Guest post: A major life-changer that can’t easily be ignored

Originally a comment by Artymorty on And finally move on.

The corollary of the argument that only trans people should be allowed to play trans characters is that trans isn’t a neutral attribute that can be ignored.

Speaking to GQ magazine, Schafer said being known simply as a “trans actress” was “ultimately demeaning to me and what I want to do”. She continued: “I’ve been offered tons of trans roles, and I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to talk about it.”

In a sense I get what he means, or what he thinks he means: something like how, say, Black actors were tired of playing “Black” characters, instead of just regular characters who happened to be Black. When Nichelle Nichols played Uhura on Star Trek, for example: here was a capable officer whose Blackness wasn’t front-and-centre in her character, and this earned praise from MLK and made Nichols a role model to many future Black actors.

Or perhaps it’s like how actors who were born with achondroplastic dwarfism might get tired of playing “dwarf characters” instead of just regular characters who happen to be dwarves. Peter Dinklage has broken that barrier somewhat, beginning to take on roles that aren’t explicitly written for dwarves, following his star turn in Game of Thrones.

But here we run into a bit of a problem: because dwarfism is kind of a major life changer, so it’s not easy to have characters who just happen to be dwarves leading films meant to have wide appeal, where their dwarfism never comes up in the story, or if it does, it’s mostly peripheral to the story.

I would argue trans is more analagous to the second than the first: a major life-changer that can’t easily be ignored in a story. This is in part because the transgender movement can’t decide whether transness is the most special thing in the world and must be advertised at all times, or if the movement’s goal is for trans-identifying people to integrate and settle into the population at large. Within the “transgender umbrella” there are members of both camps, the ones who are at least trying to move past their dysphoria via medical “transition” (however misguided they might be about the efficacy of that line of treatment), and the ones who live for their oh-so-special trans status and won’t shut up about it.

I think that tension, the inability to agree on whether trans should be highly visible or not so visible, is a result of the fact that the theory behind transgender doesn’t really work — that humans don’t really change sex, and trans people can never fully transcend their sex. Sex plays a huge part in their lives, in a fundamental, material way that isn’t analagous to having a minority racial or ethnic background that’s only an issue because people haven’t familiarized themselves enough with it.

But even the dwarf analogy isn’t perfect, and I would argue it doesn’t go far enough, because there’s another factor that makes “transness” different from ethicinity or disability or congenital abnormality: audiences cannot really see beyond sex, and most people are tired of being told they have to pretend that they can, and they’re only getting more tired of it. Choosing not to discriminate against women or men (or any other attribute) in, say, roles where their sex (or other attribute) isn’t typically represented, isn’t the same thing as pretending not to see what sex they are.

It’s not the same thing to appreciate Sigourney Weaver playing a strong, confident woman holding her own alongside a group of Marines in Aliens as it would be if we were instructed to pretend she was really a man all along. Her femaleness is integral to the character.

Likewise, when Jaye Davidson played the transgender character in The Crying Game, it wouldn’t have been the same if we were insructed to pretend he was a woman all along. His maleness is integral to the character.

When Hunter Schafer says he feels transgender roles are “demeaning to me”, he means he wants roles that don’t merely downplay his transgenderism, he means he wants roles that pretend he isn’t male with a transgender identity and a history of cosmetic surgeries, at all.

I feel bad for him, though. I looked at his Wikipedia entry, and he is among the cohort of gay boys who got infected with gender dysphoria after he immersed himself in teen trans social media culture.

If Hunter truly wants his trans status not to matter in the roles he plays, he has to acknowledge that he’s not an “actress” at all, and it’s not going to be easy to find lead roles for males who’ve undergone medical transition therapies, in which that isn’t a major part of their character.

Sounds like it’s going to be a while before he learns this.

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