In a roundtable interview published on Tuesday, Variety assembled a team of six trans actors to discuss representation and its impact, casting opportunities, discrimination in their industry, and more.
Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh begins by asking the actors—Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black, Doubt), Alexandra Billings (Transparent), Trace Lysette (Transparent), Jen Richards (Her Story, Nashville), Brian Michael (Queen Sugar), and Chaz Bono (American Horror Story)—whether they think Pose, the Ryan Murphy-produced ballroom drama written by Janet Mock and Our Lady J among others, signifies a new “tipping point” for trans people in Hollywood, a reference to the “transgender tipping point” Time magazine declared back in 2014.
Cox, the literal face of said 2014 tipping point, isn’t so sure. She tells Variety:
“I’m not sure I would want to declare that [we’re at a tipping point]. What I think is going on now that’s really exciting for me, though, is I feel like Pose has changed the game. It’s a shame that there’s no one from the show here today. [Note: Creator Ryan Murphy would not allow any of the show’s stars to participate, because he doesn’t want them to do press around transgender-related issues.] I sat and watched the first episode and I just cried, because I knew this talent existed. It felt revolutionary. I said to myself, ‘This proves that we can do the job, that we can lead shows, that we can write, that we can direct. We can tell our own stories, and it can be brilliant. This is going to change the game.’”
Cox went on to discuss the importance of trans people telling trans stories. Her message isn’t new—it’s pretty similar to what she and and most other trans actors have been saying when asked about the matter for years now. But considering recent casting decisions involving Scarlett Johansson and Matt Bomer, I guess it bears repeating. Cox says:
“I think if all things were equal, then everyone should be able to play every character. But all things are not equal. The suggestion that ‘acting is acting’ and that we’re on a level playing field is ahistorical and apolitical… As an artist, I don’t ever want someone telling me that I shouldn’t play something because people have been telling me that my whole life. But the reality is, 84 percent of Americans do not personally know someone who is transgender. So most Americans learn what they learn about trans people through the media. Yes, we have freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but that freedom has consequences—and those consequences are being most experienced by trans people.”
It makes you wonder why media outlets only seem to ask these questions of trans actors and not casting directors, producers, and other industry heavyweights with the power to make lasting, institutional change.
Anyway, as consequences of this poor onscreen representation, Cox cites anti-trans legislation in 21 states, the rollback on Obama-era guidelines protecting trans students, exponentially greater unemployment rates, and record reports of violence against black trans women and trans people of color:
“When we see representations of cis people playing us over and over again, that reinforces this idea that trans women are not really women and trans men are not really men and nonbinary people don’t exist. That is the basis of the discrimination that trans people experience. The crux of so much of the discrimination that we experience is that we’re not really who we say we are. We don’t really exist And so it’s crucial that the representations that exist in the media… reflect the reality and the humanity of our real lived experience because our lives are on the line.”
Watch the full roundtable here.