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Ian Alexander Went From Netflix To A Whole Other Dimension

Ian Alexander

There's no easy way to define a generation (trust us, because we've really tried with millennials), but who wants to do that anyway? Rather than trying to put a whole cohort of people born within the same 15-year span into some kind of box, let's just celebrate them, in all their distinctiveness.

More specifically, let's celebrate Gen Z, a generation who refuse any attempts to be seen en masse, and instead can best be understood through their individuality, their unique hopes and dreams, desires and demands. They are idealistic and unafraid, motivated and headstrong; they are icons and iconoclasts, and they make us excited for the future.

Last year, we took a look at 25 Gen Z'ers changing the world, a group that included activists, musicians, and actors. This year, we narrowed our focus to Hollywood, and are excited to share with you five young actors who are all primed to be the next big thing. Get to know them, below, and get ready to see them everywhere, soon.

Ian Alexander isn't the first teenager to find a community on Tumblr, but he might be the first one to find an acting role that was basically tailor-made for him. It was on Tumblr that Alexander heard about a casting call for an Asian teenager—specifically, a trans boy. It was a description that fit him perfectly, Alexanders says now, telling me, "It felt so specific to me that I just had to go for it." And going for it led the Salt Lake City-raised Alexander into the role of Buck Vu on Netflix's megahit The OA.

Only 14 when he got the role, Alexander, who is now 18, has two seasons of The OA under his belt, as well as some small parts in a couple of films. But, more than that, Alexander now has a platform from which to showcase his individuality, and make his followers see the beauty and freedom and power that comes from being true to yourself.

Of course, it wasn't always easy for Alexander. He tells me, "When I first came out, I definitely felt pressure to conform to masculine stereotypes, and it just didn't feel authentic to myself, because that's not who I am." Who he is, though, is someone who loves wearing big earrings (which, same), and, he tells me, he's "always enjoyed things that are considered 'feminine.' I enjoyed wearing makeup, and I enjoyed wearing nail polish and jewelry and stuff like that."

For Alexander, those loves didn't die just because he changed his pronouns. "I don't want to hide any aspects of who I am just because of my gender identity. I can be just as masculine as a cis man, but wearing makeup, because makeup and things like that are genderless anyway, and anyone can wear them," he tells me. "I also think it's really important to just be who I am and express myself fully, because then it gives other people courage to do the same."

Alexander is aware of the impact that his onscreen presence could have on all people's understanding of trans identity—not just those who identify similarly. "It's great that my audience is mainly other people my age, particularly other LGBTQ people," he says, "but I would also like to reach people who might have never met a trans person that they know of, and be their first exposure to the trans community."

It can feel like a big responsibility for an 18-year-old, that feeling that they need to be a role model for countless other people. But Alexander embraces it, and recognizes the importance in doing so. "I feel like it's really important to be visible, and to have people know that trans people exist, and that we're just regular people," he tells me. "We're not scary or dangerous or anything like that."

That visibility is attained both by being a main character of a popular TV series, but also by using tools like Twitter and Instagram. "I feel like, because of social media, it's so easy to educate yourself about different issues and raise awareness for issues," he says. "It's really important to [do that], because there are things that would otherwise be ignored on the news. A lot of people in my generation feel a sort of responsibility to make the world a better place, and you can do it in the palm of your hands."

"It's really important to be visible, and to have people know that trans people exist, and that we're just regular people."

A quick scroll through Alexander's Twitter feed shows him speaking up about the continuing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and joining a fight to make proms more inclusive of all genders and sexualities. He also shares links to other trans individuals' fundraisers for gender-affirming surgeries, and has been open about his feelings about finally getting to start taking testosterone. Unlike some people who spend a lot of time online, Alexander sounds grateful for all that virtual spaces have to offer, telling me, "The internet is an amazing resource for finding other people who feel similarly to you, or who are going through the same things, so it's really easy to find a community of people online who you can connect with and talk about your feelings."

He's a powerful example of the way Gen Z utilizes social media, wielding it as a tool for positive change—maybe that comes in the form of a groundbreaking role on a Netflix series, or maybe it comes in the form of bringing marginalized communities into the mainstream, and letting people know they're not alone. Alexander says that he feels like that's his mission, more than anything else: "That I can make someone feel more comfortable with expressing themselves the way they want to… That's my main goal in life, is to just make people happy and love themselves more." He's definitely on the right track.

Credits:

Director: Dani Okon

Co-Producers: Charlotte Prager & Alexandra Hsie

Production Manager: Alison Yardley

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