“We need more sweat!”
On that command, a production assistant takes a spray bottle filled with glycerin and scurries over to actor Michael D. Cohen, making his bald head glisten as a crew stands by at a studio in Burbank, Calif. They’re filming the fifth season of Henry Danger, a farcical superhero saga that is Nickelodeon’s longest running live-action sitcom. In it, Cohen plays a character named Schwoz, a quirky genius who aids the show’s good guys much as Q aids James Bond. In this scene, as a goof, Schwoz is leading some of the show’s younger actors through an aerobic workout. Cameras roll as Cohen, clad in spandex and now suitably sweaty, breaks into action. “Your life begins where your comfort zone ends!” he barks while huffing through the routine.
It’s just a line that Cohen is delivering in his character’s silly accent. But it also expresses an idea that the actor has come to understand intimately, one he is ready to embrace again, whatever it might mean for his future. Spurred in part by the political climate — which in recent years has seen fraught public reckonings around issues related to gender — Cohen wants to publicly disclose a private fact that he has been sharing with colleagues on the set of Henry Danger: Nearly twenty years ago, he transitioned from female to male.
“I was misgendered at birth,” Cohen says. “I identify as male, and I am proud that I have had a transgender experience — a transgender journey.”
Today, there are more actors than ever who are open about having had, as Cohen puts it, a transgender journey. This is in part because there is a proliferation of shows, including Pose and Transparent, that are portraying nuanced transgender characters. But Cohen is rare in that he worked in the entertainment industry for more than two decades before he chose to make this disclosure.