So, I am woman.
I was born this way.
I also have a vagina.
Some people aren’t so lucky. Those people are called transsexuals. This is not the same as being gay. They have the brain of a woman or man in the opposite gender’s body.
A couple of my friends are trans women and I can thoroughly attest to the fact that they are not, in fact, gay men.
Now, the rest of us, who feel reasonably comfortable with the genitals they were born with, are called “cis” by the trans community, which is a little organic chemistry joke that I’ve always appreciated.
Last night for our 8 year date-a-versary, PH and I took ours cis-selves to watch the Dallas Buyer’s Club. We had heard grumblings about the movie on Facebook after Jared Leto was awarded an Oscar for his portrayal of a trans woman in the film.
The two complaints we had heard bandied about most often online was that
1) The trans community was upset that a straight man was asked to play the role instead an actual transsexual, even thought there are plenty in Hollywood.
2) Leto thanks everyone BUT trans people in his Oscar acceptance speech, and didn’t even mention AIDS victims in his Golden Globe acceptance.
Now, since I’m not an actual member of the trans community, just a friend of it, I didn’t expect to be particularly upset by either of these points.
If anything, I was hoping to be able to champion Jared Leto, and remind people that it doesn’t matter if you’re actually gay or straight, trans or not, as long as you can really walk in the other person’s shoes.
Then we watched the movie.
First of all, I was BLOWN AWAY by Matthew McConaughey (or, as PH calls him, Matthew McConahonnahonnahonney because he says he’s “never sure when to stop saying the name”).
It is a tribute to McConaughey that PH didn’t even recognize him, and PH recognizes EVERYONE. He even immediately identified the voice of the actor who played Q on Star Trek… while watching a My Little Ponies episode.
So I was prepared to be just as blown away by Leto, trans community grumblings or no.
But we were both shocked at the portrayal of “Rayon”, Leto’s supposedly trans character.
Here are a couple of real trans women.
Sophie Wilson, British scientist
Trish Salah, Canadian poet
Now, meet “Rayon” (which sounds like a drag name, doesn’t it?)
Imagine that when people thought of you, they thought of that picture up there. And try to understand why everyone represented by “Rayon” is upset.
Rayon walks, talks and behaves with the exaggerated femininity which you are accustomed to seeing in movies like To Wong Fu and The Bird Cage.
Movies about drag queens.
These are female impersonators. That is totally different from a trans woman. You can’t impersonate something you ARE.
Now, I love To Wong Fu, and The Bird Cage. Love love love. They are light hearted, kind-spirited and funny.
But they aren’t about trans women.
If Leto were supposed to be playing a gay guy who loved to dress in drag, I would have cut the movie a lot of slack. Sure, it’s yet another stereotype – no mould broken, no new thoughts for the straight public. But whatever.
I see the point of Rayon in the movie. Invented by the writer, Rayon is supposed to form a foil to the homophobic main character, Ron Woodruff and help him see the humanity in people of all sexualities.
Rayon is meant to be the worse-case-scenario – the thing that most horrifies homophobes – the dreaded feminine man. With AIDS, no less.
But don’t call this person a transsexual.
The director of the movie, Jean-Marc Vallee, clearly doesn’t even understand what a transsexual IS.
In an interview with CBC, Vallee is asked if he ever thought of hiring a real transsexual. He replies, “Never” and follows it up with asking if there even are any trans actresses out there.
Uh… yeah? LOTS?
Hasn’t he even heard of Orange Is The New Black?
The weird thing is that one of those actresses, Calpurnia Addams, apparently spoke with Leto when he was preparing for the role.
Did the director not know this?
Through the interview, Vallee keeps calling Rayon a “guy”. The most confusing moment is when he calls him a “transgender guy”. This parallels the film, where Rayon is consistently called “he”.
So… wait. Leto actually played a woman transitioning to a man who still dressed like a woman?? That would take some good acting.
I’m not saying Leto can’t act.
But if someone is supposed to be playing Napoleon, but they put on a thick German accent and a moustache that looks like it shrunk in the wash, I don’t think you should be given an award for playing Napoleon.
I don’t care how passionately you played it. You got the wrong character.
And it just helps continue to confuse people about the difference between a transsexual and a drag queen.
Look at this Wikipedia article, which Wikipedia won’t let me edit because of something to do with my IP address. It talks about an openly transvestite mayor, but keeps calling him “transgendered”.
I followed the links to articles about the guy. He is a cross-dresser. He is a STRAIGHT man who likes to put on women’s clothing and dress like a woman. That is a cross-dresser.
But these articles use the words interchangeably, not noting the degrees of difference between cross-dressing and the more generic term, “transgender”. And that represents the general attitude of the general public. Man in woman’s clothing – all the same.
Can you blame transwomen for being frustrated? They aren’t gay. They don’t get sexual thrills from dressing like women. They’re just… women. In blue jeans, and T-shirts. Sipping coffee. Checking facebook.
They aren’t flamboyant over-the-top drag queens.
Not most of them, anyway. I suppose there could be a trans MAN out there who is a GAY MAN and acts flamboyantly gay accordingly. Why not?
But I don’t think that’s what Leto won the Oscar for.
feel like Leto was given the award for putting on a dress.
And that’s probably wrong because just like Matthew McConaughey, Leto had to starve himself for his role. He threw his heart and soul (misguidedly) into it. He probably put up with a certain amount of guff for it.
But the thing is that practically any straight actor who plays someone gay in a drama gets an Academy Award, or at least a nomination.
Tom Hanks, for Philadelphia (which was a GREAT portrayal of a gay man since he didn’t say “fabulous” even ONCE). Sean Penn, for Milk. Philip Seymour Hoffman, for Capote (boy I’m sad he died). Charlize Theron, Hilary Swank, Nicole Kidman, William Hurt… even Christopher Plummer had to play it gay in order to finally get an Oscar.
Meanwhile, let’s talk about all the gay people who have played straight people and won Oscars.
Okay, let’s talk about all the gay people who won Academy Awards for ANY role.
…..Sir Ian McKellen.
But all you have to do is play a transsexual, act like a drag queen, offend the people you’re supposed to be representing with your inaccurate portrayal, and boom, you’re in.
Because you put on a dress.
People who have argued with me about the award are people who were genuinely moved by Rayon in the (otherwise excellent) film. They think Leto did a great job, because he seemed like a believable character to them.
Well, sure he was believable… as a drag queen.
The problem is that most people don’t understand the difference. They don’t understand what it must be like to have everyone think of Rayon when they think of YOU.
They don’t understand why the trans community is upset at once again being misunderstood, misrepresented, and having stereotypes that they have worked hard to abolish being perpetuated.
To those who argue, let me say this:
As far as I can tell, almost NO trans people are happy about the way Rayon was portrayed.
No, if the Black community thinks that Mammy in Gone With The Wind is racist, and you are white, I don’t care how much you love that character. You should accept that Mammy is a racist portrayal.
You can argue she did a great job at playing a stereotype, but if you’re white, don’t try and argue to Black people that it ISN’T a stereotype.
Similarly, if you are cis, and you loved Rayon, well, go ahead.
You can still love the character. But remember that trans people probably know what represents them better than you do.
Don’t delude yourself into thinking that she isn’t perpetuating a stereotype that makes life harder for real trans people.
And don’t delude yourself into thinking that this is a good thing, which deserved awards in front of millions.
[EDIT: With the Oregon mayor listed above, I originally had mentioned that “transvestite” is not the same as “transgendered”. However, according to the Wikipedia definition, “transgendered” is an umbrella term that includes both transgenderism and cross-dressing. So the wording in the article is correct, but nowhere near specific enough – definitely enough to cause confusion among cis folk. Also, since the term “cross-dressing” is considered more appropriate than “transvestite,” I have replaced the term appropriately. The more you know!]