During this year’s Oscars, acclaimed actress Jamie Lee Curtis discussed the opportunity to make award categories gender neutral in order to be more inclusive of all actors. However, there is still a long way to go regarding trans and non-binary representation in film and theatre.
Lack of LGBTQ+ Representation on TV
Entertainment has been a part of our culture since the beginning of time. We live in a world where people consume film, TV, and theatre on a daily basis. However, many have criticised the entertainment industry for its lack of diversity and representation.
If you turn on your tv, you are more likely to see stories about and told by white, straight and cis people. While progress has been made, LGBTQ+ actors and the community demand for more representation. It is in fact a recurring joke on social media that queer women will watch hundreds of hours of a television series, just to see around 15 minutes of a queer storyline. This is before the show gets cancelled or the queer characters die in true Bury Your Gays fashion.
In March 2023, GLAAD released their Where We Are on TV 2022-2023 report. Throughout all the scripted series on broadcast and cable networks as well as on streaming services during the year 2022-2023, GLAAD counted 596 LGBTQ+ characters. Out of the LGBTQ+ characters, only 32 were trans, making up 5.4% of the LGBT+ population on screen. 16 were trans women, 11 were trans men and 5 were non-binary.
Trans and Non-Binary Actors forced to conform
Another significant issue is the pressure of trans and non-binary actors to conform to social norms of manhood and womanhood in order to be cast. There are barely any roles for non-binary people within the entertainment industry. Many casting directors still require actors to conform to traditional gender roles for a role.
Non-binary actor Emma D’Arcy revealed that they felt pressured to downplay their non-binary identity when their career started. D’Arcy told E! News that they ‘had to present as a woman in order to find success in this industry’. Conforming became unsustainable and they ‘stopped pretending’.
Last year, we interviewed trans actor Caspian Faye. They expressed facing similar problems as D’Arcy. Due to the lack of trans and non-binary actors and representation, they felt like they ‘had to present in a certain way to work in the industry’. They explained that they ‘had to be really feminine because that is what Hollywood wanted’. If they did not adhere to social norms of femininity, they simply would not get any acting jobs.
For many years, Faye conformed to traditional femininity in order to get more work. However, by pretending to be someone else, they were sacrificing themselves. Faye stated that it felt ‘unbearable’, feeling like they were living ‘someone else’s life’.
Gender Neutral Acting Categories
During this year’s Academy Awards, a reporter asked Jamie Lee Curtis her opinion on gender neutral award categories. The acclaimed actress had previously won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Curtis has been an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights for a while and during the interview she referenced her trans daughter.
Curtis expressed her interest in making the film industry and award shows more trans inclusive. Having a gender neutral category would allow non-binary actors to be nominated without their identity being invalidated. Curtis demonstrated her care for the trans community by stating ‘how do you include everyone when there are binary choices’.
One concern Curtis raised is the likelihood that with only one gender neutral award category, mainly cis men would be nominated. Yet, by gatekeeping acting categories through a false binary, award shows will continue to exclude non-binary and gender diverse actors.
Non-binary actors speak out against binary acting categories
Non-binary Broadway actor Justin David Sullivan plays the non-binary character May in the musical &Juliet. In February 2023, they withdrew from consideration for the Tony Awards due to the lack of gender neutral categories. They stated that as a non-binary performer they felt they had ‘no choice but to abstain from being considered for a nomination’.
While there is a potential for only cis men to receive awards, not opening up the possibility for non-binary actors to be nominated without getting misgendered is a disservice to all. Several awards bodies, such as the Film Independent’s Spirit Awards, the Canadian Screen Awards, and the Bern Film Festival have moved to gender neutral acting categories. More awards bodies should follow this example.
People of colour are still drastically underrepresented
Non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon also spoke up about the need for gender neutral categories. They told Them magazine that the history of the ‘actress’ awards are evidence of Hollywood’s problem with sexism. Even in 2023, women still only make up only 24% of directors, writers, producers, and editors working on the most successful films.
Nevertheless, Black, Indigenous and other female actors of colour, including trans and disabled women are seriously underrepresented at any awards show. Comparatively, white cis women are the second most represented group. If we are worried about gender and ethnic parity, then upholding a female category that has historically mainly rewarded white cis women is a larger problem.
The Joys of Acting
Acting for trans and non-binary people can be a source of joy. They are able to explore their own identity through the character and embody diverse experiences. For Caspian Faye, their first experience of gender euphoria came through acting. At the age of 11, they played a male role, and they remembered not wanting to take off the costume.
Moreover, the latest season of Umbrella Academy tackled Elliot Page’s transition in a positive and gentle manner. His character simply states that his name is now ‘Viktor’ and his siblings accept him and move on. The TV series does not dwell too much on the fact that he is trans as it is not the focal point of the story.
Among many trans actors, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez became the first trans woman to ever win a Golden Globe. She stars in the drama TV series Pose, a show specifically focused on the experiences of queer and trans people of colour in Harlem, New York. Pose has one of the largest casts of trans people, in particular trans women of colour, in TV history.
If given the opportunity, trans and non-binary actors can experience joy through playing characters that align with their identity. Non-binary actor Caspian Faye described being able to pursue acting as themselves as ‘magical’. Therefore, it is crucial to include more trans and non-binary characters on TV so that trans actors and audiences can see themselves represented and experience the joy they deserve.
Collaborating with Trans Actors
Please check out our interview with trans actor Caspian Faye. They delve deeper into their experiences as a trans person and someone working in the entertainment industry. GenderGP welcomes experiences of all trans and gender diverse people. We enjoy getting the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other trans creatives. Check out our blog website for more content on the positive representation of trans people on screen.