and the choices that she made. It’s hard to say whether all of the choices were right or wrong or perfect in any way, but I think about the inheritance that I have from her and responsibility to her and other people in my family.
CS: Instagram seems to be a place where you express yourself artistically through fashion and makeup. You destroy gender norms and look incredible whilst you do it! Tell me about your relationship with fashion.
TD: Fashion has always been a form of storytelling to me, even as a kid trying to dress like this or emulate this, there’s confidence in there and there’s character. It’s raining in Upstate New York right now, I had to run a lot of errands so I’m dressed practically for the day, but last night for whatever reason I wanted to wear this yellow skirt and this Heaven by Marc Jacobs one shoulder mesh tank top and a leather blazer! It’s interesting to see that in conversation with a very small town in Upstate New York and there’s something very performative about it and exciting! I’ve always been a person that dresses in a way that challenges the norm and my brother would say it’s attention seeking and maybe he’s right but I also think it’s authentic to who I am as a being.
CS: And when is it that you feel the most unapologetically you?
TD: It depends on the day and on how I’m feeling! I’ve had more public-facing fashion moments where I can pinpoint and say “that was a day where I felt incredible”, whether it was wearing this Thom Browne skirt-suit to the MTV Movie Awards a couple of years ago and that whole night I felt powerful and confident. Going to the Margiela show in Paris, wearing genderless couture is another moment where I can pinpoint and say that whole day I felt in control, confident, grounded and a part of something larger. Or, it’s as simple as wearing a Jacquemus dress to dinner in Montana with my family, because it just feels right!
CS: The styling is also so important.
TD: Styling is so crucial, right? That’s why I got to have so much fun with this shoot because I got to work with my stylist, my makeup artist and one of my hair artists and we got to develop wigs. It was very collaborative. And working with Grayson who I adore! Sam Visser is perhaps one of the most talented makeup artists alive today, and so young! This kind of an-alien landedon-Earth-in-Andie-MacDowell’sbackhouse journey that I wanted to present today!
CS: Through your work and personal life, you prove yourself time and time again to be a forward-thinking individual who is unafraid to use their voice! With the upcoming elections in the US, I wondered what your hopes are and what changes you would like to see?
TD: I think first and foremost, our democracy is at stake here and I’m saying that as a person with a lot of privilege. I’ve lived in an America that has treated me fairly well aside from being queer and trans but for the most part I’ve been cis-passing and safe, so I’ve lived in a pretty democratic America from my advantage point, but I think if we are ever going to have equality in this country, if Black lives are ever going to be treated equally, if the mass murdering of trans people is ever going to stop, it’s going to require us to not live in a fascist country that’s run by a dictator. First and foremost, my hope is that Trump does not get re elected and that people show up and that they vote and fight because I think that it is going to look like Trump is elected early on, but hopefully with all of the mail-in ballots and everything else we have an opportunity to win and to win the Senate and other seats on a local level so that someone else can be placed in the Supreme Court. Things like gun control, acts of equality and police not just reform but restructuring, revolution and abolishment of the system as it is today; none of those things can happen if Trump stays President. Those are not things that are going to happen immediately or in even probably the next five years but there’s an opportunity at least for those to happen and for real change in support of environmental issues, science, people such as women and the LGBTQ+ community retaining their rights and obtaining more equality if Trump is not our President. That has to happen before anything else. My hope is from there that we can actually start to do the work, and organisations such as Black Lives Matter will have a better opportunity to be seen and heard beyond a noise level because change is being advocated for and change is in action as we speak and my hope is that with a different presidency and with a more democratic country, that work will be more impactful.

Givenchy dress, Schiaparelli necklace

Miaou top, Staud trousers, ASOS shoes

Maisie Wilen dress, vintage necklace

Miaou top, Staud trousers, Kendra Scott earrings

Miaou top, Staud trousers, ASOS shoes

Photography: Grayson Vaughan
Styling: Chris Horan
Interview: Cordelia Speed
Makeup: Sam Visser
Hair: Dallin James
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