Culture Trips

Jordan Kristine Seamón: ‘We Are Who We Are helped me figure out that I’m gender fluid’ | Television & radio

On a mid-afternoon in Atlanta, Georgia, Jordan Kristine Seamón is sitting at her desk, explaining her choice of bedroom decor. “That’s Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls,” she says, gesturing behind her head. “That one is Jeanette from the Chipettes, I haven’t finished it. That’s Marceline from Adventure Time.” She cranes her neck. “Right there, you can barely see him, that’s Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory. And that guy over there,” she points to the huge illustration hovering over her bed. “That’s a character from The Boondocks. My dad outlined it and I painted it.” She grins. “Something I like to do when I get very stressed and can’t handle the world is paint on my wall.”

Drawing enormous cartoon characters all over your bedroom is not among most people’s pandemic coping mechanisms, but Seamón’s lockdown has not been like most people’s. The 18-year-old began 2020 with minimal public profile; by its end she had shot to fame as a lead character in one of the year’s most spectacular TV shows – Luca Guadagnino’s HBO series We Are Who We Are. A lush and spellbinding mood masterpiece from the director of Call Me By Your Name, it followed a group of American teenagers, including Seamón’s Caitlin, living on a US army base in northern Italy.

It was Seamón’s mother who spotted the advert for a role in a new independent TV series and encouraged her daughter, an aspiring musician who was attending boarding school on an academic scholarship, to apply. The teenager had little experience or confidence when it came to acting – “It was just never something I actually thought I could do” – but was under the impression the show was an obscure, small-time production. After four successful self-taped auditions, however, she was suddenly whisked off to California on a private plane and put up in a fancy hotel. “That’s when I was like: ‘OK, this might be more than I bargained for!’”

What followed was a golden age of TV-style baptism of fire. Seamón had never left the US or acted professionally before; now she was embarking on a six-month stint on location in Italy under the gaze of an Oscar-nominated director, and in the company of stellar talent including Chloë Sevigny, Scott Mescudi (AKA the rapper Kid Cudi), Gen Z teen idol Jack Dylan Grazer and soon-to-be close pal Francesca Scorsese (daughter of Martin).

Initially, she was understandably terrified. Guadagnino’s direction was at times totally hands-off – “In the first few weeks I was super-confused and felt like an idiot any time I tried to do something on my own” – and at others “very intense”, but eventually her confidence around him grew. “I felt comfortable going up to him and being like: ‘Hey, a normal teenager would never say that – can we change it?’ And he would be like: ‘Yeah, sure, change it to how you would speak.’ Which I think makes the show feel so lifelike and real. Because it’s not written by us … but we helped.”

There are not many upsides to the pandemic, but the fact Seamón’s star-making turn was released late last year, at a time of enforced global stasis, proved a welcome relief. With planned promotional events and follow-up acting jobs cancelled or suspended, Seamón says she knows her life “could have been a lot more hectic right now. Which is good because even at this slower pace it still feels very stressful and scary”.

Yet Seamón has not spent the intervening months twiddling her thumbs. Instead, she took the time to record her debut album, a delicate and accomplished collection of R&B, hip-hop, soul and electropop, accompanied by an hour-long documentary charting its creation. Titled Identity Crisis, it was written on set in Italy and “was very heavily influenced by the show. My character was going through an identity crisis and while playing my character I started to go through a very similar identity crisis, so I felt the need to write about it.”

The crisis in question was one of gender identity: over the course of We Are Who We Are, Caitlin (sometimes called Harper) comes to terms with a desire to be seen as male, with help from new friend/soulmate Fraser (Grazer). While playing Caitlin, Seamón, who had spent the last few years reckoning with her sexuality (“I’m still every day questioning that and what labels do and don’t feel good”), began to see herself in a new light.

They are who they are ... Francesca Scorsese and Jordan Kristine Seamón in We Are Who We Are.
They are who they are … Francesca Scorsese and Jordan Kristine Seamón in We Are Who We Are. Photograph: HBO

“I had never questioned gender identity at all. Mostly because where I’m from it wasn’t talked about, just because it was foreign to us,” she says. “The show really helped me in a very healthy way figure out that I’m gender fluid and that I like going by all pronouns.” (On her social media profiles, Seamón describes her pronoun preferences as “she/they”.) This was fuelled in part by Seamón’s preparation for the role. “It’s not specifically said in the script what Caitlin identifies as and who they feel like they are, so I had to do my own research. I was scrolling through social media and I saw some mention of gender fluidity and I was curious.” Her internet investigations were then brought into sharp focus by her on-set experience. “People were referring to me with multiple pronouns in the scene so it was easy for me, Jordan, to feel whether that felt good or not for me. And it did.”

Part of Caitlin’s gender expression involves her shaving her head. Which meant Seamón had to shave her own, in front of the camera – something she didn’t realise until she’d actually arrived in Italy. “I was super-excited at first, you can clearly see in the scene, because that’s my genuine reaction.” Afterwards, though, she had a panic attack. “My mom had to hug me and hold me and do breathing exercises, like the whole nine.” Now, however, she is “thankful for it, because I feel very liberated – clearly,” she grins, stroking her scalp in recognition of her new hairstyle’s upkeep. “I shaved my head again on Instagram Live!”

Seamón would rather spend lockdown broadcasting her daily routine than considering her next career move; she is reluctant to weigh up the respective merits of music-making and acting. “I can’t make up my mind, like, ever,” she smiles. “I’m going to say both for now. That could change very fast, my mind is all over the place.” After such a whirlwind trajectory, it’s an understandable approach – clearly, this multitalented teenager’s journey of self-discovery is only just getting off the ground.

Identity Crisis is out now; the full series of We Are Who We Are is available on iPlayer

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