The Monday, Jan. 22, episode of Vanderpump Rules was full of its usual drama — catfights, cheating allegations, and tears — but the best part of the show was definitely getting to know SUR newbie Billie Lee. As viewers witnessed, Lisa Vanderpump gave Billie a chance to speak at the sexy unique restaurant’s LA Pride celebration, where she opened up about her experience as a trans woman.
“My name is Billie Lee and I am transgender,” the 33-year-old bravely told the crowd. “I went through so much of my life ashamed of who I was and I went through a transition where I wasn’t accepted by society — and [Lisa] hired me and accepted me.”
In an exclusive interview with Life & Style, Billie details her tough — but ultimately rewarding — transition, and reveals how Ms. Vanderpump became a guiding light at the end of her journey to self-love. “Lisa is amazing. I literally tell everyone she’s like my fairy godmother. I feel like she should have a wand because she makes things happen,” the Indiana native and SUR hostess says. “She’s so beautiful inside and out. She’s so positive and it’s just so nice to have a boss who loves and supports you and who doesn’t judge you for your lifestyle or who you are. All she expects of you is that you show up to work and you do good. And I love her so much. I always have so much gratitude for her.”
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
According to Billie, her job at SUR — and its byproduct, a position among the Pump Rules cast — is a dream come true. After feeling the painful sting of rejection for so many years, the LA transplant couldn’t be more thankful to not only have financial stability, but for a platform to advocate for the trans community. “It feels good to be able to pay my bills while I’m speaking my truth. It’s important for trans people to be visible. And Lisa knows that,” the TV personality — who began her transition nearly 10 years ago — says. “For a whole year during my transition, I could not get a job because of the way I looked. It was just really hard for me.”
Billie points out that many trans women turn to prostitution because of their limited job opportunities — especially when they’re mid-transition. “We don’t have the same opportunities as everyone else. And we end up on the streets, begging for work, and selling our bodies because we can’t get a job,” the LGBTQ activist explains, adding that she was forced to sell her own body at times to make ends meet. However, Billie was also able to lean on her loved ones during her transition — which she considers “one of the darkest” times of her life. “I had friends who helped me, and my parents did their best to support me,” she reflects. “It was a real struggle going through the transition.”
It wasn’t until after Billie underwent multiple surgeries to complete her transition that she felt as though society finally embraced her. “If you want to know the truth, it was when I became attractive that things started getting better,” Billie admits. “Society is all about being attractive and being pretty and I experienced both where I didn’t have any opportunities, and then after I had all the surgeries, it was like the red carpet rolled out for me. I had jobs, I had men lined up to date me, and I was like the cool kid on the block.”
(Photo Credit: Jordan Ring Photography)
Naturally, Billie — who experienced intense bullying as a kid and even suffered from childhood depression because of it — was ecstatic about her newfound acceptance. In an effort to extend her moment in the sun, she kept her trans identity hidden. “For a while, I didn’t tell anyone that I was trans and I was dating men and not telling them. I just didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want to go back to that unexpected dark place in my life,” she tells Life & Style. “So I pretended I was a [cisgender] woman, and that was hard because I was attracting men who are scared of the same thing I was scared of. So when they found out that I was trans and I told them later, they were devastated and they would break up with me.”
Eventually, Billie could no longer bear the torment of “living a lie.” And she knew she needed to find a way to love herself — every part of herself, including the little boy who used to feel ashamed when he was told to play with G.I. Joes instead of Barbie dolls. After finding solace in daily yoga and meditation, the blogger performed a ceremony to honor her inner child.
“That boy brought me to where I am today and that boy endured all of the bullying and all of the torture. So I put up all these pictures of myself as a boy and I lit candles and I lit sage — like, such a hippie moment — and I just thanked that boy,” Billie says. “I thanked that boy for everything he went through and everything he fought for. He made me so much stronger. It’s all about the gratitude. And that really helped me love who I am and love a part of me that I was previously afraid to admit.”
(Photo Credit: Jordan Ring Photography)
Taking pride in her past has also strengthened the relationship she has with her parents. Though her mother and father once encouraged Billie to suppress her affinity for “feminine things,” they couldn’t be more proud of the woman their child has grown into. “When I was a kid, I was definitely forced to be a boy a lot and that was really hard for me,” the social media influencer, who came out as trans years after moving out of her family home at 17, says. “But now as an adult, now that they see how well I’ve done for myself and how hard I’ve worked to be who I am, they are my biggest fans. They love it. They’re so proud.”
While Billie doesn’t consider herself a role model, and would rather not be placed on a pedestal — “I am by no means a golden standard” — she is hoping to touch LGBTQ youth who might be watching her story unfold on Pump Rules. “I have my own struggles. But I always try to be positive. I always try to inspire people,” she says. “And I always try to speak my truth and I hope that some little kid out there who’s trans and feels like they don’t have anyone or feels like they’re alone, that they can see someone on TV and reach out and they know that they’re not alone.”
The aspiring television host adds, “There were moments this season that were hard. There were times when there were cameras in front my face and I got nervous and I’d think to myself, ‘Am I sure I want to put my life out there like this?’ But then I think about the trans people who have come to me with their stories and I think about the people who are struggling right now and then it’s all worth it.”
Learn more about Billie on her blog — and catch her on Vanderpump Rules Mondays at 9 p.m. EST.