8 times cis actors played transgender roles and why they need to stop

The world hasn't been fair to the transgender community and mainstream cinema doesn't seem to be helping with that either.

Actor Matt Bomer is being celebrated for his gorgeous new look as a transgender woman in Timothy McNeil’s drama film Anything, however, mostly it has stung the trans community. Executive produced by Mark Ruffalo, the film outlines Bomer’s trans woman as she falls in love with a heterosexual man. The casting directors must have signed Bomer on the basis of his acting prowess. The point is, why is this just a controversy? It ought to be a riot.

The world is no stranger to the transgender community but, make no mistake because their visibility is a farce. It seems people just love to make minorities feel alienated. From conforming to a gender binary system to intentionally disregarding their presence to circumvent the stigma, inarguably, the world hasn’t been fair to trans folk. Seriously, do we need really to address the unnecessary hatred and barbaric atrocities they are subjected to? Ostensibly, mainstream cinema doesn’t seem to be helping with that either.

Transgender, Transgender role, cis actor

You might have guessed that Bomer isn’t actually the first cisgendered actor in a transgendered role, and if I am to trust my gut, he won’t be the last. Time and again, mainstream cinema has spotlighted cis actors in roles that weren’t made for them.

To list a few instances:

1) Benedict Cumberbatch as All in Zoolander 2 (2016)

Transgender, Transgender role, cis actor

2) Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl (2015)

Transgender, Transgender role, cis actor

3) Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Transgender, Transgender role, cis actor

4) Sofia Vergara as Loridonna in Grilled (2006)

Transgender, Transgender role, cis actor

5) Felicity Huffman as Bree in Transamerica (2005)

Transgender, Transgender role, cis actor

6) Tom Wilkinson as Ruth Applewood in Normal (2003)

Transgender, Transgender role, cis actor

7) Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

Transgender, Transgender role, cis actor

The characters listed above don’t even include trans roles in television such as Jeffrey Tambor in comedy-drama series Transparent. Tambor has been critically acclaimed for his rendition of Maura Pfefferman, which has also earned him several awards, an Emmy, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe, to name a few. As ideal and vital the character might be, it’s inclusion in the series still doesn’t serve its purpose well.

Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent.

Focusing on cis actors only creates a mirage of trans pride when in reality, it only operates to stifle the trans community. Not only are they giving an impression that transgenders are not needed in the world of cinema, they are inadvertently (perhaps) empowering the stigmatisation by making it okay to see a man or a woman in a trans person’s shoes.

Instead, wouldn’t seeing a trans actor play a transgendered role help humanise them? As Tambor observed in his acceptance speech, “Please give transgender talent a chance.” He added, “Give them auditions. Give them their story. I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television.”

Laverne Cox, Orange Is The New Black

Laverne Cox in Orange Is The New Black.

On the off chance that you’re living under a rock and hold the belief that there aren’t enough trans actors available be featured, let’s take a look at shows like Orange Is the New Black and Sense8. Both Laverne Cox and Jamie Clayton were widely lauded for not only their performances but for also making it seem possible for a gender non-binary person to be loved, accepted, and be visible.

Jamie Clayton, Sense8

Jamie Clayton in Sense8.

All those performances by cis actors listed above might have been deserving of coveted awards but it’s a lot bigger than that. In this day and age, it is imperative that we realise that the art is not just about acting. It also reflects on the world that we house.

Eventually, watching an actor from a minority community does impact others like who are fighting societal stigma just to be who they are. Perhaps it’s unimaginable for some, who have never truly known what it is to be invisible. For now, just get this – visibility matters.

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