Tag Archives: acting

Trans People in Trans Roles

Debbie says:

I don’t track broadcast TV, so I didn’t know until the Golden Globe Awards ceremony last Sunday that a cis man was playing a trans woman on The Dallas Buyers’ Club. But Jared Leto’s acceptance speech was somewhat of a travesty (and not in the historical meaning of that word, either*).

Lots of folks have called Leto, and the casting, out, but Monica Roberts at Transgriot is especially concise and scathing.

Those trans women are the reason you have a Golden Globe award.

Leto spent the two minutes of his speech making fun of women, and thus by extension trans women.

Roberts quotes Jaila Simms, whom she attributes with the basic point that Leto couldn’t have the award if it wasn’t for trans women’s lived experience:

CeCe McDonald is being released from 19 months in jail today for defending herself from a hate crime, Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are pioneering in media for trans women, DOMA was just passed, little trans kids are bullied, depressed, and dying!! And it was a platform to honor, respect, and enlighten and that moment was diminished.

I’ve seen a few fine performances of cis people in trans roles, including Felicity Huffman in TransAmerica, and Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry. But the quality of their performances doesn’t justify the casting. Trans people in trans roles is no different than disabled actors in disabled roles, or people of color in roles of color. We have fine actors in every sector of the human spectrum, and many of them have few enough opportunities to act at all, let alone bring their experience to their performance.

Besides, if Hollywood cast these roles correctly in the first place, we’d get better acceptance speeches.

* “Travesty” comes from the French travestir (“to disguise”), which in turn comes from Latin trans (“over”) + vestire (“to clothe”). Although “travesty” has generally been used as “ridiculous” or “farcical,” it has very close associations with “transvestite,” as should be obvious from the root words.

Disabled Character: Able-Bodied (Emaciated) Actresses Only, Please

Laurie and Debbie say:
(cross blogged on Feministe)

We had our attention brought to this casting call for Stargate: Universe, a Stargate franchise TV show due to debut in October of this year as a movie, and then a regular TV show on the Syfy channel.

[ELEANOR PERRY] (35-40) and quite attractive. A brilliant scientist who happens to be a quadriplegic. Affected since childhood, her disability has rendered her body physically useless. However, after being brought on board the Destiny as the only person who may be able to save the ship and her crew from certain annihilation, she is given temporary powers that enable her to walk again and to finally experience intimacy.sptv050769..Strong guest lead. NAMES PREFERRED. ACTRESS MUST BE PHYSICALLY THIN. (THINK CALISTA FLOCKHART).

How do we hate this? Let us count the ways:

1) Do you have any idea how much most disabled people hate the oh-so-familiar story where a disabled character (always in a wheelchair) gets to *drum roll* WALK AGAIN? To take that one apart a little bit, at least two things are wrong with this story.

It plays into the endlessly repeated cultural conviction that walking and being vertical are somehow essentially more fully human than sitting. This is why disabled children are often kept in painful and awkward braces much longer than they should be, and why it’s been necessary to create wheelchairs that bring people up to “eye level,” (whose eye level was that?). It’s so hard to be taken seriously if you’re not vertical.

It also plays into the able-bodied person’s myth that the only interesting story about disability is the one in which it is cured or magically redeemed in some way. This is a thing of our time and place–150 years ago, the only story about disability was about romantic wasting away. Our culture desperately tries to believe that if you take care of yourself, you will live a really long time and never get sick. Seeing disabled people makes us afraid that we might not live fit and forever. Wheelchairs and the people in them become the bogeyman, the goblin who will be you if you don’t watch your health. To fight the cultural fears, we build myths about people who “walk again.”

The “finally experience intimacy” line from the casting call is the clincher for this myth. Apparently, whoever wrote this believes that disabled people can’t “experience intimacy,” which wouldn’t be true even if the phrase was about love, friendship, deep connection, or true confessions. We all know that those three words aren’t about any of those things: they’re about sex. Of course, disabled people can’t/don’t have sex. Because we’re so afraid of what it’s like to be them, we don’t look at or imagine their bodies. When we have to talk to them, we look relentlessly above the neck, which is one reason we’re more comfortable when they’re at eye level.

News flash! People in wheelchairs have sex. People on respirators have sex. Sometimes they have great sex. And what’s more, they can have sex without being fetishized for their disability.

2) If you’re a disabled actor, the “walk again” story has an even nastier angle. It means that the studios “have to” cast able-bodied actors and actresses to play disabled people. They can’t be expected to cast someone who is quadriplegic, or has spina bifida, if the role requires that the character eventually get up and walk. This saves the director and the actors having to deal with all those scary, messy real disabled people. It saves the writers from having to learn anything about real disability. It is yet another factor in keeping disabled people unemployed. (In the last fifteen years or so, the disability activist community has done a great deal of work to get disabled actors into disabled roles, and we’ve seen somewhat fewer “God saved him! He can walk!” plots as a result. It’s not enough. Google Images has only five images for “disabled actresses.”)

3) Wonder why she has to be so thin? Callista Flockhart thin? We can tell you. It’s because if she has any weight on her at all, viewers can say her disability is her fault. People believe that unhealthy behavior, weight, and disability are inextricably linked. People look at a fat person in a wheelchair and think, “That person must not have taken care of herself.” But a thin person in a wheelchair is exempt from blame. She’s a victim, not a bum.

Here’s the casting call we’d like to see:

[ELEANOR PERRY] (35-40) and quite sexy. A brilliant quadriplegic scientist, who has used a wheelchair since childhood. She needs help with basic cleanliness and dressing tasks. Her scientific ability makes her the only person who may be able to save the ship and her crew from certain annihilation. She’s an excellent flirt, and will have an affair with at least one crew member during her tenure on the show. sptv050769..Strong guest lead. NAMES PREFERRED. ACTRESS MUST BE A WHEELCHAIR USER.

Thanks to Lynn Kendall for the pointer.