Recently, Executive producer Mark Ruffalo has come under fire from the transgender community for the casting of Matt Bomer, a cisgender male actor, to play the role of a transgender woman in his upcoming film, Anything. As a transgender woman, I can’t say I’m exactly thrilled myself, but at the same time, this really isn’t anything new or unexpected. Matt will find himself in good company alongside Eddie Redmayne, Jared Leto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeffrey Tambor, Hillary Swank, and Elle Fanning, along with every other cis actor who has helped to establish and maintain the precedent that so many films have consistently upheld in miscasting trans roles. There have been some independent films, such as Tangerine, starring actual trans actresses Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, along with this winter’s upcoming Swallowing Doves, written, directed by, and starring transgender activist and musician, and fellow Huffington Post Contributor, Sidney Chase, which have gotten it right, but for some reason, Hollywood always seems to miss the boat.
In case anyone were wondering, here’s the reason we’re upset, and it’s really quite simple:
Transgender women are women.
Ordinarily, one would not seek a male actor to play a woman, and trans characters should be no exception. A transgender woman is not a man in a dress, which should rule out any male actors, and while a cis actress would understand the experiences of womanhood, she’d still be unlikely to understand the experiences of transness, and may still even attempt to portray what she imagines as a man trying to “pretend” to be a woman.
But transgender women are not men “pretending” to be women. We are women, and we are not cis women either. We are transgender women. We should be played by transgender women.
Now, before anyone gets too excited about whatever cis opinion they may be all-too eager to spew into the comments, I should point out that I’ve heard plenty of counter-arguments before, even from those who do claim to accept trans people as valid examples of our gender. I’m tempted to say I’ve heard them all, and many more than I have room to mention here.
True, it is essentially an actor’s job to pretend to be something they’re not, but trans people aren’t fantasy creatures. We exist, and there’s no shortage of hopeful trans actors who are just as passionate and dedicated of as any of their cis colleagues. Every time the job goes to a cis actor, it becomes just another irresponsible appropriation of our narratives, profiteering at the expense of every trans actor who could have played the part that much better, because it’s also not an argument of skill or talent. Cis people are no more qualified to act on account of being cis than we are, and to suggest otherwise is inherently cissexist. If anything we should be the better actors for all of the experiences we’ve faced just trying to survive in a world which often demands that we either live a lie, or face the “consequences” of transphobic violence.
Some argue in favor of casting a cis actor so that they can play a character before transition, but, there are still plenty of pre-transition trans people who could fill those roles as well. Many of us are aware of our transness from an early age, and when we start transitioning, if we even transition at all, varies widely. Many coming of age stories use multiple actors to portray a single character growing up, not to mention that make up and special effects work wonders, so this argument really isn’t valid either. Neither is the concern-trolling which suggests that playing such a role could even be dysphoria-triggering for any trans person involved, but honestly, the fact that dysphoria is already a daily struggle for many of us, really just ensures that we’re the best equipped choice for the emotional rigors of such a performance. Trans people are not weak. We can handle our own narratives.
Sadly, however this is just a symptom of an even larger problem. Trans people are so much more than an overly glorified before and after picture, and we are never a joke. We are amazing human beings, just as diverse as any other demographic, who deserve to be represented as more than just an endless series of cis-driven transition narratives and harmful token characters. We deserve to be the unwitting teenage superheroes, and even the down to earth, unremarkable characters in the stories where seemingly every other character is somehow “quirky.” Hell, make us the “quirky” ones if you want, but for once, just stop reducing us to our transness.
Even if Anything turns out not to be a transition narrative, it still portrays a trans sex worker, yet another overplayed stereotype, which is still frequently weaponized against us, and even if the story somehow avoids a transmisogynist approach to that narrative, and Matt Bomer plays the part as well as any cis person could, I guarantee there is a trans actress who could play it better. And even if Mark Ruffalo has apologized and offered his still cis-privileged perspective on why it’s supposedly too late to fix this, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s long past time for this to stop. There’s no excuse. The right thing to do would be to scrap the film; fiscally inadvisable, perhaps, but fighting for fairness and equality really should take precedence over a financial loss to anyone who actually wants to claim allyship with our community. Simply put, trans people should be worth more than a profit margin.
Not to mention that many of us will still be boycotting the film anyway.
For me, there’s only one acceptable solution: Stop casting cis actors as trans characters, and let us take charge of our own narratives for a change. Trust me, we know our own stories far better than any cis person ever could.
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