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Trailblazing trans reality star Billie Lee is on a mission to get more women like her on television

“I’m feeling a little scared,” 33-year-old Billie Lee told me in the days leading up to her debut on Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules, a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills spinoff series currently in its sixth season. “I knew I was joining a group of friends that were really close and I was afraid that I wouldn’t fit in.”

Called “the best show in television history” by model Chrissy Teigen and “modern Shakespeare” by Grown-ish writer Kara Brown, Vanderpump Rules follows a group of 30-something servers at RHOBH star Lisa Vanderpump’s West Hollywood restaurant, Sur, which stands for “Sexy Unique Restaurant.”

As for the series’ first out transgender star, Lee is shouldering a big responsibility in showcasing not just her own journey as a trans woman, but in opening up about her dating life — a requirement of its series stars. “I remember before we filmed a scene where I was going to go on a date, I got really nervous, and I had a little panic attack... I was very afraid of rejection in front of everyone and on a TV show.”

But Lee said she shook off those insecurities when she thought about what she could do to help destigmatize the perceptions around men who date trans women. “People have real fear of dating someone who is not really accepted by society,” she said. “There are men out there, heterosexual men, who are attracted to trans women, who are comfortable with it and don’t care what society says and don’t care if people bully them for it. And that’s the kind of person I want to be with.”

Lee’s greater hope for her time on the series is to chip away at the limited representation of trans individuals in media. “I remember when I was a little boy, and I dreamed of being a girl. I was told I was wrong my whole life. I didn’t have anyone to inspire me. There are times where I’m like ‘What am I doing? Putting my whole life out there on national television.’ I always bring it back to love and connecting with people who are not in a place where they feel love and acceptance.”

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