Trans Actor Isaiah Stannard and His Mom on Breaking Free of the 'Repressive Ideals' of Masculinity

Stannard, who stars in NBC's Good Girls, and his mom Kristin Johansen open up about his transition as a transgender man. "You saw me for who I was," he says.

Isaiah Stannard, 16, stars on NBC's Good Girls, where he plays Ben Marks, a transitioning transgender teen. Ben's story mirrors the actor's own life. Isaiah came out as trans at 12 years old and has received the support from his mom Kristin Johansen and her partner Warren Marsh, to transition on his own terms and pace. Stannard and his family are featured in this week's Pride issue of PEOPLE as they open up about coming out, femininity as a trans man and "taking space." Below is a conversation between Isaiah and Kristin, as told to PEOPLE:

Kristin: Isaiah first came out as gay. Then about a year later, you were like, 'You know what? I think I'm trans actually.' And I was like, 'Cool.' It wasn't a surprise, I'd say. Just who you were, and how you acted ever since you were a little kid, I just was always like, 'We're going to see what happens.' That was just always how I felt.

Isaiah: It was a very accepting environment. I wasn't really worried, especially because I had kind of already come out to you before. I was just like, 'Ah, well I hope this is cool.' Because it was happening. And you were just really good about it.

Kristin: I feel that because we're in a really liberal environment, some people were like, 'Maybe he's gonna be trans, maybe he's gonna be this or that.' I was just always like, 'Hey, let's let Isaiah tell us.' I was happy that you came and just told me. That was wonderful that you didn't feel like you couldn't tell me.

Isaiah: You saw me for who I was, and if I ever told you or shared more of who I was, you were just really accepting of that. You guys were open and ready to learn and accept me as I'm changing and becoming my own person. I always felt supported by my family and just in showing my family more of who I am, that only strengthened that bond. I just feel even more comfortable with them.

isaiah stannard and family
Nolwen Cifuentes

Isaiah: Today, I also feel a lot more comfortable expressing myself in different ways. I used to not wear pink or paint my nails or do certain feminine things that bring me a lot of joy now. Watching Euphoria and Hunter Schaeffer's character Jules spoke to me a lot. I just thought it was really beautiful and encouraged me to just kind of continue disregarding the boundaries of gender and expression.

Kristin: And you look so great in heels so...

Isaiah: Thank you very much. I feel very powerful on heels.

Kristin: It's awesome that you're trans and that's beautiful, but it's okay to express different sides of yourself too. We're still going to see you as a man. I think when you felt that freedom and you really knew it, you seemed so happy. You just got really happy to be able to dress up if you felt like it, do your nails or whatever it was.

Isaiah: It's almost liberating being more feminine now and still feel secure and comfortable with who I am as a trans man. I just realized, if I wear six-inch heels, I'll be six feet tall, which is so exciting.

Kristin: I'm so happy for him that he was able to move past conforming pretty quickly and just being more fluid and being more himself. You have to just notice what makes your kid happy. What seems to be making your kid more alive and more themselves and more happy? That's what you want to support. Look how happy your kid is feeling when they go toward their authentic self.

Isaiah: I remember when I first came out as trans, I felt like I had to conform to the repressive ideals that are put onto men in order for people to see me as a man. It took me a long time to realize that I don't care about any of that at all.

Kristin: During Pride Month, we always dress up and go to the Pride Parade in New York City.

Isaiah: And if we don't, we'll probably go to the park. I try to learn about queer history or watch some documentaries just to remember my people's roots.

Kristin: And we're involved with that Ackerman Institute in New York and they always have a pride float for kids. Pride is also for kids and it's really fun just to be with a whole gang of kids and parents and walking at the parade. It's an awesome experience. I just wish all kids could do that and feel accepted and loved and celebrated because not everybody gets that chance to feel that way growing up. I see a lot of your DMs from kids all over the world. They're just scared to come out, they wish their parents would accept them. I couldn't imagine not being accepting of Isaiah. So that was a big eye-opening experience.

Isaiah: It makes me really happy and proud to represent trans people on screen. I can't say that I've met a lot of other trans actors but I'm really glad that there's more representation — I'm really happy to be a part of that. Visibility for me is taking space in public and being unapologetic and true to yourself. Part of representing a trans character on television is that it's good representation too. That's a really big thing. I think that the industry is changing and trans people are coming in more stories and are taking up more space in the media.

For more on Isaiah Stannard and his family, pick up the PRIDE issue of PEOPLE.

Voices for Change is PEOPLE's editorial series committed to elevating and amplifying the stores of celebrities and everyday people alike who are dedicated to making change and uplifting others in the fight for racial justice, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, climate action and more.

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