Josie Totah: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Getty Josie Totah during an interview.

Actress Josie Totah has revealed that she identifies as a transgender woman. Totah penned an essay for TIME where she detailed her reasons for making the announcement. “Acting has always been my passion,” she wrote. “I’m grateful for roles I’ve gotten to play on shows like Champions, and I know I’m lucky to be able to do what I love. But I also feel like I let myself be shoved into a box: ‘J.J. Totah, gay boy.'”

Totah, 17, has been acting since 2012. Earlier this year, she starred in the aforementioned NBC series Champions, where she played an ambitious theatre student.

Here’s what you need to know about Totah:

1. She Acted On Shows Like ‘Jessie’ & ‘Glee’ Under the Name ‘J.J. Totah’

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Totah made her acting debut in the first production for AwesomenessTV. From there, she went on to become a regular television presence, appearing on hit shows like 2 Broke Girls (“And the Childhood Not Included”), The Exes (“My Fair Stuart”) and New Girl (“Dance”). Totah was credited as J.J. Totah on these shows, as well as Disney’s Jessie, where she had a recurring role as Stuart Wooten between 2013-15.

Totah also appeared on four episodes of Glee as the character Myron Muskovitz. In her TIME essay, the actress recalls her experience on the show as being a positive one. “When I was on the show Glee, I’d stand back and watch Lea Michele,” she wrote. “She was fabulous. And it was fun to see her and the other girls wear dresses and put on lavish musical numbers. But it was also hard, because I wanted that to be me. It’s a feeling I’ve experienced in nearly every project I’ve worked on.”

More recently, Totah appeared in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and in 2018’s Other People. For the latter, she received acclaim from critics and fans alike. Vulture critic Kyle Buchanan wrote: “The child actor is only featured in two of Other People’s scenes — he plays the flamboyant younger brother of [Jesse] Plemons’s best friend — but he makes the goddamn most of them: Totah waltzes into his first scene casually hitting on the far-older Plemons, then spends his second scene in drag, staging an over-the-top, twerk-filled performance for his bemused family.”

2. She Realized She Was Transgender After Watching a TLC Docuseries

Josie Totah attends The Trevor Project’s Event.

Totah says that she identified with women long before she was aware of the “transgender” term. “This is not something that just happened. This is not a choice that I made,” she wrote. “When I was five, long before I understood what the word gender meant, I would always tell my mother that I wished I were a girl. Since I could speak in full sentences, I was like, “Give me a dress!” I always knew on some level that I was female. But it crystallized about three years ago when I was a 14-year-old watching the show I Am Jazz with my mother.”

I Am Jazz was a docuseries that aired on TLC about another transgender 14-year-old, Jazz Jennings. “As I learned more information about hormone replacement therapy, I knew that this was what I had to do. I looked over at her in the middle of the show and said, “This is me. I’m transgender. And I need to go through this.” My mother, who is immensely supportive and gracious, said, “Okay, let’s do it.”

“Three days later,” she continued, “I was meeting with my pediatrician, who referred me to a specialist, who put me on a hormone blocker. From that point on, I hit the ground running.” Totah also revealed that male puberty was something that frightened her. “Once I got on the hormone blocker, which basically stopped my testosterone, that part changed,” she said. “I wasn’t waking up every day and panicking. “Is there hair on my face? Is my voice getting deeper?” Those changes are very hard, if not impossible, to reverse. And I knew that I was giving myself what I needed, that I didn’t have to be afraid of that anymore.”

3. She’s Previously Dealt With Rumors About Her Sexuality

In her TIME essay, Totah addresses the fact that many initially believed she was gay. “When I was really young, growing up in a small town in Northern California, people would just assume I was gay,” she wrote. “On the playground, I was the type of kid who wanted to sing with the girls, not play soccer with the boys. Then I found myself playing that role once I got into the entertainment industry, and people kept assuming my identity.”

“Numerous reporters have asked me in interviews how it feels to be a young gay man,” she continued. “I was even introduced that way before receiving an award from an LGBTQ+ rights organization. I understand that they didn’t really know better. I almost felt like I owed it to everybody to be that gay boy. But that has never been the way I think of myself.”

In a recent interview with Teen Vogue, Totah spoke about playing her character on Champions, who happens to be gay. “I think in a lot of shows and films that depict gay characters kind of make the show centered around how hard it is for the character to be gay and for them to come out,” she explained. “Our show deals with Michael being gay in like, 45 seconds of the pilot. It’s not a big deal, his dad and uncle didn’t care. They love and accept him. We think it’s actually really different because we’ve seen a lot of gay characters who are struggling to be accepted but this show is like, “Well, he’s already accepted. People already love him.”

Totah has since voiced regret that she let believe assume her sexuality. “Like many trans people, I developed serious anxiety as I hid who I was,” she explained. “In some ways, I felt like I was lying by letting people believe I was that gay boy. I also couldn’t be myself. I hid the girls’ clothes I really wanted to wear under sweatpants and sweatshirts.”

4. She Was Worried That Her Announcement Would Cause Fans to Reject Her

Josie Totah attends DigiFest LA

Elsewhere in her TIME essay, Totah admits that she was reluctant to announce that she was a transgender woman. “In the past, I’ve halfway corrected people by telling them I identify as LGBTQ. I wasn’t ready to be more specific,” she wrote. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted, that I would be embarrassed, that the fans who knew me from the time when I acted in a Disney show would be confused.”

But I realized over the past few years that hiding my true self is not healthy,” she continued. “I know now, more than ever, that I’m finally ready to take this step toward becoming myself. I’m ready to be free. So, listen up y’all: You can jump on or jump off. Either way this is where I’m heading.”

When asked about the importance of standing up for the LGBTQ community, Totah told Teen Vogue that it was crucial. “I think we need to stand up to each other. I go to real school, I know what it’s like,” she said. “There’s the bystander effect and it’s so easy to not say something, but I feel like you need to say something. If you see someone being hurt, if you see someone being harmed, and if you see someone that’s not in a safe position, you need to definitely say something.”

5. She Says She Feels a Responsibility to Help Others In the LGBTQ Community

Josie Totah attends the Family Equality Council.

Totah says that there are still aspects of being a transgender woman that she finds difficult. “There are still things that scare me,” she admits. “Identity documents can be hard for transgender people to change. I’m afraid of that moment when someone looks at the ID, looks at the photo, looks at the gender marker – looks at you. I never want to feel like I’m not allowed in somewhere because of who I am. I’m scared that being transgender is going to limit me in that way. And I’m scared that I’ll be judged, rejected, made uncomfortable, that people will look at me differently.”

Despite this, she feels its important to keep striving for others. “When my friends and family call me Josie, it feels like I’m being seen,” she adds. “It’s something everyone wants, to feel understood. And, as a semi-religious person who went to Catholic school, I have come to believe that God made me transgender. I don’t feel like I was put in the wrong body. I don’t feel like there was a mistake made. I believe that I am transgender to help people understand differences. It allows me to gain perspective, to be more accepting of others, because I know what it feels like to know you’re not like everyone else.”

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