Hollywood’s Latest Setback: Transphobic Casting

The newest trend in Hollywood is not matte lipstick or ombre hair. It is something much more troubling — cis men are taking on the roles of trans* women in major blockbuster films and television shows. The most recent instance is in the film, Anything, yet to be released, in which Matt Bomer plays a transgender sex worker. This film is preceded by numerous films and shows where cis men play trans* women. Even when only looking at films from the 21st century, the list is too long: Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl (2015), Jared Letto in Dallas Buyers Club (2013), Tom Wilkinson in Normal (2003), Lee Pace in Soldier’s Girl (2003), and John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001).


Casting cisgender men to play the part of trans* women is problematic because it teaches the public that trans* women are actually just cis men playing dress up. Whether intentional or not, casting cis men to play trans* women shows viewers that trans* women are not women; they are men who shave, tuck, and throw on some heels. This is problematic because trans* women are not men. They are women. And anyone who wants to argue the opposite is wrong.


Another prominent argument for casting cis men is that trans* actors aren’t big enough stars to carry a major blockbuster film. The issue with this argument is that it is cyclical. There are no big Hollywood names who identify as trans* because they are denied roles in which they could become huge stars. Trans* people will never be able to become big enough stars to carry a blockbuster film if they are not given the opportunities to get in the limelight.


But, as a cisgender person, I don’t want to speak for trans*-identifying individuals. Instead, I will give my platform and audience to Jen Richards, actress, writer, producer, and activist, and trans* woman. She turned to Twitter to explain her anger about cis men taking the roles of trans* women (These tweets are to be read in columns.):


(Source: Twitter)

Richards goes on to say more:


(Source: Twitter)

Richards further explains her tweets in this video. While it is a bit lengthy, it is well-worth the watch if you want to get a deeper understanding of her argument and her personal connection to this issue.


Hollywood needs to stop taking away the ability of trans* people to tell their own stories, to allow them to be in control of their own narratives. Only then can we, the public, stop seeing trans* people as “playing dress up” as another gender. Hollywood casting won’t end transphobia, but it sure as hell is a step in the right direction.

(Featured Image Source: Wikipedia)

16 thoughts on “Hollywood’s Latest Setback: Transphobic Casting

  1. I find this post disgusting, and ironically, I find it very counter productive. There’s an actual issue at stake here: transgendered actors and actresses are being brushed under the rug. That’s a problem. Posts like this however make the movement to end that come off as very vindictive and hateful.

    This article shames cisgendered males for playing transgendered identities. Now, going by this exact same logic, you’re making it out that perhaps we should shame transgendered actors that play cisgendered identities. That’s disgusting. Perhaps we should shame Matt Damon for not being an astronaut. We shouldn’t shame any actor or actress for playing any identity. This notion that cisgendered actors playing transgendered identities alone teaches viewers that transgendered people are “just men playing dress up” is just false. If an actor can play a role, then he or she can play a role. If your problem is with people not accurately being portrayed, then that should be your problem, “people not accurately being portrayed”. Not, “cis men playing roles of transgendered identities”.

    What we SHOULD do is find concrete cases where people in the industry are brushing transgendered people under the rug. Rather than using hateful Twitter posts as evidence or lists of movies with cis actors playing transgendered characters, we should really dig and find people in the industry that have committed such acts of bigotry towards the transgendered community.


    1. Thank you so much for commenting! First, I just wanted to be clear about something: it is common custom to refrain from referring to trans*-identifying people as transgendered. There’s a great explanation about gender language in this TIME article (http://time.com/3630965/transgender-transgendered/).
      Next, I want to clarify my wording: I do not mean to place the blame at the feet of the actors. We live in a capitalist society–of course, if someone is offered a role and a considerable amount of money, they would take it; I would expect nothing less. However, the problem with cases such as the film, Anything, is that major trans* roles are not even up for casting; trans* people did not get to audition to play the role that was given to Matt Bomer. The problem stems from the industry, not Bomer, himself. I agree with you there- they are the ones “brushing trans* people under the rug,” to use your phrasing. And to your note about acting-the point that Richards makes in her video (which you should watch if you have not yet done so!) is that when a trans* person acts the part of a trans* person, they only have to act the character. They do not, in addition, need to act out gender as is the case for cis people acting out trans* roles. In my opinion, this is not comparable to Damon, a cis man, acting the role of a cis man who is an astronaut.
      Trans* people being inaccurately portrayed is something I take issue with, yes. But, it is not the whole problem. Bomer being cast in Anything is a concrete example of when trans* women were not even considered for the role that was precast for a cis man. There are many other cases out there, some of which I have referenced in list form, but that list is incomplete. I agree with you — we do need to find more concrete examples, as they would bring more attention to the issue at hand.
      Finally, I just wanted to say that I am a cisgender woman and I do not want to speak for trans* people. Rather, my intention is to use my cis privilege to allow for others to speak about their own experiences. That is why I have pointed to activist, Richards. As a trans* actor, she can more accurately speak to this issue than I can.


  2. It seems to be that you have 4 issues here:

    1) Transgender people getting brushed under the rug in the film industry
    2) Characters not being accurately portrayed
    3) Acting roles not being offered to everybody
    4) Cis men playing transgender characters (which I think isn’t a problem)

    Keep in mind, none of these things directly cause another one to happen. These are all individual issues that can all happen on their own. It seems to me that your problem with Matt Bomer shouldn’t be a gender problem. It’s just a matter of acting roles not being offered to everybody. Matt Bomer was recommended for the role, and because of that, people of all genders (not just transgender) were denied the opportunity to have the role.

    I agree with the first 3 as being problems, but I do think they are all individual issues. Your 4th point is the one that I find absolutely disgusting. You seem to have spent the MAJORITY of your post shaming cis men for playing roles of transgender characters. It’s ridiculous what you’re saying here. It’s completely possible for a cis man to play the role of a transgender character and not have any of the other problems that you’ve described. It’s hateful what you are doing with your post. Can you imagine a post that preaches how transgender actors shouldn’t play the roles of cisgender characters?


    1. Once again, I want to clarify – I am not putting the blame on cis actors, rather the system that casts cis actors to play trans* roles without even considering giving the part to a trans* actor. If that was unclear to you, I apologize.

      It is important to understand concepts of privilege. Cis actors have privilege over trans* actors in that they are afforded opportunities to play both their own gender as well as another gender with which they do not identify. Trans* actors are rarely considered for playing either the part of a trans* person or a cis person.

      The point I am making is not that a cis man “can’t” play a role of a trans* person. My point is that these roles should be played by trans* people. Trans* people do not have as many opportunities in Hollywood as cis people do, so it is my opinion that whenever possible, they be afforded those opportunities.

      You may not think that a cis men playing the role of a trans* woman is a problem, however you opinion does not entitle you to say that others’ opinions that differ from yours are “absolutely disgusting” “hateful” or “ridiculous.”


      1. It’s very clear that you have a problem with cisgender men playing the roles of transgender characters. You might not be shaming the actors themselves, but you are shaming the idea of it. You spent the majority of your post shaming it.

        “My point is that these roles should be played by trans* people”. Who are you to tell people that these roles should only be played by transgender people? Again, imagine if I were to say that roles of cisgender characters should only be played by cisgender actors? Doesn’t that sound, at the very least, disgusting to you?

        The solution to one group’s suffering is not to make another group suffer. Things can’t cancel out that way. If you we really want this movement to gain leverage, then I advise that we bring concrete cases to the table of people bashing the transgender community, rather than propose a set of hateful double standards.


        1. Yes, DoNotDelete, I do have a problem with cis people playing the roles of trans* people. That is the whole point of my article.

          The fundamental issue with your argument is that you incorrectly assume that giving a marginalized group, such as trans* people, access to benefits only enjoyed by non-marginalized groups, such as cis people, thereby lessening the privilege of the majority, is a bad thing. To say that giving trans* actors the opportunity to act as trans* people in film/tv is “making another group suffer” is an example of this — granting access of trans* people to audition for trans* roles takes away privileges granted to cis people and denied to trans* people. It levels the playing field, so to speak. You don’t seem to grasp the concept of privilege when it comes to cis people versus trans* people and I think it’s on you to do a little more research to that end. And because of this, we will never see eye to eye. Thanks for the comments, though! Discourse such as ours is crucial in developing societal understanding and progress!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I completely grasp the concept of privilege; that card isn’t going to work on me.

            Again, this is what you’re proposing: “Only transgender people should be able to play transgender roles.”

            Transgender people are being brushed under the rug, and we cannot have people preaching this hateful proposition. There is an issue at stake here, and I think it would be a shame if such a hateful proposition discredited the entire movement to end the suffering of transgender people in the film industry.

            This is fundamentally the wrong way to go about solving this problem. “Leveling the playing field” shouldn’t be about taking opportunities AWAY from the majority. It should be about giving the same opportunities to BOTH the majority and the minority. We should allow EVERY gender to have the opportunity to try out for ANY character. It would be naive and hateful to segregate the two groups and infringe on their acting opportunities.


            1. Of course we should strive for complete equality. I 100% agree with you on that point; anyone who argues the opposite is sadly uninformed. However, your proposal as to how we go about reaching that ideal equality is erroneous. Privilege is unearned and undeserving – why should we NOT take away privilege if it is unmerited? Or lessen the advantages of the privileged? A cis person did not “earn” their cis-ness; they were born with it and all the advantages that come along with it. Why should we not, then, take it away? They are not deserving of an elevated status.

              Chris Boeskool said, “Equality can feel like oppression. But it’s not. What you’re feeling is just the discomfort of losing a little bit of your privilege.” (article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-boeskool/when-youre-accustomed-to-privilege_b_9460662.html) I think this, a reflection on the anonymous quote, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression,” is fitting to the discussion we are having now. There is a reason Lady Justice is holding a balance scale. In order for us to have equality, the two scales have to meet in the middle; in order for one to rise, the other must be willing to fall. That “fall” is not equal to oppression, rather it is the relinquishing of a privileged status that is not held by others.

              Your argument is a slippery slope that sounds disturbingly similar to “all lives matter” rhetoric.

              While I genuinely appreciate this public discourse, we are never going to come to agreeable terms unless you check your privilege.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Again, telling me that I need to “check my privilege” isn’t a card that is going to work on me. You have no idea what my identity is, and it doesn’t matter what my identity is either.

    Back to the point. Can you imagine if the voting rights movement took voting rights AWAY from men and ONLY gave it to women? Or, can you imagine if the voting rights movement made it so that men can only vote for certain things and women can only vote for certain things? That would be ridiculous and hateful.

    Your solution here is quite similar. You’re taking opportunities away from cisgender and transgender actors and actresses. It’s not taking away just “a little” bit of this opportunity. This solution is completely taking opportunities away from people. In other words: your solution of “leveling the playing field” is too far and it’s hateful. Wouldn’t you rather have a more equitable solution? One where every gender has the opportunity to audition for any role? I don’t think it’s wise to deny cisgender people roles because of their genders, and I don’t think it’s wise to deny transgender people roles because of their genders also.


    1. Let me draw an over-simplified analogy for comparison:

      In order to end the wealth disparity in the US, we cannot simply print more bills and hand them out to the poor. We have to redistribute the wealth that has already been accumulated, taking it from those who have it and giving it to those who do not. The same thing can be said about privilege. It is like energy — it cannot be created; it must be transferred. (Please do not take these examples as anything other than rhetorical similes for understanding the concept of privilege.)

      To that end, the definition of privilege is that it is something one is born with; we cannot just GIVE privilege to trans* people. In order for there to be equality, privilege must be taken AWAY from the undeserving. There is a nuanced difference between taking away “opportunities” and taking away “privilege.”

      Obviously you and I will never agree on this topic. So, let’s just agree to disagree and call it a day. Thanks for all the comments!


      1. Nope, not quite done yet. For as long as this post is telling cisgender actors and actresses that they can’t take roles of transgender characters, and for as long as you are saying that transgender actors and actresses can’t take roles of cisgender characters, I will keep commenting to tell you that these are hateful and naive ideas.

        We can go back and use your simple example. In your simple example, there’s a group that’s rich, and there’s a group that’s poor. The logic in your example suggests that we should redistribute the wealth evenly to everybody. HOWEVER, if we apply the logic that you are using in your original post, we would perhaps redistribute the wealth and give it ALL to the poor group and give the rich group absolutely nothing. It’s pretty obvious as to why this logic doesn’t work.

        Regarding the transgender group of actors and the cisgender group of actors, the solution to the inequality in the acting industry isn’t to take away opportunities away from any groups (privileged or not privileged). The solution is to give everybody the SAME opportunities. Most people agree with me on this by the way. If one group is suffering, the solution is never to make the other group suffer more. Don’t tell me that “it might come off as oppression, because it’s actually equality”. I would buy that if the solution was one that was equitable, but your solution is clearly pulling this past the middle ground.

        Problem: there’s an inequality in the acting industry. Which solution sounds better?

        1) Everybody having an equal opportunity to play any role. Cisgender and transgender people can compete for characters of all genders.
        2) Taking opportunities COMPLETELY away from certain groups. Transgender actors can only play transgender characters. Cisgender actors can only play cisgender characters. Segregate the two groups.

        It should be obvious which is better. This movement can’t continue to get brushed under the rug with such hateful and naive solutions. If we really want this movement to gain leverage, we cannot preach hate. We can’t preach solutions that aren’t equitable. We have to promote equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome.


        1. There is no need for your sass, sir. Calling me hateful, naive, and disgusting is only muddling your argument with more hate rather than generating a productive conversation.

          You and I have a fundamental misunderstanding when it comes to this discussion. When I say we need to take away privileges to make it a fair ground, to meet in the middle – I mean exactly that. Taking away privileges is not a bad thing for society. Privilege is not the same thing as opportunity; taking away the privilege that cis people have in Hollywood to get roles they did not earn or deserve is not the same thing as taking away the opportunity to audition for a role.

          I see where you’re coming from with the simile of wealth distribution. That’s not what I mean to say – that we should just take it all away if you have it. If you earned your wealth and worked hard for it, then of course we shouldn’t just take it and give it to someone else. However, what if someone were born into an excessive amount of wealth, did nothing to earn it or deserve it? What if they were regularly given more and more wealth for no reason? Why should we not redistribute that unearned and undeserved wealth, that privilege? (of course, I mean this as a metaphor for the concept of privilege. I do not want to get in a whole other argument about finances, irrelevant to my article)

          Also, you have to look at the number of opportunities awarded to the two groups – trans*-identifying and non-trans*-identifying. There are simply more roles out there to portray a cis person than there are to portray a trans* person. Why shouldn’t we give the trans* roles to trans* people? If the character is written to be a specific identity – gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability – Hollywood should give that role to someone who also identifies in that way (i.e. a trans* person playing a trans* character, an Asian person playing an Asian character, an indigenous person playing an indigenous character, and so on). If it is not written with such explicit identities in the character description, then by all means, anyone and everyone should be able to audition.

          Yes, all actors should be given equal opportunities, however I think special consideration needs to be given when examining trans* roles in film/tv (or any marginalized identity, but that is not the subject of this article). That is my opinion and calling me names is not going to change it. I am aware that you are also entitled to your opinion. Our opinions are different. As far as I am concerned there is nowhere we can go from here that’s beneficial.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. First off, you have no idea what my identity is. I have no idea why you’re calling me a “sir”. Not that it matters.

    It seems that you have quite a list of hateful ideas:

    1) You’re suggesting that a cisgender person can NOT “earn or deserve” a role for a transgender character. I’m not a “sassy” person whatsoever, but I bluntly find your statement to be hateful. An actor of any gender can put their heart and soul into an audition and deserve the role.

    2) Again, you’re suggesting that Hollywood should take away the “privilege” of cisgender actors and actresses playing the roles of transgender characters, and vice versa. This isn’t leveling the playing field. This is you looking at an unfair situation, and creating an even more unfair outcome. You’ve already heard my opinion about this, as well as why your solution isn’t how we should go about things.

    And of all things you’ve said so far, you doubling down here takes the cake:
    3) “If the character is written to be a specific identity – gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability – Hollywood should give that role to someone who also identifies in that way”

    I’m not one who gets offended, nor do I excessively condone PC culture, but I’m surprised you said this (especially on a blog like this). It seems that you are trolling at this point. If you want, you can take this statement back, but it’s one of the most radical things I’ve heard in a very long time. Especially on a blog like this.

    You’re saying that people who don’t identify the same way as a character shouldn’t have the role, and that only people who do identify the same way as a character should have the role.

    Let’s break this down with an example. Your statement is implying that gay people shouldn’t take on roles of straight characters. I would to love hear you say this to Neil Patrick Harrison from How I Met Your Mother, Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City, Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory, Matt Bomer from White Collar, (the list goes on and on). If you honestly believe that straight characters should only be played by straight actors, and vice versa, then I really don’t know what to say to a person like you. This concept applies to every other group, including transgender and cisgender people. Most people agree with me on this.


    1. I do not appreciate you putting words in my mouth and twisting my argument to fit your own agenda. Please stop mansplaining my own argument back to me.

      Ya know what, thank you for calling me out on my inclusion of sexuality here. Sexuality does not apply to my specific argument and for me to include that was wrong. I do not want to imply that people of any sexuality can exclusively be played by that same sexuality of film/tv. On that, I concede to you. That does not, however, make your entire argument correct. If I were to use YOUR fallible argument, I could justify white people donning black or yellow face and playing another race. This is totally unacceptable.

      Finally, if you “really don’t know what to say to a person like [me],” then please don’t feel obliged to continue.


      1. Again with the identity politics. I’m not “mansplaining” anything. You don’t know my gender (it doesn’t matter), and if I were actually were a man, it would be hateful to void my argument because of that and deem my posts as “mansplaining”. Again, you have no idea what my gender is, but it doesn’t matter.

        I’m glad you took back what you said. If you’re willing to accept that what you said regarding sexuality was hateful, then I think you have it in you to accept that the solution you’re suggesting regarding cisgender and transgender actors/actresses is also hateful.

        I appreciate you bringing the issue to the table regarding transgender actors getting brushed under the rug in the acting industry, but your solution isn’t going to work. We need an equitable solution, one that allows us to experience the best portrayal of any character on the big screen. If a transgender actor/actress can better portray a cisgender character, then that’s great. If a transgender actor/actress can better portray a transgender character, then that’s great; I’d much rather know that he or she got the role because of talent rather than identity.


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