The title of tonight’s episode of ABC’s The Good Doctor is “Irresponsible Salad Bar Practices.” Its meaning will become clear before the closing credits roll, but rest assured: it’s irrelevant to the fact that this week Dr. Shaun Murphy meets Rio Gutierrez, a man who learns he is pregnant.
If that plot sounds familiar, fans of Grey’s Anatomy will recall the 2005 episode “Something to Talk About.” And then there’s Thomas Beatie, the real-life man who gave birth to not one but two children.
Like Beatie, Rio is a transgender man, and so is the actor playing him, Emmett Preciado.
“I was very grateful to get this role just because the narrative just felt so important to me,” said Preciado in a Zoom interview. “And honestly, I related to this character so much. I felt like they were honestly writing about me. And I was like, how do they know all of this stuff? So I thought it was perfect.”
There are many twists in tonight’s episode, chief among them the gay couple, Rio and his fiancé dealing with both a life-threatening tumor and an unexpected pregnancy. That last part totally baffles Dr. Murphy, the young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome who this medical drama is centered around. What the good doctor — played by Freddie Highmore — learns in this episode, and hopefully so do viewers, is not so much about the miracle of birth but the importance of identity. Preciado said he went in expecting (no pun intended) he’d need to suggest changes in the script, but was pleasantly surprised to find none was needed.
“I thought I was going to need to do that,” Preciado explained. “But I really thought that they had had a trans person write this the whole script, because it was something I could relate to. All of it was so accurate.”
The script by veteran TV writer Liz Friedman and staff writer Sam Chanse tackles a very sensitive issue with extraordinary care and affirmation. Preciado said a scene in which Dr. Murphy bluntly asked the couple questions about their sex life and orientation particularly resonated, especially when those questions were immediately called out as “inappropriate.”
“I’ve dealt with the hateful comments for years of people telling me, ‘You’re not really a man, you’re still a girl,’” Preciado said. “And I’ve built very thick skin to deal with that. This episode, though, it was like a way for me to show people a little bit more of what I feel, to share a little bit more of my experience. My body doesn’t define who I am inside, and I feel like most people, even cisgender people, can identify with that.”
One scene Preciado doesn’t even appear in particularly resonated with him. The actor who plays his partner, Johnathan Sousa, hits a home run for straight allies everywhere when Dr. Murphy asks his character about the “most female thing” anyone can do, deliver a child.
“It’s not female if Rio’s doing it,” replies Eliz Simpson.
“Those were the words that I almost want to use when I talk to all my friends or family members,” Preciado confessed. “I understand that I was born in a female body, but my brain and my soul is masculine; It is male. I am I do not identify with the body that I was born with. What is it to be feminine or masculine? Why does it have to be so that it’s all defined, you know? I loved how it was written, because it shows that just because this person is deciding to carry a baby, because they can, because their body was built for that, why does that have to be a feminine thing? Why can’t it also be a masculine thing or why does it have to be either or?”
Like almost every LGBTQ individual, the actor said he’s more than just one letter in an acronym. Being a trans man is merely one aspect of who he is.
“I write music. I’ve been writing since I was ten years old. I am slightly OCD. I’m very into my crystals and I like to be surrounded by positive energy. So I’m always manifesting positive things and surround myself with positive people. I am obsessed with Takis. They’re the greatest chip on earth, I don’t care what anyone else thinks. They’re delicious! And also, I guess my other thing would also have to be food. I would eat anything.”
One more thing Preciado has in common with many transgender people: he’s attempted suicide, twice. Both times, like most trans folks who consider or try to end their lives, it was due to the depression that results from rejection.
“I had been depressed and suicidal for years. It started when I was very young and I had my first attempt when I was 14,” he said. The next time was in college. “I really felt so hopeless because I was told the path that I should be going, and I totally did not feel like that was who I was. I did try to take my life again. It was right after the counselor I was seeing dropped me because she wasn’t going to help me with my transitioning process.”
Although Preciado left Brigham Young University and the Mormon Church so he could transition and pursue his truth, he has not abandoned his spirituality. “I do still believe in a higher power. I believe in God and I commune through music. I commune through going out into nature. That’s where I feel close close to Him. And and that’s where I feel most comfortable right now,” he said.
Preciado will next be seen on the current season of Good Trouble on ABC, the series spinoff of The Fosters. “I play a young, book-smart lawyer,” he said, having just come from a table reading before our interview. The actor said he has other plans in the works, too.
“I have written a screenplay and I plan to write more because I feel like there are stories that just aren’t being told, and I really want to get those out. But for right now, I do just want to continue to play characters and to help tell the story, whether that is TV or film, whatever story needs to be told.”
Growing up closeted, he recalled seeing Boys Don’t Cry, the 1999 film that told a fictionalized account of the life and death of trans man Brandon Teena, and it frightened him. “It was really scary because I thought, ‘Oh, so if I come out and if I’m open about who I truly am, am I going to face violence? Am I even going to be safe?’ So I thought, ‘I need to protect myself and maybe just not say anything.’ But it also did give me hope, though, to see that these stories are being told and I’m not crazy and I am not the only one who feels this way.”
The focus, he said, is on getting Hollywood to tell more trans stories and having trans actors play those roles.
“It’s very important to have trans representation, pushing to have trans characters played by a trans person,” he said. “I was raised to think that being trans, being different was going to hinder me, and that is not the case at all. Anything is possible. Being trans is not a hindrance. It is not a burden. You can do anything as long as you you work hard for it.”
“When I was ‘Rio,’ I was living all of that because it was very, very similar to my story. So it was almost part of it, almost wasn’t even acting. It was real life for me.”
Although he said carrying a child isn’t in the cards for Preciado, he said he’d be very open to returning to Bonaventure Hospital as Rio, in about eight months, to deliver the fictional baby.
“Please, please, please, please, please! I would love to go back to the set, the people, everything, the whole experience,” he said. “I never wanted it to end even with what’s going on in the world right now. I wanted to stay forever. So if they decided to bring me back, I vote yes! It’d be great.”
If you are considering suicide and age 24 and younger, contact the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and is available to people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, for people who are trans, non-binary or gender-nonconforming, can be reached at 877-565-8860. All are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.