Last night Jared Leto won a Best Supporting Actor (the award for ladies is Best Supporting Actress, so this was in the dude category) for playing a trans woman.
I have not seen Dallas Buyers Club, in which Leto plays Rayon, a trans woman with AIDS. I will not see Dallas Buyers Club because I don’t hate myself. Leto’s performance may be a “revelation” as some have called it, though I highly doubt I’d see it that way. It also may be awful, stereotypical, and offensive, which sounds like the way Rayon is portrayed based on the opinions of folks who’ve seen the movie and actually care about trans women. I suspect the latter, since Leto gave an offensive speech about physical transformation when he won the Golden Globe and has described Rayon as an “unbelievably impossible person.”
Hi, I’m over here being a possible trans woman. What’s up?
I have no interest in watching a cis man in drag play a trans woman ever again. No matter what Dallas Buyers Club does as a film, the narrative around this movie, the fact that a man in drag is playing a trans woman, perpetuates the stereotype that we are men in drag.
I hate everything about Felicity Huffman’s weak, female impersonator-y performance in TransAmerica, but at least she’s a woman playing a woman — but that’s not enough. I personally know multiple great trans lady actors. Why not cast a trans woman to play a trans woman? (For that matter, why aren’t trans women being cast to play cis women when we’ve got so many cis people doing trans drag?). I find the feminist conversation around Orange is the New Black pretty bizarre: it’s a fun show, but it’s a trashy, soapy sitcom, not a realistic depiction of the lives of marginalized and incarcerated women. Having said that, at least the show bothered to cast a trans woman to play a trans woman, which shouldn’t be a big deal but is. And of course the indomitable Laverne Cox knocked it out of the park. How does anyone in Hollywood look at that show and not realize it just makes sense to cast great trans women actors to play trans women?
At least the award was just a Golden Globe. All awards shows are ridiculous spectacles, but the Globes take the cake. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association sounds like a group of reviewers or movie-related journalists, but they’re actually a bizarre collection of rich folks who’ve routinely excluded actual critics and journalists. All awards voting is political, but it’s a well-documented fact that Golden Globes are basically bought and sold. Still, awards give some sense of legitimacy, they’re promotion for the movies that win, and they pile up — a Golden Globe could spiral into an Oscar win.
And this isn’t just an isolated incident. Trans women seem to be getting increasing visibility in Hollywood — and not in a good way. Lori, Maya, and I went to the movies together this weekend, and every comedy trailer we saw (and there seem to be at least 2 hours of trailers before a movie these days) was super racist and sexist — the worst “joke” probably being in the trailer for Bad Words in which Jason Bateman told a very young South Asian kid to shut his “curry hole” and our jaws hit the sticky theater floor. And then came the trailer for The Other Woman, which looks like an anti-feminist remake of The First Wive’s Club, a film I absolutely adore. In addition to the racism and sexism, this trailer included basically the same joke about a cis man taking hormones and transitioning that played out in the Netflix season of Arrested Development (a show that’s been super transmisogynist throughout its run #sorryhipsters). At least we weren’t subjected to the trailer for 22 Jump Street which I’d already seen, and which includes a despicable joke about the rape of trans women in men’s prisons. I don’t know what any of these movies will actually be like, but why is Hollywood leaning so heavily on bigotry to sell us films? How is this OK?
Before going to the movies we’d tried to entertain ourselves with an episode of Louie. Unfortunately, we started watching the season 3 premiere, which opens with a horribly transphobic and racist stand up routine about genitalia. I’m a big fan of Louis C.K., who’s humor is often “offensive” and controversial, but in a way that’s aimed at power. Jokes making fun of people who have it worse than you are easy. It’s harder to mock privilege, and that’s been the surprising power of comedy for a long time — just think of royal courts where jesters were able to mock the king. Louie’s humor is usually aimed at white supremacist patriarchy, usually used to show that the emperor has no clothes. It’s a good way for a privileged white dude to use his position. Watching this comedian make an ignorant, hurtful joke about “transvestite” genitalia tells me that in his eyes I’m not human, not worthy of the humanization that comes from mocking the ways trans folks get dehumanized. I’m just a punch line.
We’re hearing a lot right now about what a great year 2013 was for women in film. Movies that pass the Bechdel Test made more money than movies that don’t. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, a movie with a female lead, topped the 2013 box office. Folks say the last time this happened was The Exorcist in 1973, though I always considered Father Karras the lead. So I’d go back to 1965 and The Sound of Music – that’s almost five decades. Of course, Jennifer Lawrence is a white woman playing a character who’s a person of color in the books (which makes the racist anger around casting Amandla Stenberg to play Rue, who’s Black in the books as well, even more offensive). Frozen and Gravity, both female-led movies, also did well. I really enjoyed Catching Fire, and as a woman it was great to be reflected in the lead. It’s been a good year for white cis female characters, yes. But I’m also a trans woman, and Hollywood has been pretty terrible to me on that level — and to people of color in general.
Increased visibility is important for marginalized folks like trans women. But only when that means increased awareness of our humanity. Visibility can be dangerous when it’s based entirely on bigoted stereotypes. As Laverne Cox pointed out in response to Katie Couric’s ignorant bigotry very recently:
The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.
We are so much more than our medical histories. Reducing us to jokes about hormones and genitalia dehumanizes us, supporting a culture in which we’re targeted with violence. Rewarding a man for his brave portrayal of an “impossible” trans woman perpetuates stereotypes about us being men in drag, which also supports a culture of dehumanization and violence. Most of the increased visibility trans women are getting in Hollywood right now is not a good thing — it’s cruel and it’s dangerous. We deserve much better from the stories our culture tells itself.
Jos Truitt is over it.