Asia Kate Dillon on finding 'compassion' for online trolls: 'That person just really needs a hug'

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Asia Kate Dillon has blazed a trail for nonbinary performers — but they have only just begun. (Getty Images. Designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Asia Kate Dillon has blazed a trail for nonbinary performers — but they have only just begun. (Getty Images. Designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life's well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Since breaking out in Orange Is the New Black, Asia Kate Dillon (who uses they/them pronouns) has won the hearts and minds of television viewers who've become obsessed with their approach to art, life and activism. In 2017, Dillon solidified their role as a trailblazer on Showtime's Billions, becoming the first nonbinary-identifying actor to ever be cast in a major TV series. Dillon also broke boundaries when they were nominated two consecutive years in a row for a Critics Choice Award in the supporting actor category.

Dillon has been a staunch advocate for awards shows like the Tonys, the Emmys and the Oscars to address the lack of inclusion for gender-expansive actors and eliminate gender-specific acting categories. Here, Dillon talks about how they approach their activism, their philosophies on life and how they find mental and emotional balance in a world full of online vitriol. 

How do you unwind at the end of a long day?

Frankly, it's a lot of what seems like basic stuff but it is not always easy. I make sure I've been drinking enough water throughout the day, but if I hadn't, I'm like, OK, I need to hydrate. I'm making sure I'm coming home and eating a home-cooked meal, making sure that I am getting enough sleep but also making sure that I am keeping my creative and artistic well full. Obviously during the pandemic, there has been significantly less. I mean I haven't been to an art museum in over a year, so there's been a lot more watching [TV], a lot more reading of books and spending time stretching. I wouldn't say meditating; I will admit that I don't meditate, per se, but I do try and sit quietly or lie on my back for 10 minutes.

What's your view on rest and the power of self-care?

I follow this account on Instagram called @thenapministry, which is literally just about rest. It's about resting yourself. Taking a nap, that's resting. Taking care of yourself is a radical act. People are like, 'What are you doing this weekend?' And I'm like, 'Nothing.' 'What do you do when you go home?’ 'Nothing.' And nothing is active. Doing nothing requires presence. It's an active thing.

You've handled online bullies with such grace over the years. What's your advice for queer people on how to combat anti-LGBTQ trolls online?

It's funny to think of myself in a position of giving advice. I just think, well, what do I do? There was a troll on my Instagram the other day who went through and commented like 50 comments, just a barrage of some of the more vitriolic stuff that I've seen in a while. Some of it is so outlandish that I really just laugh. I'm like, this is actually very funny. There is a version of this that is like an SNL skit or a comedy sketch. That's a way I immediately think of it so that it remains sort of impersonal or something. 

How are you able to find compassion for those kinds of comments without letting them affect your well-being?

It might just be an algorithm and not a real person, so I consider that as well. If I consider they are a real person, I'm like, that person is hurting, that person is so disconnected from their own soul, their own consciousness — and maybe through some fault of their own, you know, maybe they might keep themselves from being vulnerable on purpose. And/or they were raised in America. They were raised in a society that told them they had to be a certain way, they had to look a certain way, [that] certain things would define whether or not they were successful. And then you add an invented racial hierarchy on top of that, or an invented gender binary off of that, or a sex binary. I think there are so many reasons why people are separated from their own compassion for themselves, for others, their own humanity.

I have compassion for those people, but I also don't take the time to interact with them. I can see that somebody is attacking me and I'm like, that person just really needs a hug. It doesn't mean that I always have to be the person to give them that hug. I can be careful with my own energetic capacity, but I do think that when I encounter bullying or trolls, I just remind myself that that's a reflection of who that person is. Not who I am.

Has it been an evolution to get to that headspace?

I mean, I was bullied growing up. That is not something that's new to me since I have been in the public space. When I was younger, it was devastating. I cried, begging my mom to not send me to the public middle school that I went to because the bullying was so atrocious. I was such an outcast. I had very few friends. So, I think somehow through those experiences, and having the extraordinary love and support of my mother, and certain members of my family and a few friends who were like, 'No, you are awesome,' I was able to become more and more resilient.

How do you define resilience?

I think resilience is something we're told that we are just going to be. Like, 'You're so resilient.' It's an affirmation of the fact that I survived and I'm stronger in spite of the things that happened to me. Also, resilience is, I think, held sometimes with too much reverence. It's OK to be like, No, actually I was damaged by what happened to me. I'm hurting because of what happened to me. I will always carry it with me, but in spite all of that I still am able to rise.

Did you ever think you'd become a trailblazer in Hollywood for nonbinary actors?

Trailblazer is an interesting word, right? I'm very proud of the fact that I am the first nonbinary person to play a nonbinary character in a major show. I'm very proud of that. But I don't think of myself as a trailblazer, because, to me, I'm joining a trail. And if anything, a sort of purposefully invisiblized trail that was forged predominantly by transgender, nonconforming, nonbinary people of color, indigenous people and Black women. I think it's a great honor to join that trail. 

You've been a staunch advocate for awards shows to dissolve gendered award categories. Why is it so important to be having these discussions now?

I have a couple of different answers that are related. I'm pulling this quote from something Laverne Cox said, which is that roughly 85 percent of Americans only know about trans, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming or intersex people through the media. I would say those 85 percent of Americans have certainly met someone who was gender-nonconforming, trans or nonbinary except they just don't know it. Because film and television representation is the way in which the majority of Americans find out about the queer community, the trans community, nonbinary community, it is essential that more stories are told about the community that are written by, produced by, directed by members of the community. 

The other half of that work is being able to be acknowledged within institutions like the Tonys, the Emmys, the Oscars, which right now have two categories: male, female. Either way, those categories are exclusionary. They erase any identity that doesn't fall within the gender binary, which we know is actually a false binary that colonists imposed on the indigenous peoples who were first here in the United States of America. I applaud the Gotham Awards and the Berlin Film Festival for abolishing their gendered categories because it sends a broader message that binary is not real. And that binary is actually dangerous.

Are you planning to run for the academy's board of governors?

[Laughs] Honestly, I have said so many times that I'm here. I'm available. I'll say it again right now: Call me! ... Look, I just want to be one voice as part of the conversation, you know, having one nonbinary person in the room is not enough. Let's bring in more people to the conversation.

Is it important to have something to fight for in life?

Truth be told, I wish we lived in an egalitarian utopia and nobody had to fight for anything and everybody had enough of everything that they needed. I don't get up in the morning thinking, Thank God I have something to fight for. I actually just wish all of us peace and rest and abundance because there is enough for everybody, actually. Maybe that's what gets me up in the morning, knowing inherently that there is enough for everyone.

Do you have a philosophy by which you live?

I think just remembering that other people are going through an incalculable amount of stuff. Be kind to people because I want people to be kind to me and I want people to assume that I've been through a lot. Wouldn't it be better if we assume that everyone had just been through so much and needed to be treated with kindness, gentleness and asked for consent? Those are the things that I want. 

I also try and consciously remain a curious person. I work very hard to maintain an inner sense of childlike wonder about the world. I try to remember that my being, inherently, is love. I came into this world as love. We all came here as love before anyone taught us how to hate or discriminate. Before any traumas happened to me, I arrived here as love and I can always access that. It doesn't mean it's always easy or that I'm even good at it. But I try. I really try every day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Billions season five returns for five all new episodes on Sunday, September 5 at 9pm ET/PT

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