Trans Day of Visibility | Where’s My Oscar?


The limelight is seldom shone on trans joy and success. This is the reason that International Transgender Day of Visibility was conceived in 2009 by trans woman Rachel Crandall-Crocker. Crandall-Crocker noted that while Trans Day of Remembrance is imperative, our deaths as trans people do not paint our full picture. She decided that if we’re to be seen, we should be seen in our entirety. Trans voices should be heard, even in our times of reverie, evolution, and happiness. People should listen when we are the ones talking about transgender life.


I unfortunately find it rare for cisgender people, even allies, to find value in this. When it comes to trans representation, our stories are not only depicted through caricatures, but also those caricatures are promoted so much against real trans stories that they erase our real experiences. In 2020, the documentary Disclosure was released. It is the first documentary about transgender matters that is exclusively narrated by transgender people. Disclosure navigates through Western media, explaining how early depictions of cross-dressing have been tied into transgender culture, turning into the rampant transphobia we see today. It was so revolutionary that when the 2021 Oscar shortlist was revealed, Disclosure’s exclusion was widely seen as a “snub.”


In the meantime... Jared Leto, Hilary Swank, Eddie Redmayne, Matt Bomer... cisgender actors become Oscar nominees or award-winners for their depictions of transgender characters. The cisgender demographic didn’t question it; we were told that their acting was “spot-on,” “very convincing,” and “brilliant.” The transgender community, however, has felt overall discouraged and angered by this. We have mentioned time and again that trans people should be playing trans characters. We’ve advocated for this, we’ve commentated about it, we’ve fought for it. And every time, we are told: “The whole point of acting is to be something you’re not. Are we supposed to have only baseball players playing baseball players in movies? Real kings playing kings?”


The reason cisgender people tell us this is because they still see trans people as just a costume. Our trans-ness is not regarded as a legitimate facet of gender, and we are not seen as a true gender experience. Our realities are not treated with the respect that other human lives are treated with. I can prove it: Suppose a historical drama was created about Marilyn Monroe. Congratulations, Jared Leto, you got the part of Marilyn herself! Leto plays a “convincing” role, doesn’t he? He’s, after all, “brilliant” at “blurring the lines,” and “getting into the headspace.”


We all know very well how livid the Western world would be if this happened. “Marilyn is a woman! There are many phenomenal woman actors out there who qualify for the part! Women have a hard enough time being taken seriously in any occupation, this role should go to a woman!” If men took over women’s roles in movies, I could imagine a hasty collapse of the film industry due to uprising. And I can’t say I disagree with that logic, because this is exactly what trans people have been saying about our own roles for decades. I see too much irony in trans women being banned from women’s spaces because they’re supposedly “men taking away jobs from women,” only to have transgender women’s jobs being taken away by men.


As Disclosure highlights, many trans actors over the years are not only rejected for movie roles in general, but rejected even for playing transgender characters. Actual transgender people are told that we “look too trans,” or “don’t look trans enough” for transgender roles. Imagine telling a cisgender woman that she can’t play a woman role in a movie because she “doesn’t look enough like a woman.” Though, I suppose arguably that is true enough with the stringent beauty standards in movie casting... It somewhat reminds me of women’s sports; I have found that the same people who advocate so hard to keep trans women out of women’s sports are also the ones who reduce women’s sports to pornographic fantasy rather than a sport of skill. They are often quite vocal about how they “only watch women’s sports because it’s hot.” This can’t even be defended as a mere marketing tactic for the male gaze, but rather it’s forced compliance to become sexualized and objectified. This is a hardship all too familiar for the trans community, as many trans people are often forced into survival sex work just to make ends meet.


What this all amounts to is barring transgender people from telling our own stories. We can’t add any realism to our stories, because our ideas aren’t pursued in writers’ rooms, and our acting talent is not utilized in front of the cameras. Of course, when Mj Rodriguez was nominated for an Oscar for her work in the trans-written series Pose, the trans community’s celebration was overrun by negation from cisgender people. Beyond the blunt transphobia, people told us that it shouldn’t matter what someone’s gender is; “so long as they’re a good actor, that’s what should earn them the Oscar.” “We shouldn’t tokenize major awards.” I, however, contend that it’s not just about a trans actress finally getting the recognition she deserves, but also being recognized for playing a character that’s a legitimate trans person.


We trans people want to write our own stories, and play our own characters, because to put it simply, cisgender people have proven time and again that they cannot be trusted with these things. The tradition in Western cinema is for trans characters to only be depicted as at least one of three things: The psychopathic murderer, the sleezy hooker who gets murdered, or the straight man’s bedroom nightmare, where he pulls down the trans lady’s pants and is horrified by the “surprise” waiting for him. Cis people write us as a shock-factor, nothing more. If we are not “clearly a man in a woman’s dress,” then we are stripped for our genitals to be zoomed-in on; the revelation of our intimates only a cue for the string section in the orchestra to send the audience’s heart racing. Cis people do not tend to depict us as simply going to the store, or falling in love. At least, not unless we get dehumanized later in the story.


Cis people do not allow us to just be heartfelt, or sexy, or human, on the silver screen, because our characters aren’t written for us. Trans characters, when created by cis people, are written for a cis audience. It is always the perspective from the outside-looking-in. If you ever find yourself wondering why transgender people become so angered by these movies, realize that it is because these hideous, and genuinely stupid, depictions of us are labeled as “transgender stories.” In reality, you’re missing the mark, badly. And we’re going to keep calling you on your bullshit.


Even now, as times are changing and we see more positive transgender roles, played by people who are actually transgender, there is little acknowledgement from cisgender people of these roles, and even less celebration of them. And with so many trans actors being hired now, I wonder, when will a trans actor be given an Oscar for their “brilliant” depiction of a cis character? That “incredible blurring of the lines,” and “getting into the headspace.” There are trans actors who you never knew were trans; sometimes the people casting them didn’t even know the actor is trans. Where is our accolade for putting on that believable cisgender costume? That’s what acting is all about, isn’t it? We bind our chests, tuck our genitals, take voice lessons, contour, shave, get fitted... we are even praised for “passing” as cisgender in our everyday lives. For those of us trans people who look and sound like a stereotypical cisgender person, we are often told, “I never would’ve guessed that you’re trans!”


Perhaps the next time someone tells me that, I’ll just blow some kisses, thank my audience, and say, “Now, where’s my Oscar?”



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