Category Archives: gender

Asia Kate Dillon: Representation Saves Lives


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.

A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints


Laurie says:

I love the wood block prints from the Ukiyo-e (“floating world”) in the Japanese Edo period.

Kitagawa Utamaro – From the Series Fujin tewaza jūnikō (Twelve Forms of Women’s Handiwork)

There is an excellent article by Susan Chira in the New York Times about a stunning exhibition of prints from the Edo period in Japan. They are of a wakashu, who were considered a third gender. The article is thoughtful and discusses these works and their context both in Edo Japan and
in the present time.

A figure in a translucent kimono coyly holds a fan. Another arranges an iris in a vase. Are they men or women?

Wakashu and Young Woman with Hawks

As a mind-bending exhibition that opened Friday at the Japan Society (in New York City) illustrates, they are what scholars call a third gender — adolescent males seen as the height of beauty in early modern Japan who were sexually available to both men and women. Known as wakashu, they are one of several examples in the show that reveal how elastic the ideas of gender were before Japan adopted Western sexual mores in the late 1800s.

Suzuki Harunobu Youth on a Long-Tailed Turtle as Urashima Tarō

The show, “A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints,” arrives at a time of ferment about gender roles in the United States and abroad. Bathroom rights for transgender people have become a cultural flash point. The notion of “gender fluidity” — that it’s not necessary to identify as either male or female, that gender can be expressed as a continuum — is roiling traditional definitions. …

The wakashu are a case in point. The term describes the time a male reaches puberty and his head is partly shaved, with a triangle-shaped cut above the forelocks that is a telltale way to identify wakashu. During this stage of life only, before full-fledged adulthood, it was socially permissible to have sex with either men or women. …

It is one of the many reflections on contemporary society that this provocative exhibition raises. Walking through it is a reckoning with categories, definitions and how they resonate in societies still uncertain about whether lines between genders should be bent or blurred.

You really need to read the whole article to get a sense of what this means. There is also fascinating information and a video at the Royal Ontario Museum site , where the exhibition originated.

Hosoda Eisui – Wakashu with a Shoulder Drum

It runs til June 17th and I’m hoping to see it when I’m in New York.