Film & TV

If Trans Representation matters, then where is it?

Emily Harvie

Not long ago, I believed that transgender characters played by cisgender actors were largely positive and helped to progress conversations about trans lives. Films like The Danish Girl, Dallas Buyers Club, and Dog Day Afternoon were all heralded for their inclusion of transgender characters. Yet, they were all played by cisgender men, and in some cases reiterated dangerous stereotypes or tropes – such as Jared Leto’s Rayon dying at the end of Dallas Buyers Club, once her storyline has been completed.

Eddie Redmayne’s performance in The Danish Girl allowed me to believe that all trans characters needed were good storylines with good actors. However, shows like Netflix’s POSE, and HBO’s Euphoria have demonstrated that there are definitely enough trans actors out there to fill these roles and that the work these people are doing is accelerating trans representation. POSE follows LGBTQ+ people in the 1980s battling racism, the AIDS epidemic, and homophobia sometimes even within their own community. These stories need to be told by the people who have lived them and there are plenty of people out there who more than suit the bill.

If you doubt the necessity of having transgender actors play transgender characters then look no further than Basketball player, Dwayne Wayde. When his daughter Zaya came out as trans in 2020 it was discovered that her father and stepmother had turned to the cast of POSE to learn about supporting Zaya through her transition. In addition, Hunter Schafer, who stars as Jules in Euphoria has made waves depicting life growing up as transgender. Her influence was emphasised after a video went viral in 2019 showing her facetime a transgender teenager who described Schafer as “an inspiration”.

When actress and writer Jen Richards said in Disclosure, ‘for the first time, trans people are taking centre of their own storytelling’ it implied a new era of representation. Yet, almost all the references I am giving are about America. The UK is seriously lacking in transgender representation on screen. Channel 4’s It’s A Sin has been amazing for LGB representation, but trans lives have been sorely missed. Rebecca Root is one of the only transgender British actors I can name, highlighting this gap in representation.

It is undoubted in my mind that the representation transgender actors give to children is important and needed. I stand by my old opinion that it is most important to tell these stories as truthfully and as thoroughly as we can. However, what I would now add is that it is important, and we are definitely able to, employ transgender actors for these roles. By continuing to avoid casting trans actors, we are continuing a culture of transphobia and continuing to exclude trans people from spaces they should be able to occupy. If POSE could find a whole ensemble cast of amazing trans actors, then I’m sure we can continue to employ transgender people in the roles they deserve. Frankly, there are no excuses.

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