"Let's give them the representation they deserve, but let's not actually include them in it!" This seems to be the twisted mantra that Hollywood's film and TV world holds onto so closely when it comes to casting transgender actors for trans roles. Today, representation of trans actors in television is at the highest it has ever been. However, that "high" is still minuscule when compared to cisgender actors.
In 2016, GLAAD reported that the number of regular and recurring transgender characters across all three platforms ( broadcast, cable, streaming services ) nearly doubled from the year before. Their TV Diversity Report reported a change from seven transgender characters to 16. The report stated that "there are three trans characters counted on broadcast, six on cable, and seven on streaming original series. Of the 16 characters, four are transgender men." As amazing as these numbers are, they still show just how far Hollywood has to go when it comes to representation of the trans community. This makes the notion of "transface" all the more problematic.
For decades, cisgender men have played the roles of women and recently with the LGBTQ community gaining more acceptance, cisgender men have moved on to play the roles of transgender men and women. Recently, actor Matt Bomer has come under some well deserved fire for his role as a transgender prostitute in the movie Anything, produced by Mark Ruffalo. Two things: Just because Bomer is apart of the LGBTQ community ( he identifies as a gay man ) does not give him the right to portray something as delicate as a transgender prostitute in today's society. Perhaps if there were hundreds or even thousands of trans characters out there, having some portrayed by non-trans actors would make sense; but with so few roles, and great trans actors, why not cast people of lived experience?
Having cisgender men play trans roles not only puts their experiences in a box but also serves as a slap in the face. In her essay "Why Straight Men Kill the Trans Women They Love," actress Jen Richards said that the problem with cisgender men playing trans women is that it sends a message to people who aren't familiar with the trans community, that trans people are really just men. Not only are these actors taking away potential roles for trans people but they are also shaping viewers' views of trans people. Why should they get to be in charge of that?
The more Hollywood continues to allow cisgender actors to portray trans people, the more the trans community will fall short. It is bad enough that there is already a huge lack of representation, but to give these roles to those who are not trans is even more problematic. The TV and film industry still lacks acceptance. You can't claim that you are an ally or supporter of LGBTQ rights and still deprive them of just that. The sooner Hollywood gets real about representation and casting, the sooner trans people will be accurately depicted on screen.
"There a lot of trans stories to tell. We've only tapped the surface," said trans actress Laverne Cox regarding the expansion of trans roles in Hollywood. This in return could lead to more acceptance and understanding of trans people. However, we won't know until producers, actors and writers step up and do their part. Until then, transface will continue to be toxic and damaging for all parties.
Tarina Hargrays is a senior at the University of Missouri, and was a summer tntern for Windy City Times.