11/05/2007 at 01:00 AM EST
School bus rides were hell for Candis Cayne. "Kids asked, 'Are you a boy or a girl?'" she says. "I was like, 'Why are people throwing gum in my hair?' I was tormented." Years later, Cayne realized why: While physically male, she felt she was meant to be female. "When I admitted I needed to grow old as a woman, it was a relief," she says. Her choice to switch genders became much more: Cayne, 37, now plays Billy Baldwin's transgender mistress, Carmelita, on the ABC hit Dirty Sexy Money. "She carries herself with supreme confidence," says Baldwin. "She's an absolute showstopper."
Born Brendan McDanniel, Cayne started hormone shots 10 years ago, but will not say if she has had sex reassignment surgery. ("Like every girl, we don't talk about our surgeries," she says.)
She will dish about romance though. Cayne refers to her longtime boyfriend, Marco McDermott, as her husband, and helps care for Satori, 6, his daughter from a former relationship. "We're in love and normal," says McDermott, who deejays Cayne's cabaret show Candis Cayne: Gorgeous. "Just give us a bottle of wine, a grill and a few friends." Says Cayne: "I have a smile 24/7."