Four twenty-somethings sit on an urban stoop, chatting about people passing by. A stressed-out wife leaves work late, in a rush to get home to her complaining husband. Each scene mimics everyday life, whether it’s young adults passing time idly or a overworked wife trying to balance her career and family duties. In both scenes, from a new film called “Spot,” the identity of the actors playing each character go unnoticed. However, the film is composed of an all-transgender cast, running counter to most depictions of trans people in the media.
As is the case in many instances, trans actors are often pigeonholed into playing trans people or portraying characters who fall into prejudiced transgender tropes. A common example is when trans women are typecast to play the “desperate transgender prostitute” who is often accused of murder or other criminal intent (for more about this theme see Laverne Cox discussing her past roles).
Though shows like “Orange is the New Black” have revolutionized LGBTQ characters on television, it’s interesting to note that trans actress Laverne Cox plays Sophia Burset, a trans woman imprisoned for fraudulent credit card usage. While “Orange” does shed light on many trans issues (and Laverne is talented in her role), including the plight of trans women in prison, it falls into continued themes of portraying trans people as “criminals” and “deception artists.” When Burset is abused and misgendered in season four, the show’s only trans character falls further down the pigeonhole of trans tropes in film. A trans character is often portrayed as abused, mistreated, or desperate, but never happy.
There are exceptions to this trend, however. In “Transparent,” Maura is a trans woman and a mother who must balance parenthood and her burgeoning sense of self. It’s important to note that Maura, a trans character, is played by Jeffrey Tambor, a cisgender actor. Similarly, Matt Bomer, another cisgender actor, was casted to play a trans woman. After keeping an eye on these trends, it’s difficult to believe that it’s random. More likely, it’s an intentional pattern meant to depict trans people in a certain light, while giving cisgender actors the chance to mimic trans people.
The path forward is for Hollywood to carve out more roles for trans actors, or, for queer and trans independent filmmakers, to take matters into their own hands as was done in “Spot.” More films should portray trans people in everyday situations, evoking universal themes of finding love, searching for meaning, and finding happiness. Some progress has been made towards this goal, with nonbinary actor Asia Kate Dillon playing Taylor, an intern turned boss, on the show “Billions.” Laverne Cox has been offered new roles too, including characters who do not identify as trans.
New films such as “Spot” are also progressing us forward by increasing the range of roles offered to trans actors. In “Spot” (link to watch), the identity of each character is never discussed, though each actor identifies as trans. In the words of the film’s Director, a trans man named Jamie DiNicola: “being trans is not all that trans people want to be known for. Maybe we just want to be actors, not trans actors. Not trans filmmakers, just filmmakers. People of trans experience have such unique, beautiful, and multifaceted lives and we need to see more of that represented in the media.” Movies like “Spot” provide a good blueprint for Hollywood, where more trans actors should be recruited to play a wide range of roles, including everyday ones. For Hollywood to show that we as trans people exist everyday, everywhere is to truly humanize us.