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A new beginning for actor and comedian Petey Gibson

Petey Gibson.Suzanne Cotsakos

“The Sympathy Card” is a big film for Petey Gibson. It provides a couple of firsts — first lead role in a feature film and first producer credit. Gibson plays Emma, a lesbian dying of cancer who pushes her wife, Josie, to meet and have sex with other women. It’s a complex role, and Emma doesn’t always come off as altruistic. The film, which is available Friday on Amazon, Google, Apple, and Vudu, balances emotional depth with light touches of romantic comedy.

It’s a triumph for Gibson but also presents a unique situation. “The Sympathy Card” was Gibson’s last hurrah playing female-presenting roles. After it wrapped in 2018, Gibson began the process of medically transitioning. (The film had its festival run curtailed by COVID and finally had its local premiere at Wicked Queer: Boston’s LGBTQ+ Film Festival in April.)


In the run-up to its wider release this week, Gibson has been doing promotion as a trans man for a movie in which he plays a lesbian.

“I feel incredible now as a trans man,” he says, speaking by Zoom. “So personally, it’s complicated to then tell everyone in my life [to] go watch this movie where I played this woman named Emma. Especially as people get to know me now, but I’m incredibly proud of it.”

Gibson is proud of his acting, his role as a producer, and, as a Cape Cod native, the fact that it was shot in Boston using local actors, crew, and musicians. As a kid, Gibson didn’t see much lesbian representation in the movies and cherished movies like “But I’m a Cheerleader.” So he’s also proud to be part of the tradition of lesbian romcoms.

“The idea that I could grow up to be part of that canon of indie lesbian filmmakers, and have a movie that I’m really proud of, to be part of that is exceptional. And the fact that I could costar in a lesbian romcom, in my hometown, as the last big thing I do before I medically transition is like, brilliant.”


A third of the cast and crew of “The Sympathy Card” was queer, and everyone was encouraged to speak up if they thought some of the details were wrong. As a straight white man, writer/director Brendan Boogie says that was the only way he could tell a truthful story. “Writing is seeing things from other points of view,” he says. “That’s why intersectionality on a team is so important.”

Nika Ezell Pappas as Josie (left) and Petey Gibson as Emma in a scene from "The Sympathy Card."Photo courtesy of The Sympathy Card

While Gibson’s perspective was vital, Boogie also praises the actor’s ability to take on a complicated character. “The reason why I originally cast him is because this role is a tricky one, in the sense that there’s a lot of stuff Emma does that, in the wrong hands, could make the character really unlikable,” he says. “But Petey is so goddamn likable and so charismatic. Everything that he does, you just feel the love behind it.”

Navigating an acting career post-transition can be tricky, especially for a character comedian like Gibson. Boston audiences may remember Gibson emceeing shows in character for the drag king group All the King’s Men starting around 2004, or his feisty octogenarian Mary Dolan hosting comedy and burlesque shows. He moved to Los Angeles a decade ago and completed training at the legendary Groundlings company before transitioning. He’s played female-presenting or nonbinary characters in small parts in “Grace and Frankie” and “Broad City.”


He says it’s a “weird silver lining” that a lot of his physical changes happened during the pandemic, so he had the benefit of a slight career pause before moving forward. His managers had him make a one-minute video addressed to people in the industry, telling them what work he had done before and showing what he currently looks and sounds like. He says feedback has been positive. “So now I’m getting auditions for trans men as well as cis men, which is wild,” he says. “It’s a weird job. … I’ve had like four different headshots in the past two years, because I just keep changing. I had to throw out all my voice-over reels. It’s expensive.”

The industry is improving in terms of trans representation, Gibson says, although in his experience as an actor in his late 30s, there’s still a lot of progress to be made. “So many of the roles that come across my desk are for teenagers,” he says. “It seems like Hollywood is like, all right, we acknowledge that trans people exist, however, they must all be Gen Z.”

The one that makes him laugh hardest? “I auditioned for ‘Euphoria,’ ” he says. “That’s insane for me to be auditioning for a role as a high schooler. It’s not where I’m at.”

Because Hollywood is always a little behind the curve, Gibson feels he has to create his own work. He has written a comedy pilot featuring two transmasculine best friends that focuses on laughs rather than trauma, and is partnering with Wayfarer Studios on a new project. “I’m going to continue to push my own stories and things forward,” he says. “I’ve got to make my own roles.”


Even if he has to change course from what could be a breakthrough role in “The Sympathy Card,” Gibson feels all of his previous experience, as an actor and as a trans person, has helped make him stronger, personally and professionally. “I’m really blessed to be a trans person,” he says. “When you really come into your trans identity, you have to do such an enormous amount of interior work. It requires saying something is different than what I’ve been told my entire life. Everyone has talked to me this way, I’ve been socialized this way, I’ve been separated into these groups. This is the way that the entire world sees me, and there’s something in the back of my mind saying, ‘I don’t know if that’s quite right.’ ”

After a few years of tumult, which also included a divorce, Gibson is excited to see what the future might hold. He calls it a “wild and gratifying experience,” and hopes he never stops changing and growing. “You know, I think it would be a mistake to feel like I’ve evolved into a final form,” he says. “But I do feel incredibly capable in a way that I haven’t before.”