Sara Ramírez Values “Progress Over Perfection”

The actor who plays the franchise’s first nonbinary character on Sex and the City’s historic transphobia and the “woke” criticism of the revival.

A character like Che Diaz never could have existed on Sex and the City. As a non-binary Latinx person, they would not have cohered with Darren Star’s unfailingly white, cis-centric dramedy, yet characters like Diaz were always there on the periphery, just around the corner from Carrie Bradshaw’s chic, cloistered world. They were there in the episode where Samantha launched a turf war against a group of trans sex workers of color, when Carrie invalidated bisexuality, when Charlotte rebuffed a male lover for being too camp. In Sex and the City, there were gestures towards the reality of New York City life, but ultimately, the series retreated into a cozy turtle-shell of gilded whiteness.

Sex and the City’s backwards attitude to marginalized people is the millstone that hangs around the neck of And Just Like That…, HBO Max’s 10-part revival. But the show’s full-throated attempt to remedy past mistakes should be warmly embraced. Now more nuanced and sympathetic to the very human flaws of its lead trio, And Just Like That… is a thoughtful update of the original series’ trademark candor and curiosity around love, sex, and relationships. Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte have matured as people while creator Michael Patrick King has ensured that so, too, has the world around them.

As part of that modernization and push to reflect contemporary New York, Carrie now features regularly on X, Y and Me, a progressive, sex-oriented podcast hosted by her friend, the non-binary comic Che Diaz (played with brio by Sara Ramírez). Casting Ramírez, the Tony-winning actor and activist whose personal coming out journey has mirrored their historic roles in Grey’s Anatomy and Madam Secretary, is nothing short of a masterstroke. As Seattle Grace Hospital’s Dr. Callie Torres, Ramírez played the longest-running LGBTQ+ character in US television history. Their desire to make Torres openly bisexual gave millions of queer people a rare bit of pop culture representation in the mid-aughts. To put it bluntly: there are few people better qualified to inject queerness into Carrie Bradshaw’s life than Sara Ramírez.

Just after the first two episodes of the revival series aired, Ramírez spoke to W over Zoom about their role in And Just Like That…, Sex and the City’s historic transphobia, the “woke” criticism, and why they’re nothing like Che Diaz in real life.

Che is, like you, Mexican-Irish, bisexual and non-binary—with all the ground-breaking queer roles you’ve played so far, does Che feel like a natural evolution in your career?

Absolutely, without a doubt. When Michael Patrick King first offered me the role in a Zoom meeting last January, we talked a lot about where I’ve been, where I’m at, and what the possibilities are for this particular representation on screen. While we know that visibility is not justice—justice is changing material conditions for people who are suffering—visibility is very important.

It’s also pushed me to grow. Che is a very confident character—they’re way more confident than I am. They’re a stand-up comedian, [but] I’ve never done stand-up comedy, and they’re a podcast host, [but] I’ve never hosted a podcast. I really appreciate that it’s been collaborative in the writing as well. I’ve pitched ideas that have made it into the writing, which has felt really great. I also asked that we get some support, some advocate energy in the writers’ room for Che as a non-binary person. I suggested they reach out to GLAAD as they look out for LGBTQ+ representation in the media, and they did. They helped us every step of the way to ensure that we are not harming the queer and trans community with this representation and with the language that they use. We wanted to be really intentional about this, knowing that non-binary people are not a monolith and knowing that there’s not only one way to be queer.

There’s an incredible pattern in the roles you’ve taken—it was your decision to make Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Callie Torres bisexual, and you helped guide Kat Sandoval on Madam Secretary. I’m curious about the specific ideas you brought to the table to shape Che?

Some of it was based on things that I’ve already shared publicly on social media. Michael Patrick King was really, really honest in describing the posts that inspired him or the interviews he’d seen that I’d done after Grey’s Anatomy as my own evolution was taking place, and so that inspired him to write in certain things. The comedy of my own personal experience with [coming out to] my own family was similar to [Che’s experience].

I also felt that it was important to get specific about what Che had an issue with in terms of non-binary and trans representation in the media. I felt it was important to ground Che’s perspective in the fact that they are in their mid-to-late 40s. They come from a very specific generation—Gen-X—and so they are going to have a certain sense of humor and their own Gen-X lens on current day matters. They are not going to have a Millennial lens or a Gen Z lens. If anything, they’re going to use all the other generations around them as material for their stand-up comedy. And if we needed to research some things further, I wanted to make sure that what Che was saying was factual. I really appreciated that even if what I pitched didn’t make it in, it made the process really inclusive.

The first two episodes of And Just Like That… directly acknowledge that Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte are older, they’ve got blind spots, and they don’t always know the right thing to say. Was it important to you as a performer and a fan of the series that these characters acknowledge those blind spots in order to evolve?

I think that Sex and the City was evidence of progress at that time, and I think that it was inevitable that they were going to miss the mark in some areas. We know what those areas are. And I’m curious, just like the fans, to see how the show is going to meet this moment in 2021. It was very clear to me that Michael Patrick King and Sarah Jessica Parker were approaching this process, this iteration, with a lot of intentionality, a lot of care and a lot of thought.

I think what’s beautiful about watching the character of Miranda stumble around in her attempt to be perfect is that perfection ruins everything. But perfectionism is real and so many of us have signed up for it. Perfectionism is also a tool of white supremacy; it comes in and puts on so much pressure that people then don’t want to make any moves because fear takes over. This is another thing that the LGBTQ+ community has taught me: to value progress over perfection. This iteration is really going for progress in our times today and not perfection. If we make room for progress, people can show up to the table and admit that they don’t know everything, and then we don’t have to be so rigid in our pursuit of doing and saying the perfect thing.

There were obviously a lot of transphobic jokes and storylines in the original series; moments where trans people were the punchline. Was that explicitly discussed before you joined And Just Like That… and was it something that weighed on your mind?

When I spoke with Michael Patrick King in that Zoom where he offered me the role, I was very open and upfront about wanting support around playing this role and making sure that we were not going to be harmful in this representation. We had a lot of support in creating this role—it wasn’t created in a vacuum. It’s very important to acknowledge that there is a responsibility to be held by all of us in bringing this character forward, that we are not interested in making trans people the butt of any joke. If anything, it’s going to be someone else that ends up the butt of the joke. [Laughs.] I think that Che’s ability to bring in that humor is earned. Che has, through [Sex and the City’s] evolution into this new continuation, earned the right to basically use a lot of other people as material for their comedy.

It’s very sad that there’s already a critique that a non-binary character like Che and discussions around social justice issues in this world are somehow forced or “too woke.”

I’m glad if people are engaging with the show. I’m glad if people are speaking to each other and connecting around conversations that need to happen. What is the need right now in society today for us to center queer and trans people and to talk about our right to exist, to talk about our right to experience joy, to talk about our right to jobs and housing and healthcare and a safe place to live? What space do we get to take up now in this day and age?

If Che Diaz is inspiring people or creating a response or a reaction from people that is sparking conversations then we’ve definitely done our job, whatever those conversations are, because I don’t think we’re here to control the conversation or control the narrative. I would rather people have a strong opinion than no opinion at all. We need people to show up and really show us who they are, so we know exactly who we’re dealing with. If people are uncomfortable… if Che Diaz is triggering something for someone, then it’s their responsibility to go figure out what that trigger is about and figure out what that emotional reaction is about. Because, maybe, that is saying more about their process and who they are than anything that has to do with our show.

Carrie struggled with the “raunchy” content of X, Y and Me in “Hello, It’s Me.” Why do you think she joined Che’s podcast in the first place, and what can she learn from Che?

I think that Carrie’s in a really interesting place in her life, I think that she is trying to grow with the times. You know, there are a lot of people in the world who feel pressure to have a podcast because it’s become so ubiquitous, and pressure to participate in social media in a certain kind of way. I don’t think Carrie Bradshaw wants to be left out! [Laughs.] She is somebody who keeps up with the times and, in fact, she is someone who establishes a trend. So, Carrie needs to be in touch with relevant current issues in order to do her job, and it makes sense that she’s evolved into a podcast co-host. It makes sense that that is the medium in which she is choosing to engage her audience and I think that Carrie is really curious about her own growth and her own evolution. But she’s always been this really fun, brilliant, sort of dynamic and ambitious character! You know, she’s always contributed to creativity in such a beautiful way—so it makes sense!

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