Imagine an Emmy-winning showrunner inviting you into the writer’s room of a critically acclaimed TV series and asking to you to play a character based on your life story. Unheard of, right? Well, that’s exactly what happened when Jill Soloway took a shine to Ian Harvie on the set of Amazon’s Transparent in 2014.
With numerous TV guest starring roles, years spent touring at international comedy festivals and as Margaret Cho’s opening act, and now “the first trans comic special” on NBC’s digital network Seeso, interest in Harvie’s unique experience and perspective continues to grow.
Recently, Harvie was invited by yet another female entertainment visionary, Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show and the force behind Lady Parts Justice League, to perform in the “Vagical Mystery Tour.” LPJL’s comedy tour hits 16 cities over 8 weeks this summer, serving laughs and giving support to independent abortion providers and their local communities.
“As a trans man, with a proud female history, I believe where I intersect with women on abortion rights is that all women should have the right to do whatever they need with their bodies to have a healthy, prosperous life,” Harvie tells PEOPLE. “Body autonomy should be a right for all women and all trans people. That is our shared space, and in large part, why I’m so passionate about abortion rights. I will always stand with my sisters on this issue.”
Although he has physically transitioned, the change has not tamped down his belief in promoting and protecting women’s rights. He’s firm on his stance that he didn’t transition to become part of the patriarchy or any boys club, yet Harvie is quick to acknowledge that male privilege can sometimes apply to him.
“I transitioned to feel better in my body, [but] walking through the world now, in my current body, I am generally perceived as straight, white, and male,” he says. “I don’t have to think twice about racial, gender or homophobic violence, because of my (perceived) straight, white, male privilege, and it’s something that I have to remind myself to think about regularly. I don’t want to forget it and misuse it, although I will likely falter. I know it’s difficult to deny privilege that is being given and the only way I know how to deny it, is to whenever possible, and safely do so, out myself as transgender to the people around me.”
Feeling comfortable in his own skin is a subject that Harvie has clearly thought about at length, and then some.
“When you have something about your body that consumes nearly all of your headspace, every day, and leaves you in discomfort, it changes how you move through the world. You wake up thinking about it, walk through the day thinking about it, you attempt intimacy with your partner or friends thinking about it, you go to bed thinking about it — it consumes a huge amount of your life,” he explains. “I used to wake up every morning and think about how to conceal my chest, which is a tall order considering I had triple D’s!”
Harvie came out to his family as trans in his early thirties, but as he tells a young fan on his website, “I knew I was different at a very early age, I just didn’t have a language for it, no one I knew did either.” This recognition was not without anxiety.
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“Everyday events could cause a major fashion dilemma or straight-up meltdown. I would go to bed hoping to wake up flat-chested or to win the lottery so I could finally afford my chest surgery. I now know I’m not the only one that goes through this, and trans people are not the only people to go through this,” Harvie says. “It took me a minute to realize that, but when I did, it was really helpful to me to not feel isolated — that there was this intersectionality with others that I hadn’t thought of before. “
In this way, Harvie is especially successful at connecting with audiences. “Personally, I will talk about anything on stage and in public spaces,” he says. “It helps erase stigma around less familiar subjects. You can’t change things if you don’t talk about them, which is another area where I think I align with Lady Parts Justice League and abortion rights.”
But that’s not all. Harvie seems to have a natural, empathic ability to relate to people from all walks of life, no matter their specific troubles or issues. “We’d all have horribly boring stories if we didn’t have struggles,” he tells PEOPLE.
“Our common ground is that we all are struggling. Eating disorders and issues with weight and food, for a lot of people, are symptomatic of something else going on. I know lots of people that use food, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. to cope with deeper issues,” Harvie says. “We’re all in various levels of discomfort. No one feels 100% okay about their body … and if you do, then you’re the weirdo.”
Harvie backs up this point with an all-too relatable philosophy about his own “gym body,” as well as some good advice for anyone who is body-obsessed to their own detriment.
“I spent 30-something years being consumed with thoughts of concealing my body,” he says. “[Now] I want to be fit in all aspects of body wellness, which includes hitting the gym and hiking. It also means not saying mean things to myself about my own body … As a trans person, I try to remember that we all endure a lot of comments about our bodies as if they’re not our own. There are enough people in the world who make judgments about my body, I don’t need to take part in that.”
However, Harvie does take part in educating and speaking out against those who criticize, bully or harm the trans community through both his activism and his comedy.
“Until trans women of color and trans women as a whole are not being murdered or attacked for simply being who they are, or until trans people are not being disowned by their families, or until trans people are no longer fired from their jobs for needing to transition, or until trans folks are no longer denied access to housing or healthcare, there will be no ‘post-trans’ era,” he says.