Asia Kate Dillon: Representation Saves Lives

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Debbie says:

Representation of any marginalized group makes a huge difference in public awareness, acceptance, and expectations. When a marginalized group has effectively unrecognized even as existing, the first major representation is especially exciting. So we are delighted to welcome Taylor, quite possibly the first gender-nonbinary character on a major television show.

Taylor, who started on the show at the beginning of this season, is an intern on Showtime’s Billions, a world-of-hedge-funds-drama. Taylor is played by gender-nonbinary actor Asia Kate Dillon.

When we think back to able-bodied Daniel Day Lewis playing a permanently disabled character in My Left Foot, female-identified Felicity Huffman playing a trans woman in Transamerica, and female-identified Hilary Swank playing a trans man in Boys Don’t Cry (to name just a few of dozens), the fact that Dillon and Taylor are matched in their marginalized status is laudable.  But apparently, the show runners weren’t committed to doing this right. Lauren C. Williams of Think Progress spoke with Dillon and the creators of the show:

 

Show runners Brian Koppelman and David Levien said they want to avoid being “preachy” when it comes to the issues raised in the show. But in creating a non-binary character, they hoped Billions could have an opportunity to push viewers out of their comfort zones.

“We don’t make these broad social statements on the show, we allow the viewer to make them for themselves,” Koppelman said. “But by introducing a character like this, we figured we would start a kind of conversation that would be useful to have.”

When Billions went to cast Taylor in 2016, the writers didn’t require the actors auditioning for the role to identify as non-binary themselves. But Levien said that Dillon landing the part was a “stroke of serendipity.”

Come on, guys, you couldn’t just have committed to your values? You couldn’t have done a preliminary search for a gender-nonbinary actor and only fallen back on a gendered actor if that search fails? No, you had to have “serendipity” help you along. But hey, it worked out this time.

Dillon said their own experience as non-binary helps them relate to the character’s sense of self-perception.

“Anyone who has gone on a journey of self-discovery with specific regard to either their gender identity or their sexual orientation, I think has had to look at themselves from sort of every angle,” Dillon said. “And Taylor has certainly done that…Taylor has a clear understanding of who they are.” …

“Just simply by Taylor being there, the conversation around pronouns and or gender identity just starts happening,” Dillon said. “So in that sense, anywhere that Taylor goes, they are going to be an agent for change and conversation simply by them being there.”

In one scene, Taylor confidently announces their pronouns before pitching a potentially lucrative short — which is something Taylor does over and over again as the season progresses.

Pronoun identification on TV: again, it should be normal and not ground-breaking, but the only way things get to be normal is if they are first ground-breaking.  Williams’ article goes on to discuss the role of pronoun identification among young people, and she closes with this powerful statement from Dillon about why representation is essential.

“Whether it’s a young person, or a person of any age, who is struggling in some way because their identity or their sexual orientation, or whatever [their struggle] may be, may not be reflected to them in their immediate community. Then they go to the movies and on the screen they suddenly see someone that is a reflection of them,” Dillon said. “And just that acknowledgement of feeling like you’re not alone, like you’re being seen, is really powerful. It saves lives.”

Making the invisible visible. We can’t live without it.