‘The Chi’s’ L'lerrét Jazelle Explains Why Her Character Is About Freedom for All Black People

The activist-turned-actress discusses the 'taboo' surrounding straight-identifying men being attracted to trans women.

This season of The Chi, the Lena Waithe-created drama on Showtime now in its fifth go-round, has been all about the joys and complications of love. The series has explored the theme through various different lenses: love of community, which drives multiple characters’ investment in a community center; rekindling love, like that between Emmett (Jacob Lattimore) and Kiesha (Birgundi Baker); or finding love in an unexpected place, like Kevin’s (Alex Hibbert) new crush who introduces him to the fun of cosplay.

And then there’s complicated love––or more to the point, taboo love, as seen in the relationship between Trig (Luke James) and Fatima, a journalist and community activist played by L'lerrét Jazelle. For Trig, Fatima represents a paradox: she’s someone he finds alluring, sexy, and a possible real-deal bae, yet she’s someone he thinks he can’t be with, at least not in public, because she’s trans. Though Trig has been open with a trans love interest before, Imani (who departed the series last season), the situation is slightly different this time: he’s on the cusp of running for political office and worries that having a trans girlfriend could hurt his career.

For Jazelle, a 28-year-old Baltimore native who got engaged in trans activism while at Xavier University in New Orleans, Trig’s self-made dilemma reflects a very common experience among straight-identifying men attracted to trans women.

“If you look deeper into the psyche of men are attracted to trans women,” she says, “a lot of them, especially those who don't want to be open about it, will do mental gymnastics to convince themselves that they are not gay, in spite of her being trans means she is a woman.”

Trig seems to be well aware that trans women are women; he says so, out loud to Fatima in an intimate moment in a recent episode. But for Fatima, he doesn’t get points for stating the obvious. And Fatima is uncompromising in her belief that if Trig is as serious about her as he claims to be, she should not and will not be a secret. Her stance marks a significant push forward in how a Black series approaches trans characters: Fatima is unapologetically cozy in her selfhood and refuses to accept the bare minimum. Playing her, Jazelle says, helped give her a lot more confidence in her own life.

“Fatima definitely pushed me,” she admits. Prior to The Chi, she had been doing activist work, educating others (and herself; she came out as trans in college) on the intersectionality between trans rights, LGBTQ rights, feminist studies, Black identity politics, and more. “We get to demand authenticity from the people who want to enter your body.”

Though Trig seems to want to treat Fatima right (in private, anyway) he also reflects a tricky line for men like himself who are attracted to trans women––the issue of whether or not he’s fetishizing them. Jazelle admits the line can be challenging to discern, but there is at least one test for that…which Trig seems to be failing at the moment. “It’s like, you want to be in our space, you want to resonate with us, but as a secret, in the dark you don't want to come to light.” That, she says, is a part of a longstanding and toxic belief that trans people––who have always existed and, in various cultures, been accepted members of society for millennia––are somehow wrong or unnatural. In turn, that fosters shame and even violence against trans women of color, as men who can’t reconcile their desire cope by inflicting pain onto others. “I am no longer interested in being palatable for people, being comfortable for people.”

As much as Fatima represents empowerment for herself, for Jazelle, and for other trans people, the actor says it’s important that viewers see the important links between equality for trans people, and for all Black people. She admits that a lot of the feedback she gets from viewers has been negative and even hurtful, but she presses on knowing that what she’s doing is for the liberation of everyone.

“Trig is out of prison but metaphorically, he’s still in a trap,” she says. “. Violence against trans women is state-sanctioned violence, and it affects you, even if you think you're far displaced from it. What does it look like for you to be able to say, ‘I'm actually going to make choices for myself?’ Who cares if the world sees you as gay, straight or whatever? All those things are limiting boxes And I want you to be free.”

The Chi airs Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on Showtime.

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.