Asia Kate Dillon: Making A Mark As “They”

Asia Kate Dillon

“Hello, I’m Taylor; my pronouns are they, theirs and them.”

This overt declaration of gender identity introduced Taylor Mason, a whip-smart intern to Damian Lewis’ Bobby Axelrod on the hedge fund drama “Billions.” The statement on the show’s season two premiere in January 2016 marked a moment — the casting of Taylor, played by Asia Kate Dillon, was the first time in television history a gender non-binary character was being portrayed by a gender non-binary actor.

Since then, Dillon — who, like Taylor, uses they/them/their pronouns — has been thrust into the forefront of a widespread discussion on gender identity and presentation as it pertains to culture, cinema and fashion.

Dillon, 32, has been acting consistently since a kindergarten play in their native Ithaca, N.Y. “I don’t ever remember a time when it wasn’t something I knew I was supposed to be doing — when I didn’t understand that performing was the way in which I was going to make my mark,” they say. “I remember specifically a couple of performances that I saw when I was young — River Phoenix in ‘Stand by Me’ and also Michael Jackson, in particular his ability to command such power and love while maintaining such deep vulnerability. It really moved my soul from a very young age.”

The “Billions” role comes following a minor part on “Orange Is the New Black,” as a woman in the prison’s “white pride movement,” which will be revived when the show returns on June 9. But while the Netflix show is a cultural behemoth in its own right, it’s the role in “Billions” that changed the game for Dillon — both professionally and, more importantly, personally, giving them the identification they had always sought.

“When I read the breakdown for Taylor and it said ‘female non-binary,’ and I looked up those words, I had a light-bulb moment,” Dillon says. “For the first time, I understood that gender identity and assigned sex are two different things. And sometimes they conform and sometimes they don’t. Up until that moment I hadn’t understood that I could’ve been assigned female at birth, but that didn’t automatically make me a girl or a woman. And that light-bulb moment was really extraordinary and very freeing.”

Though the terminology was unfamiliar, the notion was something Dillon had grappled with their whole life. “Honestly, from a very young age, before I had the language really — anywhere that I encountered binary, whether it was in clothing or in toys or in media, it always made me uncomfortable,” they say.

Read more at WWD.