Dear Hollywood: It’s time for a revolution in trans representation

Originally published at:

Complain, complain. We had Corporal Klinger, didn’t we? And that one Bob Hope movie… well… and that other… okay, all Bob Hope movies.


Casting a trans role is a nightmare.

First, of all the really excellent actors available, a pretty small percentage are trans and finding them is is difficult and can be expensive.

So, you may end up having to pick between a good trans actor or a better non-trans actor to play the trans role. Nobody wants to pick the lesser actor, but if you go with the non-trans actor, the trans community may decide to complain loudly about the choice and hurt the project commercially.

The easier thing to do is alter or write out the trans part or to pass on the script entirely.

For an example of a few idiots in the trans community attacking a film maker, read the stories from last year about Kimberly Peirce’s talk at Reed College (she made the excellent film Boys Don’t Cry).

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Funny, they say the same thing about women and blacks and gay actors…


Great, nuanced article! It answered all those knee-jerk questions that pop into my head before I have time to tell myself “I bet there are answers to these…”

I had a few people tell me that my point of view would result in trans actors only being able to play trans parts, and gay actors only gay parts, etc. I’ve never claimed there should some kind of rule. […] It’s not about rules, but consequences.

This was such a critical point, and I hope it becomes the default answer to the idiotic backlashers who crow about attempts at authenticity and representation being limiting (see whitewashing: if white people can’t play Asian comic book characters, does that mean Asians shouldn’t play white comic book characters??? Limiting!!!)

This is why I am not as upset by Kerry Washington (Life is Hot in Cracktown), Famke Janssen (Nip/Tuck), or Chloe Sevigny (Hit & Miss) playing trans women. At least they’re women offscreen, as well. […] there aren’t dozens of trans men being murdered by partners afraid people will think their boyfriends are “really women.” […] Yes, I would always prefer to see a trans actor play a trans part…

Also a great point, referencing the first. In order of shittiness or consequences having a woman play a trans woman is far superior than the route Hollywood always takes. This is why affected communities need to be consulted, listened to a consulted.


Ditto about the article answering questions. Regarding this one:

Other insist that you can’t cast trans women in films that include pre-transition scenes—as if hair, makeup, wardrobe, special effects, and craft were capable of turning a cis man into a trans woman, but not the reverse.

Laverne Cox is excellent on Orange is the New Black but in the episode that had a lot of flashbacks to her character before, or in, transition, I thought she was unconvincing and distracting; I figured it was mostly a hair and makeup failure but maybe her acting was also a factor. You can’t just assume it will be successful because of the actor’s personal experience, there’s still the question of their acting ability and the technical crew doing a good job.

I believe, and I think I have more direct evidence to support this claim than those who argue against me, that having cis men play trans women is dangerous. If straight men hurting trans women is in any part due to a cultural belief that trans women are really men, then I have a moral imperative to challenge that.

Regarding “in any part,” this is the same logic as Dick Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine and I reject it. The author can believe what she wants but I’m not going to join in and would object to the industry adopting it. I’m also very wary of any attempt at making popular media responsible for real-world violence; e.g. violent video game hysteria.

We dated straight men who were afraid other people would think they were gay

This is probably more relevant to dating problems than risk of violence but isn’t the gay stigma the bigger, more significant problem in this situation than trans ignorance or stereotypes?

Btw “Her Story” is really great (I watched it few months ago): smart, touching, fun etc. And there are subtitles for lots of languages too.
One flaw: it’s too short!

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I could be mistaken, but I thought I’d read that Laverne’s twin brother, M Lamar, played her for the pre-transition scenes.


Ahhhhhhhh, that makes a ton more sense now. I was pretty shocked at the difference in look, and wondered how they made her look so masculine.

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As @nungesser mentioned the pre-transition scenes were portrayed by Laverne Cox’s cisgendered identical twin brother, which is about the most fortuitous casting situation a director could hope for. I was totally blown away trying to figure out what kind of visual effects wizardry they used to pull that off until I heard about the twin thing.


TIL. Casting a different person for those scenes is certainly an option, obviously it happens all the time for childhood scenes, but can create problems for some stories. I stand by my opinion of those scenes being worse that the character’s other scenes but now it’s for a different reason (different actor vs. technical failures plus possible acting failures).

When you thought they used the same actor via prosthetic makeup you found the technical/makeup job unconvincing and distracting. Now you say using a different actor was what made it worse, even though that actor was so similar in appearance and mannerisms that you didn’t even realize it was a different person.

May I ask what you think would have been the best way to portray a trans character through pre- and post-transition?

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what you think would have been the best way to portray a trans character through pre- and post-transition?

I don’t know, I was just describing my experience watching the scenes. I thought they weren’t as good and attributed it to bad hair and makeup with maybe a side of acting failure. Now I know it wasn’t Laverne, the scenes still weren’t as good and I still think it’s hard for a trans woman to perform in pre-transition scenes but I don’t have an example to point to.

I didn’t say it’s impossible for a trans actor to be good in pre-transition scenes, just that it’s a challenge.

If the goal is to cast someone that will make the audience think “I see a man” in pre- scenes and “I see a woman” in post scenes, I think you’re more likely to find a talented cis man who will meet that challenge than a talented trans woman. I also think it’s harder in general for women to be convincing playing men, whether the women are trans or not.

Edit: Also, this is not a hypothetical, it’s not just using “an actor” but this particular actor, Laverne’s twin, who it sounds like isn’t really an actor at all. Casting a different actor for pre- scenes can introduce a distraction but if their look can be close enough and they can give a good performance, it can pay off.

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