Bilal Baig attends Trans Filmmakers Summit x TIFF at TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 10, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

EDGE Interview: Bilal Baig Talks About What's Autobiographical in 'Sort of' and What's Not

Timothy Rawles READ TIME: 7 MIN.

Actor and writer Bilal Baig wrapped up their series "Sort of" in 2024 after three seasons. The show originally aired on the Canadian Broadcast Channel beginning in 2022 and, in the United States, all episodes are currently on Max. It was a hit in the country and received several Canadian Screen Awards over its run including Best Writing and Best Lead Performer.

It is a semi-autobiographical comedy/drama about Baig's life living in Canada as a gender-fluid individual. Their character, named Sabi Mehboob, is of Pakistani descent and works as a nanny to a family of four in Toronto. There are aspects of the show that reflect the real experiences of Baig throughout their life.

"I share the qualities of trans and brownness," Baig, who identifies as trans-feminine and uses they/them pronouns, says in an interview with EDGE. "But, you know, I think there are so many differences in terms of what happens in our lives. But things like having a South Asian Muslim family definitely was a true experience for me and working as a nanny and navigating these kinds of dynamics between your employers."

Baig then reveals a spoiler, "Obviously, I didn't kiss my boss."

That boss, Paul (Gray Powell) finds his mental health challenged when his wife (Grace Lynn Kung) becomes comatose after being hit by a car, leaving him alone to raise two children, one a moody teenage girl, with the help of Sabi. Their relationship starts off rocky in the first season.

"Some of the initial tension between Paul and Sabi, like having a white dude as your employer when you're brown and trans, that was a kind of a real lived experience too," Baig says.

However, the show is much more than just the relationship between them. It also delves into Sabi's intimate relationships, friendships, and conflicts with their traditional mother and father.

The concept of the series was formed while exploring an idea Baig and co-creator Fab Filippo discussed while working together on a play as actors. They had similar senses of humor and a friendship formed. Filippo, having been a television actor for over 20 years asked if Baig had any interest in working in the medium. Immediately their answer was no because they were intimidated by it. They thought their destiny was to remain in theatre forever, however, as they began to share more about each other personally that's where some of the show's stories began to emerge.

"Fab was in his forties and he was talking about a personal kind of life change," Baig says. "A big one that he was going through at the time. And he was using the words 'transition' and embracing it. And I remember personally for me that was a huge turning point because it was really refreshing to hear a guy like him be like everything in my life is changing, and I'm changing too.

"And it was in that, where it started to feel like, well if we can maybe tell a story about all characters who are kind of noticing how they're shifting in small ways and big ways and different ways from each other, that feels like something that could be really special for all people," they add.

Aden Bedard, Bilal Baig, Gray Powell, Grace Lynn Kung, Kaya Kanashiro in "Sort of."
Source: Courtesy of Max

Apart from the everyday lessons most human beings learn in different eras of their lives, there was one thing Baig wanted an answer to, and maybe the show could help: How do we normalize trans people in this world? To them, cisgender and transgender people, aside from dysphoria, had similar struggles, whether they were emotional or moral. Baig says the media sometimes focuses a lot on the differences rather than the similarities. That was the jumping-off point for "Sort Of."

"But then I was like, well, what if the father is a white guy? And what does that mean to say? A really fun discovery for me was how similar Italian and Pakistani families are."

Speaking of cultural diversity and mainstream entertainment, there is a commonly used trope where a person of color becomes the "magical force" who teaches lessons, offers advice and overall exists to make white people's lives easier. This archetype is explored in the recent fantasy/comedy movie "The American Society of Magical Negroes. It is considered a derogatory plot device these days. But is being trans still just a different form of that stereotype?

Baig was aware of those trappings while in the writer's room. "We've always worked with diverse writers from the beginning and always a team around us. It was important to have those conversations because yeah, I was aware of that part of it. It kind of excited me to offer that reality, that me, as a brown person, a trans person, and works for a mixed-race family. Like there's so many layers there, you know, and the wife is a woman of color, but the man is a Caucasian person."

Carefully they wrote the first season, making Paul and Sabi's relationship almost like a marriage. They yell and fight about Paul's parenting skills and bad habits.

"We wanted to make sure that the power dynamic gets played with, you know, and that Paul is also somebody who's searching and is learning things about himself and he can kind of do that on his own or with the people around him," says Baig.

It is established from the start that Paul has an eating disorder, something Baig says Paul sort of realizes by the final episode. It is an epiphany he comes to himself. Sabi isn't there to cure him, but they are definitely concerned. Baig says, as a writer, it was important to show these characters together but have them do the work on themselves, by themselves, it makes for a richer character journey.

"There's a part where Sabi says to Paul, 'please, just white savior this situation' in the first season," says Baig. "All of that felt intentional."

by Timothy Rawles

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