Who is Shakina Nayfack? Here's how NBC's 'Connecting' star crowdfunded her sex reassignment surgery
Nayfack, who plays the out-of-work sports fan Ellis in the ensemble, became the first trans person to have a starring role on an American network comedy series
NBC’s new sitcom ‘Connecting’ is about a group of friends keeping in touch with each other through video calls during the ongoing pandemic. The show debuted in October. As reported by Entertainment Tonight, the show gained prominence because Shakina Nayfack, who plays the out-of-work sports fan Ellis in the ensemble, became the first trans person to have a starring role on an American network comedy series.
Speaking about the same, Shakina told ET, "I was so excited to play an out trans character on an NBC sitcom because that is the cornerstone of family entertainment." She appreciated the network as well as creator Martin Gero and executive producer Brendan Gall for casting a trans performer and backing the decision. "Appearing as a series regular on a network sitcom is revolutionary," she said.
She was initially asked to audition for Michelle, currently played by Jill Knox. Shakina had to turn it down since the character is married to Garrett. But, when enquired if there was anyone else she could portray, they came back with Ellis. "When I came on board, I asked them, ‘Is Ellis trans?’. Then they said, ‘Well, we didn’t write her to be but we hope that she’ll be now that you’re playing her.’"
Who is Shakina Nayfack?
Shakina is best known for essaying the role of Lola, a "trans-truther", on the second and third seasons of the Hulu show ‘Difficult People’. She also came on board as a writing consultant for the show. She has also been a part of the show ‘The Detour’. Shakina is the founding artistic director of Musical Theatre Factory. She received the TRU Humanitarian Award from Theatre Resources Unlimited in 2016 and the Beatrice Terry Fellowship Award from the Drama League in 2017.
She reminisced about her journey in a 2015 New York Daily article. “I grew up Jewish as Jared Alan Nayfack. My parents split up soon after I was born and I saw my dad every other weekend. We've gone from being estranged to really close. He was the first person I told when I realized I had to transition if I was ever going to be happy. When I decided that I was going to start wearing my hair long, he took me out to get my first high-end wig as a birthday present," Shakina said.
She recalled in the article that she has been Shakina since 2001. The name is derived from a Hebraic word that refers to the feminine presence of the divine spirit. She decided to transition medically in 2012. She said, “I'm very grateful to the Callen-Lorde clinic downtown. They have a trans-care program that made it financially possible for me to have hormone replacement therapy.” Shakina added, “I tweeted, 'This is so expensive, I should just crowd-fund my surgery.' And then it was like, Why not? I launched Kickstart Her in November of 2013. I raised $22,787, which covered the surgery and travel totally.” Her surgery took place in 2014 in Thailand.