“We’ve come a long way as trans actors,” says one of my fellow panelists at the workshop of a LGBTQ + actors who was part of. It was not bad, but it was not the whole picture.
“There is a gap, however,” I added. Yes, representations of transgender people on screen have improved from 20 years ago, when I saw the objectification of trans black women on television like Maury and The Jerry Springer Show. But if “progress” is trans actors portraying trans characters on Sense8, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Euphoria, then it seems to have come at the cost of Blackness.
I was the last year of college, and serve my second year as president of the drama club, when screenwriter, director and producer Ryan Murphy announced the cast of his pose program would include femmes trans colors: MJ Rodríguez, Angelica Ross, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, and Hailie Sahar-all of which are Black. As an Asian actress, I envied the actors and thought, Why not? Which speaks of poor collective interpretation of equity as a shortage of opportunities. My jealousy was greedy and unfair, insensitive to the boxes and employment restrictions for pre-existing trans acting Black population.
unprecedented casting aside, still pose focuses its stories of the characters at the intersection of being trans and Black. It was not gender representations “deception” as it had been in Maury and The Jerry Springer Show, but the narrative was focused pain of trans black women.
Meanwhile, the white actors are given opportunities to tell stories that go beyond gender. In Sense8, Naomi, played by Jamie Clayton, is a hacker in an interracial relationship strongly engaged to another woman. Although transness of Naomi is recognized and honored, that is not the center of its history. In the cold accumulated adventures of Sabrina, male trans and non-binary character Theo, played by Lachlan Watson, he has a brief scene out to his friends, who effortlessly begin to use the pronouns “he / she”, “and it’s just a frame; which it is still part of a broader story about Sabrina, a teenage witch trapped between his life and his mortal life. Both Naomi and Theo are white.
And Euphoria, Hunter Schafer plays Jules, a high school student whose history recognizes its transness intentionally as a way to combat the possibility that others might dismiss transness because of their privileges. During an interview with the construction of the series, Schafer herself acknowledged: “Needless to say I’m white, I’m skinny, and step.”
So, what does it mean to say things are better now for trans actors? This means that regardless of the fact that trans white stories have benefited from the struggle of Black trans women to be seen. Is a false privilege to say “look how far we’ve come” when “” does not include the black and Black trans women still fighting for the same nuanced progress on television and film.
“The privilege of being a trans character is that only white aspect needs addressing trans” says James Robinson, LCSW, a Black and white biracial therapist in New York City who practices psychotherapy with artists, largely of color.
It indicates, on the other hand, the recognition of the breed is a balance on the tightrope itself. “It’s hard to portray black characters in general; if they are not represented in the experience of a trauma, then the public could resist and history could receive backlash because of a rejection of that character, “says Robinson. “And if he does recognize their trauma, then somehow the character becomes a monolith.”
As a trans Asian woman, I’m out of representation trans white, but as an actor, I could benefit from the work of trans black women who were shown on the screen in front of me. I felt this firsthand when trans black women were in the room audition for a role running short film that finally chose me melt. I have even been complicit in the ignorant holding trans white actors making their way in the industry as “actors only trans” and not “actors trans whites.”
Justin Hopkins psychologist, PsyD, who specializes in the care of trauma-informed for people whose identities are on the margins, says the issue is complex. “Not always begets trauma or other trauma justified. There are simply different degrees of pain they crave and demand fulfillment in having a great experience, “he explains. “As white trans people recognize their desire to be visible, it is even harder for their trans black counterparts have what [themselves] thirst.”
And the art of acting itself plays a role in personal hunger for people to be seen. “People pursue any work and passions which are driven from a soul level,” said Dr. Hopkins. “If you are someone who spent his life being invisible or having aspects of your core identity denied, you can feel very rewarding, although challenging, have a vocation in which they are, praised, and said under bright lights. There is something satisfying and rewarding for the ego, perhaps necessarily so. ”
It is no coincidence trans actors feel compelled about his career; It is cathartic to deliver performance and feel recognized to change, especially when mass is celebrated. But that’s no excuse to let the track record of success on screen irresponsibly move in a direction that leaves behind black actors.
Therefore, I want to ask the actors who are not trans Black: What’s in it for you? You can fight same time and the same ferocity as now, if you do not get any of this? You can agree to have benefited path paved black actors?
This does not mean that the trans-screen representation is not improving. It is crucial that actors trans nonblack to recognize the racial gaps in progress. To fight for our trans relatives Black and expect nothing in return. To recognize what it has taken to get where we are in the industry. And, at least, to responsibly pay forward what is owed.
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