'9-1-1: Lone Star' Actor Brian Michael Smith on Fighting to 'Just Be Brian,' Asking Haters to 'Let Me Live'
Brian Michael Smith recalls recognizing himself for the first time after transitioning: "I am myself and the person that I've seen in my mind's eye for so long is looking back at me in the mirror"
Brian Michael Smith is opening up about his journey to coming out as transgender.
The 9-1-1: Lone Star actor, 40, discussed making the decision to transition as a young adult and embracing his identity during Dotdash Meredith's From Invisibility to Trans Visibility Week panel, which was moderated by writer and actor Scott Turner Schofield. The discussion also featured ACLU Deputy Director for Transgender Justice Chase Strangio, Olympian Chris Mosier and actor Vico Ortiz.
"I spent my 20s doing what everybody does in their 20s but I just took a different journey with mine and by the time I was able to actually access the care, I had discovered that there are other people like me," he recalled. "When I was 19, I was in college in the middle of Ohio, and I didn't know what I was going to do about that."
"I just felt so good to know that I wasn't the only person, that, historically, there were other people, that there were standards of care that have already been established," he continued. "There was a process. There were clinics, there were places to go. And there were actually other people to meet, who were further down the road than I was."
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The Queen Sugar alum began hormone therapy in his mid-20s after being able to access medical care. He recalled recognizing himself in the mirror for the first time.
"I was able to see myself expressed on the outside physically in a way and really be inside my body for the first time and be visibly seen and taken into the world as myself for the first time," he shared. "I really just wanted to enjoy that."
He added: "I am myself and the person that I've seen in my mind's eye for so long is looking back at me in the mirror, is out on the streets."
Smith remembered how moving to New York allowed him "a chance to just be Brian and that was great."
However, Smith, who has been married for nine years, waited to publicly come as transgender until after he established his acting career.
"I could be out and then take the sort of crumbs of bad trans representation that was available. Or I could just define who I am as a person and as what I want to explore now. And then, when the moment comes, I can share this part of myself," he explained.
He added: "Around, 2015 or 2016, I was like no, I distinctly want to take ownership of this full part of my identity."
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Smith came out as transgender in 2017 after acting professionally for five years, according to NBC News. During the panel, he spoke about living his truth.
"We're trans people. We've been trans the whole time. So I never was a woman who became a man. I was me the whole time," he shares. "You know, you just thought I was but we are who we are. And just because you don't understand it doesn't mean that we're not real."
"I feel like that's something I have a really hard time navigating," he added. "We have these sort of arguments and these debates where people are trying to tell me about something, and I'm like, 'I'm the one living the experience. I'm here, I'm telling you, I'm a trans person. You're not, that's okay. You don't have to be trans. I am. Let me live.'"
Since coming out, Smith joined the cast of 9-1-1: Lone Star and opened up about his character Paul Strickland's romance with Asha (Amanda Payton) on the fourth season of the hit Fox series.
"They really want to give the people what they want," says Smith of the writers in PEOPLE Sexiest Man Alive issue in November. "We're for the people and we have heard the people. I'm excited about what the people are going to get for this season."
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9-1-1: Lone Star airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.
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