Trans Rights are Human Rights. Also, I am a CisMale. Just going to start there, so we are all on the same page.
We, as a society, are really trying to make up for lost time when it comes to representation. In the ’90s, if there was an interracial or non-straight relationship on screen, it was seen as incredibly progressive, even though it would certainly also include a number of jokes.
Now, we are in a new age of representation for all kinds of people. Most of the coverage tends to come from Disney, who does the bare minimum, and only puts non-straight characters and storylines in easily cuttable scenes, so they can get credit in the West, and not lose out on profit in the East.
It’s also worth mentioning that the biggest trans character before the recent change, was Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, a serial killer who killed women to make skin-suits out of them. To be fair, Hannibal does at one point say “Billy is not a real transsexual. But he thinks he is. He tries to be.” Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to promote transphobia in the public consciousness for years.
Even in a great modern show like Bob’s Burgers, the only confirmed trans characters throughout the show are sex workers, which further promotes potentially harmful stereotypes.
(You know, I didn’t realize these were all Netflix Originals until I was halfway through writing this.)
This show is why I decided to write this article in the first place. Between the second and third season of The Umbrella Academy, Elliot Page (formerly Ellen Page), publicly came out as a transgender man. Because the show wants to honor the actor who is arguably the biggest name on the board, they also made his character into a transgender man.
How did they break the change? In a very quiet, accepting way. The show started with Vanya looking at herself, realizing that the relationships and challenges of Season 2 has helped her grow, into a new version of herself. So, he gets a haircut, and changed his name to Victor.
But how did Victor’s family accept this change? How can they adapt to this sudden change in this person they’ve known all their lives? They simply just do. Victor tells them his new name, they take a beat, and say “Alright Victor, let’s go” and they continue on with their lives. It’s not made a big deal, they just adapt. It is also interesting that they very clearly still had moments when Victor came into conflict with his family, that they didn’t tiptoe around him, or make him feel out of place. They continued to treat him just like they always have, but they respected his new name and pronouns.
A movie that hasn’t gotten enough notice is Moxie, which follows a young high school girl, as she leads a feminist revolution against the sexist and misogynistic rules and punishments that her school has. So she leads a group of girls to stand up, by creating a ’90s style zine, that she makes herself and secretly leaves around the school. This movie gets a lot of things right. There are People of Color that take center stage and are very vocal, there are girls who are disabled, and there are trans girls, all part of the movement. Never once do they make these non-white able bodied girls feel out of place. Even though so much of the story is Men vs Women, they fully accept that the trans girl belongs. A lesser story would have made her feel out of place, for the easy conflict, but this movie moves right past that, and focuses on the real misogyny, not an ounce of transphobia.
This show is tough. Not only is the art style objectively ugly to look at, but the fact that the show is all about the sexuality of children can make it very uncomfortable for a lot of people. But, if you can get past that, and focus on the truth of the show, which is that puberty is a scary time for everyone, and you can’t control how you feel, they take multiple opportunities to push acceptance and inclusion for everyone that’s not a straight, cis, monogamous identity.
Whereas this show does have representation for transgender folx, a center of every plot is how other people have a hard time accepting new and different lifestyles or points of view. So while there is a character Natalie El-Khoury, who is a trans girl, she is bombarded with inappropriate and intrusive questions, as well as people that refuse to accept her new identity. Even her mother had a hard time with it, until “[her] mom started listening to Lady Gaga…don’t love but….my parents have become way more progressive thanks to pop culture.” Which, you know, yikes, but that’s the point. A lot of parents do stumble into accepting their kids, but with the influence of pop culture, are able to come to understand and accept them. This show is incredibly uncomfortable, along with it’s comedy, but they really try to be as subtextually inclusive as possible.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
This show, which is a reboot of the ’85 series about He-Man’s sister, has a strong focus on LGBT+ storylines. Originally the show was supposed to be subtly supportive, or “coded” as non-straight, but the show received a ton of support from fans, and so they went all in and focused on this part of the story, where the “queer relationship between the two leads [was] to be the climax of the entire show.” When the romance between two female characters is part of the plot of the entire show, it makes a single gay kiss in Buzz Lightyear far less momentous. But on topic, there is a nonbinary character in Double Trouble, and Jewelstar is not only a transgender man, but is also voiced by a transgender male voice actor. Which leads me to the last point I want to make here.
Why don’t I include things like The Danish Girl with Eddie Redmayne or Dallas Buyer’s Club with Jared Leto, even though those are more popular, award winning projects with major transgender characters? It’s because they are played by cisgendered actors.
Now, I want to say that I went to college for performance in musical theatre, so I know what the job of an actor is. I know that actors play roles that don’t match their own identity, because the are actors. I know that very well.
However, something that needs to be remembered is that there are transgender actors and actresses in Hollywood, who don’t get roles they audition for, because it’s “not a trans role.” People get denied for cisgendered roles because the actor is trans. While an argument could be made for casting directors being transphobic, it just is what it is right now. So, until trans actors are treated equally to cis actors, then trans roles should be saved for trans actors. In the same way that disabled actors don’t get roles because they are disabled, disabled roles should be saved for disabled actors.
Once we get to the point where an actor can be treated as an actor, based only on their ability to perform the role as written, then we can stop saving roles for those demographics. Until then, no matter how good the performance is, if a trans role is performed by a cis actor, then it’s not going to belong on this list.