Hollywood trans roles under fire - again

Matt Bomer Image copyright REX/Shutterstock
Image caption Matt Bomer will have a trans role in an upcoming film

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities have long lobbied for Hollywood to not only include, but portray, characters that identify as LGBT+ in a realistic way.

Two films recently attracted criticism for casting cisgender actors - non-trans but whose gender matches their "assigned" sex at birth - in transgender roles.

Matt Bomer, of Magic Mike fame, will star as a transgender sex worker in Anything, a film produced by fellow actor Mark Ruffalo.

Meanwhile, Michelle Rodriguez, who has starred in blockbusters like Avatar and the Fast and Furious franchise, has been cast as a transgender assassin in Reassignment - a film that also uses a trans term for its title.

Both actors count themselves as members of the LGBT+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender; the plus sign represents other sexual and gender groups). Bomer has been married to his male partner since 2011, and Rodriguez has spoken openly about her bisexuality in interviews.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michelle Rodriguez has been cast a transgender assassin in an upcoming film

However, members of the community have accused them both of contributing to what is known as "trans erasure" - or the removal of trans people from view - in Hollywood.

Prominent trans activist and actress Jen Richards released a 13-minute video on YouTube to address the issue, after a thread she posted to Twitter received thousands of retweets.

She said that Bomer's casting showed "culture as a whole still thinks trans women are 'really' men."

It has since been confirmed that Richards has been cast as a transgender character in the American country music soap Nashville.


LGBT+: stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The plus sign represents other sexual and gender groups

Transgender: Applies to a person whose gender is different from their "assigned" sex at birth

Cisgender: Applies to someone whose gender matches their "assigned" sex at birth (ie someone who is not transgender)

Non-binary: Applies to a person who does not identify as "male" or "female"

Genderqueer: Similar to "non-binary" - some people regard "queer" as offensive, others embrace it

Genderfluid: Applies to a person whose gender identity changes over time

See also: A guide to transgender terms

These aren't the only castings to have received this type of criticism. In 2013, Jared Leto was at the receiving end for his role in Dallas Buyers Club as trans HIV sufferer Rayon, for which he later went on to win an Academy Award.

Eddie Redmayne was also nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Lili Elbe, the first recipient of gender reassignment surgery (GRS), in The Danish Girl.

Image copyright YouTube/Jen Richards
Image caption Transgender actress Jen Richards uploaded a video to YouTube talking about her issues with the casting

Trans filmmaker and activist Kate Adair wrote: "It's a not surprise that this is still happening, even though it shouldn't be happening.

"We've had this argument come up time and time again."

Speaking specifically about Rodriguez's role as a hit man who has been forced to undergo gender reassignment surgery, Adair criticised the use of GRS as a plot device. For some trans individuals, the operation is considered life-saving. Furthermore, not all undergo a medical procedure.

"Without an understanding of what it actually means to be trans, they're just using it as a device to tell a story, whatever that story is," she said.

"With Matt Bomer, people are going to see him as a man in a dress, so that's what a cisgender audience are going to assume trans women are.

"It reflects how it is in general society. They still have this connection that because I used to present as male, I must still be a man playing dress up.

"What I ideally would like to see is that we move past the stories of trans people being people that are transitioning, or people that are sex workers.

"We don't need sensationalism of our lives right now; we need support."

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