Why aren’t all trans roles played by trans actors? It’s called acting!

This is a post that might piss off people that I don’t want to piss off. It’s usually deliberate when I piss people off, I target people I think deserve a bollocking and I want them to be pissed off. Sometimes I hold out the hope (usually in vain) that I might jolt them out of their complacency and they’ll realise what total arseholes they’re being. And I try my best not to attack people who are already marginalised.

So the following is written in the spirit of having a dialogue, not making pronouncements that must be adhered to. If the fact that I’m a straight white bloke makes you write this off because of my level of privilege (which I don’t deny) then so be it. But if you’re interested in exploring some touchy ideas, let’s proceed.

The Golden Globes were on today. It was the middle of the day in Australia and I’ve just started a new job so all I know about the awards is what I saw on Twitter. Along with talk of who was wearing what and who was robbed, I saw a thread condemning non-trans actors playing trans roles (Jared Leto in the movie Dallas Buyers Club and John Lithgow in the TV series TransParent).

If I was part of an already marginalised minority that was made virtually invisible in mainstream culture, I imagine i’d be pissed off. There are so few decent trans characters in movies and TV, when the few roles that do come up almost always go to non-trans actors (recent notable exception: Orange Is The New Black) resentment from the trans community is pretty understandable. But here’s where I think it should a conversation rather than a pronouncement (from anyone). Saying that only trans actors should perform trans role ignores the fact that we’re talking about playing roles – not real life.

It’s called acting.

To be clear, I’m not saying that everybody advocating for the trans community declares that only trans actors should play trans roles (although doubtless there are some that do). What I’m pointing out is that it isn’t black and white – if anyone was to take an absolute position at either end of the spectrum their argument would be fundamentally flawed. Saying the complaints of trans activist are baseless is ridiculous (although that doesn’t stop overly defensive Hollywood types from saying it). But saying only trans actors can play trans roles with integrity ignores the fact that they are still acting. They’re not playing themselves, actors never are.

Actors play lawyers, soldiers, doctors and serial killers without actually being those things. And non-trans actors can play trans roles with integrity. But maintaining the status quo (in my not so humble opinion) is not a viable option. Trans actors deserve far more opportunities and far better representation in all forms of media (and society generally) and I honestly believe films, TV etc. would be better will more diverse representation at all levels (actors, writers, directors) and people deserve opportunities to tell their own stories rather than always have them told to them.

If we’re going to move beyond stories always being told from the outside people need to stop pretending this is not an issue. And by people, I mean the ones who make decisions on what gets made – people who are overwhelmingly white straight males. This goes not just with trans roles, whitewashing characters is disturbingly common – most recently in the downright embarrassing casting in “Exodus – Gods and Kings”.


Yeah, this guy looks like the king of an African country thousands of years ago

But we also have to remember, it’s always going to be acting.

This post is one of the few times I can genuinely say that if I’ve offended you with this post, I genuinely didn’t mean to. If you think I’m straight up wrong I hope it’s something we can still have a discussion about.


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