Billie Lee was seeking a fresh start after a devastating breakup when she landed a hostess job at SUR — and role on Vanderpump Rules.
Lee, 33, is transgender, and her on-off boyfriend of three years couldn’t envision a future with a wife unable to carry a child.
“I was madly in love with him,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue, on stands now. “That hurt so bad, because I want to have kids more than anything. I don’t even try to be jealous because it’s not a good energy, but I do envy women sometimes, how a woman can go through that. And I do think, how cool would it be to have a kid with a man that had both of our DNA and looked like us — what woman would not want that? But at the end of the day, I have to think of reality and that this is my life, and if he can’t accept that … “
“There are so many children out there who need need love, and I feel like that’s my mission,” Lee says. “It was cool to close that chapter and start a new chapter and have my boss be all about adoption. It was the universe telling me to keep going, keep living your truth, keep being you, because something magical will happen.”
- For more on Billie Lee pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands now
Raised in a trailer park in Indiana, Lee struggled with her gender identity from an early age.
“I knew I was attracted to feminine things, and I knew that that was wrong,” she says. “My parents would let me know that I can’t play with Barbies. … I was forced to be a boy, and I hated it. But my parents dropped out of 8th grade and didn’t make it to high school, and they had addictions. So they weren’t capable of really caring for me in a way where they knew what was going on with me. They just kept on correcting me and forcing me to be a boy and go play dirty.”
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Lee believed she was gay, and as a teen she dated a man who “hated the fact that I was so feminine.”
Everything changed when she moved to Los Angeles. At a bar, she shared her story, and a friend responded, “Sweetie, you’re trans.”
“This huge lightbulb went off and I was like, this all makes sense to me,” she says.
In Hollywood, appearance is everything — Lee says she had to submit actor-style headshots even for restaurant jobs. She began taking hormones, but she couldn’t quite “pass” as either sex.
“You have to be a gorgeous man or a beautiful woman. And I was in the middle, I was very awkward looking, so I couldn’t get a job,” she says. “I had some dark times. My dad literally sold drugs to help me.”
Forced to turn to prostitution, “I was very suicidal,” she says — until her best friend at the time, Gossip Girl actress Leighton Meester, hired her as her hair and makeup artist, eventually paying for her sex reassignment surgery in Thailand.
“She was literally my angel,” Lee says.
Today, her parents, despite their own issues, are proud of Lee for living her truth.
“They only see me as their daughter now,” she says. “It took a while for it to happen, it was the past seven years, but it’s been amazing.”
Lee admits she’d never seen an episode of Vanderpump Rules before signing on but wasn’t too fazed by its reputation.
“I’m from a small town, there’s so much drama in my family, it gets crazy and a little white trash, so I’m kind of used to,” she jokes. Plus, she’s formed real friendships with her co-workers — and teases that future episodes will find her flirting with fellow SURvers (“All the boys there are so hot!”).
But bringing visibility to the trans community is not a task she takes lightly.
“I’m living my truth, on television, because I want people who went through the same thing that I went through to know that they have somebody,” she says. And when I was little and I was bullied, and I was told I was wrong my whole life, I was alone.”
As for Vanderpump, 57?
“She’s my fairy godmother,” Lee says. “She has a wand. She makes all these amazing things happen.”