The L Word’s Daniela Sea on Being the New Hot L Girl
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OK, let me uh take you back a little bit. Tell me a little bit about moving to Poland and joining a traveling circus. That sounds like such an un-American experience.
You know it really was, and I’m so glad I did it. Ever since I was little, all I wanted to do was travel. I wanted to find fairy land and I don’t know if I exactly found that, but I definitely found magic other worlds. So how did it happen? I was living in San Francisco and I was talking with my brother who was living over in Europe. He was squatting and living in the activist, radical communities there, and we were talking about the circus idea which I’d had for about a year — of traveling by foot or by train and just making music and hopefully finding people who knew how to do circus-y type tricks and performance art. … And so I talked with him and he said, well, you know, I have some friends that I live with right now and … they’re really into this idea, and so when I came over we just started traveling like that. We traveled like that for a few years in different formations, and I lived as a half-man, half-woman for a while, like I had this whole outfit that I would wear all the time with half my face as a man and half as a woman.
I had performance pieces around that. We didn’t have the same language at that time, because it was some years ago … I didn’t identify as transgendered, it wasn’t really in the dialogue in the same way, but … my main thing was basically this thing I’d had all my life, which was “Are you a boy or a girl?” Dealing with that in this real external way was really fun. I just I hitchhiked around a lot and lived in a lot of different countries.
I was going to ask you: What did you learn from hitchhiking in Eastern Europe that you utilize in your daily life now?
Hitchhiking in countries with people who didn’t grow up under capitalism, and living outside, and staying in villages and being a guest of people taught me a lot about human nature. I think what I’ve always believed is our natural propensity is to live for each other and to share things and to be … a really good host. Like if I walked up to a group of kids there … I didn’t have to say who I was or prove any kind of status to be automatically included in whatever they were eating, whatever they were drinking, whatever they were talking about. It was easy to live communally with people who were brought up that way, because you didn’t have the same kinds of ego battles. It was more about what was best for all of us in the moment, and I learned a lot from that.
Now, hitchhiking alone, I learned a lot about trusting people. I luckily didn’t have very many bad experiences and nothing too tragic, but I know a lot of my friends have, so I wouldn’t say you, “Oh, it’s the best thing in the world to do.” But for me personally, to just stand on the side of a road and be able to be in a whole other reality within some hours and meet all kinds of people — it just was really freeing. I had no money for years. … It made me have more faith in people and feel like I belonged in the world, actually, and made me feel proud to be part of the world instead of like when I was younger [and was] this rebellious punk rocker who never felt like I belonged anywhere.
And in Kurdistan specifically, the people I stayed with were risking their lives to be able to play the traditional music [and] speak their traditional language, because it’s illegal there; you can be imprisoned and tortured and all that stuff. We just started hitchhiking in west Turkey and we wanted to go to Kurdistan, and we ended up in different villages and people would bring us into their home, close all the blinds, you know, set a look-out out front, and then just start playing us this music that they wanted us to hear. They wanted us to hear the music of their people and then go back and tell the world what was happening to them. That taught me a lot about the preciousness of art, and how it’s so important for us to speak our truth and our stories. And I think that also related to a lesbian or genderqueer experience … [and for] people who are marginalized.
That really seems to put a lot of things in context, too. You’ve had all these wonderfully nomadic experiences, living in an abandoned village in Greece, herding goats in Italy, hitchhiking through Turkey, the circus — is it hard to settle down now?
Strangely enough, it’s not. Because now I know that nothing is forever, so it’s almost like another concept. … I grew up here [in L.A.] in one way, but it’s like another country, too. … I don’t know, I guess now whenever I am somewhere I know I won’t be there for years and years. I might keep my relationships up and I might have some physical presence there in some way. It won’t be like when I was younger and I was thinking that I had to figure out where I would be forever. I’m still nomadic; I guess that’s what I’m saying. Especially in this acting and filmmaking business — it’s pretty nomadic in its own way.
That’s true. Another thing I thought was interesting was that you lived in India for eight months? And during that time you actually were passing as a man?
I was, uh huh.
How do you think that that shaped your experience there?
I think it gave me a lot of access. … I didn’t consciously say …“I’m going to India as a man.” It just kind of morphed into that. I mean, if you’re the kind of person who … looks like a boy — I mean all my life people thought I was a boy. … So when I was there, you had to choose, in a way — especially in the traditional areas — if you were going to wear traditional clothes, which when I was in Pakistan we had to. You kind of had to choose really strongly which gender you were going to be. So I actually chose the girls’ gender clothing first … and I watched as my girlfriend at the time was in the boys’ gender clothing, and the different kind of access she had. … For example, men aren’t supposed to catch eye contact with women who are strangers. And I watched how she had this different kind of mobility.
And then as we passed into India, we ended up in the hospital right away and then I think I just slowly morphed. Then I got my haircut ’cause it was already kind of short, and then one day people thought I was a boy, and I just kind of went with that. So I chose clothes actually more close to what I would wear here. And then I just started referring to myself as “he,” and slowly it just started morphing into this thing that I was living as a man. I never corrected anyone. I’d done that in other villages too, ’cause especially in rural places — I love spending time with villagers — I feel like it just makes things easier if in a group there’s some men and some women. Because then you’re safe in a different way, and people can just relax and be your friend instead of trying to make out with you or do something crazy. And also, they could be like, “Hey, let me show you the field we’re working,” or “Hey, will you help us push this cart,” — taking part instead of being coddled.
That makes sense. And you fell in love with another woman while you were there?
I did. I met a woman there in India who I became friends with and fell in love with.
Does she know you as a biological woman?
Yeah, she did. She was lesbian identified, which was intense for there.
Sure, absolutely. Such a different experience.
Strong person. Amazing person.
Your life has been so different … it’s sort of like this big free-form narrative about your life in these really broad strokes. And I think that that’s so fascinating. I’m wondering, what do you look forward to in the future?
Well that’s what I love about a magazine like CURVE, which I read all the time. And I do feel like it’s a reflection of our community that we see people’s lives maybe as pieces of art. Which is, to be honest, how I’ve always — before, you know, someone asked me when I first got this L Word job, [if] I never had ambitions before, and I thought that was interesting because I’ve actually always been really ambitious, but not for things that you could write down as credits, although I tried my best at that bullet-points thing. But what I want — I made an exerted effort all my life to make my life my art. I wasn’t even necessarily going to make much that I could leave behind, you know. I’d written some poems and poetry and books and I played in bands. But I had this feeling, which reflected my hippie upbringing, which was that the greatest art is actually all around us everyday, and I wanted to just meld into that and tread lightly. And then I realized that I don’t know if [I] really want to tread lightly in that way. I feel like I can make a big impact, maybe, in the world. At least I can just share who I am and could be inspiring to somebody or something, and I see in my future just continuing with that.
I would love to make more films ’cause it’s something I really love being part of, and I would love to act in all different kinds of things, and then I would love to keep going to these other pursuits of exploring the world and bringing back the tales that I learned in other places, and mostly just keep being an open-hearted and free person. I believe that we can totally change the world and that social change is all about loving ourselves and our neighbors, and that’s why I think one great way to love people is to make your art and to be as big as you can be. You don’t have to tread lightly by hiding in this cave of our country. You can still make a big difference by being kind or generous or loving.
And that can be your art.
OK, one last question. This article is actually going in our annual sex issue, so tell me something sexy. Tell me something about sex every woman should know.
I think … OK, give me just a minute. [Pauses.] For me, the sexiest kind of woman is a really outspoken, liberated, feminist woman. And that’s what I find really sexy: somebody’s mind. Not just their mind, but their expression of themselves. That’s what I think is sexy. I mean, there are different physical things, but that all depends on the person.
Great. Super. Which probably explains why you fell in love with Bitch. [Laughs.]