Photo: Eddie Redmayne in ‘The Danish Girl’, Laverne Cox on the cover of Variety, Jared Leto in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ and Valentina Sampaio in Sports Illustrated
In a world where activism thrives and inclusivity is rising, it is jarring to still see the inequalities STILL present in film and television, particularly in regards to trans representation. A marginalized group, often even within the LGBTQ community itself, transgender individuals deserve to be represented in the media. Media influences people’s perceptions of the world as well as people’s perceptions of the other people who inhabit that world. Film and television, as forms of entertainment and as powerful forms of media, must represent the diversity of the world.
The world at large and the transgender community is nuanced, inspiring, and diverse and should be represented as such in film and television. Despite the great number of transgender individuals, there is an extreme lack of transgender characters and actors in Hollywood. Not only are transgender characters often absent from the world of cinema, when they are present, they are often played by cisgender actors.
Cisgender Actors Playing Trans Characters – Trans Representation by Non-Trans People
In the extremely popular sitcom, Friends, Kathleen Turner, a cisgender female actor, played Chandler’s father. The actress herself has even noted the problematic nature of her casting in this role, stating that she would not play this character if offered the role today. Chandler’s dad in Friends whose identity as a transgender individual—clarified in later years by Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the show—was never truly discussed at the time the show was airing. Not only was Chandler’s dad’s true gender identity not discussed, but her whole existence in the show seemed to simply be a joke.
Some people pass this off as simply being a sitcom and thus, being allowed to bend the rules in favor of comedy. However, due to the immense struggle transgender individuals face in their daily lives, with people not taking them seriously and often harassing them, it is wrong for their identity to be distilled into the butt-end of a joke. Overall, Friends was and still is an amazing show, although it is important to note the problems we see within these great works so as to educate ourselves in the proper representation of others.
As time has gone on, transgender characters have made an appearance in film in a more productive light, such as in The Danish Girl, a partly-fictionalized account of the first person to undergo gender confirmation surgery. Although this film was a masterpiece that brought an important story to light, Lili Elbe, the main character was a real trans woman, who was played by Eddie Redmayne, a cisgender white male. While the critics and movie watchers alike praised his “bravery” for taking on such a role, the transgender community expressed their consternation. Not only did they feel that such a momentous story of a brave transgender individual was exploited for cinematic drama, but this impactful role was not allowed to go to a trans actor. While transgender individuals are so often diminished, they see a cisgender actor praised for his heroism in playing a part that is only a shadow of what they go through every day.
Transgender actors are often not given the recognition they deserve. People may say we are diversifying the media and the voices that are heard, yet we ignore a large group of individuals who are sometimes even excluded from their own community. Just having transgender characters on-screen is not enough. Transgender actors deserve to be able to portray the characters who reflect their experience. When cisgender actors portray transgender characters, it reinforces the idea that this is simply “a man dressing up a woman” or vice versa, when this is a trivialized and inaccurate idea of what being transgender truly means.
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Trans actors already have such a hard time even kick starting their careers. They more often than not cannot even get auditions for characters that aren’t trans, and to then not be able to even play a trans character is demoralizing. Yes, acting is acting, however, the world of cinema is currently not equal. Because of the immense struggle that trans actors face it is important for them to have the opportunity to play the very characters that were created to represent them on screen. Until we have more equality within casting, it will continually be like a punch in the stomach for many trans people to see cisgender actors playing trans characters.
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Changing the Narrative
Since there are an extreme abundance of examples of cisgender individuals playing trans characters, this creates an image in people’s minds of how trans people are supposed to look or act. This leads to the immensely ironic and horrible event when casting agents or filmmakers turn away trans actors who “don’t look trans enough.”
The media is meant to appeal to and represent people of all walks of life. As we diversify the media in regard to race and sexuality, we must also do so with gender. It is also vitally important for transgender individuals to bring awareness to this issue and to make their voices heard. After years of exclusion and ridicule, it is time for trans actors to get the opportunities and representation that they deserve.
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We, at Hollywood Insider, will continue to support and champion trans representation in Film, TV and streaming along with all forms of media. Each individual has the right to live their life and tell their OWN story through their OWN perspective. Trans-women are simply WOMEN. Trans-men are simply MEN. We are MORE than just our physical features. We see each and every one of you and respect you for it. LGBTQ humans are completely natural and normal as hundreds of species in the animal kingdom are a part of the LGBTQ spectrum – thus it is just NATURAL. Humans in all our variety are nature, we are not separate from nature. We are here for you all of our brothers and sisters. And that we say with PRIDE!
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