Asia Kate Dillon has been terrific as Taylor Mason on this season of Billions, and similarly, Billions has done a pretty good job of making Taylor Mason a character we want to know more about. Taylor is a strategic but unorthodox genius who reluctantly parlays an internship at fast-and-loose hedge fund Axe Capital into becoming an indispensable advisor to its zillionaire manager and owner, Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis).
And, in a development that wasn’t necessarily expected on a show about primarily powerful men playing a corrupt, high-stakes chess game, the character of Taylor Mason is gender nonbinary, a fact that Billions both discusses when necessary and pertinent and, for the rest of the time, accepts as casually as any of its other characters (if one can be casual about fucking around with tons of money with questionable legality). In an episode earlier this season, when Mason explains to Bobby Axelrod their pronouns are they and them, Axe barely blinks, realistically more interested in how Taylor thinks and what that can do for his portfolio. During an inter-hedge-fund poker game (ugh, god) in which Taylor, representing Axe Capital, plays against a blustering manager from another firm, they recognize his vocal, hateful discrimination and namecalling for the weakness it is, and uses it to completely obliterate and win over the millions he has on the table. Taylor Mason’s primary function on the show is, like everyone else, to get money.
Dillon certainly deserves an award for their work on Billions (Dillon is also nonbinary, a fact they actually discovered while auditioning for Mason) and Billions is submitting them for an Emmy. But what category would they fall into, when the existing system—“actor,” “actress”—is so entrenched in a gender binary? Variety reports that Dillon considered this in a letter to the Television Academy, in which they requested “more information from the Academy as to whether or not they use the word actor or actress to refer to assigned sex or identity, so that I could make the best decision for myself as to how I wanted to be submitted.”
Per Variety, the letter read, in part:
The reason I’m hoping to engage you in a conversation about this is because if the categories of ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ are in fact supposed to represent ‘best performance by a person who identifies as a woman’ and ‘best performance by a person who identifies as a man’ then there is no room for my identity within that award system binary. Furthermore, if the categories of ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ are meant to denote assigned sex I ask, respectfully, why is that necessary?”
The Academy, to its credit, said it was up to Dillon, writing back that “anyone can submit under either category for any reason” in a response that Dillon felt was “100 percent supportive.”
And so, when Billions submitted Dillon for Emmy consideration, it was in the category of Best Supporting Actor, both because they describe themself that way and because historically, “actor” has always been a term without a designated gender. And stemming from this specific discussion, Dillon told Variety that they hope this will expand the discussion about gender binary and essentialism within the categories across the board. “I think this is a really good place to start a larger conversation about the categories themselves,” they said, “and what changes are possible and what may or may not be coming.”
Even just reconsidering the way categories are structured, in addition to being more inclusive across the board, is hypothetically a great way for so-called progressive Hollywood to help push the overall culture forward; if the gender binary in awards season is eliminated, ideally it could help accustom people in less progressive enclaves to be more accepting, or at least foster a better understanding.
Additionally, you could also posit the discussion raises a possible way forward in obliterating gender-based income inequity in Hollywood, particularly when it’s always felt like the “Best Actress” honor in any awards show comes second to “Best Actor.” Why not mince the categories and let everyone, no matter their gender identity, compete against one another? At the very least, it makes for a more robust competition and, hypothetically, one in which everyone is forced to be better at their jobs! In that scenario—which I will admit would require the kind of careful, conscious planning to ensure inclusivity that Hollywood is probably not ready for—audiences get the boon.
Whatever the outcome, shouts to Dillon for raising the issue—a practical and personal issue for them, but one that we should be grateful is public nonetheless. Come Emmy time, we’ll be rooting for them.
(Memo to Bobby Axelrod: Give Taylor a raise.)