Transgender acting roles should be given to more transgender actors, not cisgender

by A. G. Priest, Staff Writer

In a recent trailer, it was revealed that Eddie Redmayne will be playing a transgender woman in the upcoming movie “The Danish Girl”.

Redmayne is cisgender, meaning he identifies with the gender he was assigned with at birth, yet he has been cast as a transgender character.

In fact, in the past, there have been many transgender roles that cisgender actors have undertaken. Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena in “Boys Don’t Cry.” David Duchovny as Denise Bryson in “Twin Peaks.” Jared Leto as Rayon in “Dallas Buyers Club.”  Jordan Todosey as Adam Torres in “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”

All of these actors are cisgender and all of their adopted roles are transgender.

There is something very wrong about this. Being transgender is not something you can act out, or portray in a film. Trans is an identity — something you are, not something you do.

Being transgender is not a role a cisgender actor can play because cisgender people cannot act transgender. There is no way to act transgender.

“Why are casting companies not looking for trans people to play trans characters?” said political science sophomore Violet Friudenber, who identifies as non-binary. “Being trans is hard enough because job security is threatened just by being trans.”

If a story calls for a transgender character, casting directors should only be offering the role to those who identify as transgender.

There is no excuse if no transgender people auditioned. Instead of an excuse, it should be an indication that they are not looking hard enough.

Additionally, the transgender community has an abnormally high unemployment rate.

Respondents of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey experienced twice the rate of unemployment compared to the rest of the population.

There should be more of an effort to employ transgender people in general, and transgender actors should be able to tell their story.

“Cis people cannot tell a trans story because they do not understand the story,” Friudenberg said. “It’s really discouraging, and frankly it’s disgusting that they are not letting trans people be the tellers of their own story.”

Most transgender characters have identities that are integral to the stories’ plots. This places importance on their transgender identities because the plot focuses either on their transition or struggles as a transgender individual.

Cisgender actors cannot relate to the trials and tribulations that transgender people go through on a daily basis, therefore it is unfair and disrespectful to assume a cisgender person can portray a transgender person better than a transgender person can.

When a cisgender male steps into the role of a transgender woman, a dangerous assumption is perpetuated. In the world of TV and film, as suggested by movies like “The Danish Woman” and “Dallas Buyers Club,” a transgender woman is merely a man in makeup. In the world of television and film, a transgender man is merely confused, and non-binary people are a simple fantasy.

These volatile notions are fallacious premises that erase transgender identities and create difficulties regarding the visibility and acceptance of these identities.

In May 2014, the band Arcade Fire released a music video for their song “We Exist.” It features Andrew Garfield, cisgender star of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” as a transgender woman.

“There is a prevalent idea that viable transgender actors and actresses simply do not exist,” said Kat Haché, transgender woman and writer at Bustle. “Naturally, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when they never gain exposure, rendered invisible by the lack of acknowledgment on the part of directors. One can see how this is especially problematic in a video for a song entitled ‘We Exist,’ If so, where?”

Eleven, transgender contributor at TransAdvocate, says when a cisgender person is cast as a trans character, “a chance for visibility is lost, and they make sure that their voice is louder than ours, and that trans folks will only exist as elaborate fictions, collections of artifice whose identities are as flimsy as a layer of makeup and a particular outfit.”

However, certain media have taken steps to increase the visibility of the transgender community and their stories.

Laverne Cox, a transgender woman, plays Sophia Burset in Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.” Jamie Clayton, another transgender woman, plays Nomi Marks in Netflix’s “Sense8.” Although these have been fantastic leaps, there is still a long way to go in terms of visibility for the transgender community and transgender actors.

As long as cisgender people are cast as transgender characters, the transgender community suffers losses of opportunities to tell their stories. Casting companies should hire transgender actors to play transgender characters and let transgender actors tell their own stories.

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