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Your Reasons are Just Excuses - Why Trans Roles Need to be Played by Trans People

20/03/2015 16:30 GMT | Updated 18/05/2015 10:59 BST

There's this thing that keeps happening.

A film is announced, and in this film there's a trans character, and there's talk of positive representation, and giving a voice to a stigmatised section of society, and it's all good.

And then the actor playing the part of the trans person is announced, and they're not trans.

There's more talk, this time about why a trans actor wasn't cast, and reasons are put forward by everyone involved as to why it's too hard, too unlikely, too impractical to cast someone trans in the role of a trans person.

These reasons, on the surface, may seem legitimate. They may seem like practicalities rather than lack of respect, but the truth of it is, by not casting trans people in trans roles you're as good as erasing those identities. In fact it's almost as if you're saying trans people can't represent themselves because you've judged them not capable enough to do that.

Maybe that sounds a little strong, or dramatic. Maybe you're thinking that I'm just ultra sensitive, and that representation in any form is still representation that wasn't there before, so how bad can it really be?

So maybe let's break it down some more. Let's take a look at three of the most common reasons why people don't cast trans people in trans roles, and why they don't stand up to scrutiny.

1.It's because a trans woman wouldn't be able to play the part pre-transition.

Did anyone actually ask any trans actors if they could, or would be okay with doing this? Or was an assumption made, and then not questioned?

Did this stop people casting Laverne Cox, a trans woman, playing the role of a trans woman, in Orange Is The New Black?

Here's the thing, if you want to tell a story that involves a character pre-transition, then do it. What you shouldn't do though is assume that the only option is to use a cis person to play that character. What you shouldn't do is assume that no trans actors are going to want to do that.

But, but, I hear you cry, but what if no one will?

Well, if no one will then you might have to think a little out of the box, by I don't know, casting two actors to play the role for instance. It's not as far fetched as it sounds, Orange Is The New Black does it with Laverne Cox's character. It's already happening.

2.It's because there's going to be nude scenes. A trans person won't want to do that.

There's a running theme here. Once again, did anyone think to ask a trans person if they would, or wouldn't want to do this?

I fully acknowledge that a lot of trans people find their bodies distressing, for many reasons, but to say all trans people feel this way is incredibly generalising, and just not true.

In fact, by saying we wouldn't want to do nude scenes you're actually saying that you, as a non trans person, know best about us, our bodies, and our minds. You're overriding our identities and feelings, and also taking away any autonomy that we as trans people have.

As an aside, you also have to ask yourself, why exactly do you need a nude scene anyhow? Is it to further the plot? Or is just for shock value? Why would it be so essential that the scene has to be full nudity?

Nudity in films is something that can be done without gratuitous shots of vaginas and penises. In fact, it's something that's regularly done, so it seems funny that it's such an issue when it comes to roles that could be played by trans people.

It's almost as if, I don't know, our society is slightly obsessed with what genitals trans people have.

3.A trans person would have to come off hormones in order to play the part pre-transition.

We probably need to have a talk here.

Eddie Redmayne, currently down for the role of Lili Elbe, the first person to successfully undergo gender reassignment surgery, recently said

"But one of the complications is that nowadays you have hormones, and many trans women have taken hormones. But to start this part playing male you'd have to come off the hormones, so that has been a discussion as well."

Here's the thing, firstly not all trans people take hormones. Let's just stop and take that in. Not every person that identifies as trans is on hormones. That's generalisation number one out of the way.

Secondly, why would you have to come off the hormones to start playing a male part? As a trans woman I get misgendered, and I'm still on hormones. Therefore, if we take this to the logical, if not particularly pleasant for me, conclusion, that must mean that you can be on hormones and play a male role.

Also, there's this thing called make up. Oh, and prosthetics. If we can make Eddie Murphy look like six different people, both male and female, in The Nutty Professor, then it shouldn't be too hard to make someone look more male, or female, depending on the needs of the story.

In fact, let's go there. If Eddie Redmayne, a man, can play Lili Elbe, a woman, then why can't a trans person do exactly that as well?

But hold on, maybe it's easier to make a man look like a woman? Fair point, except, oh hold on, Nicole Kidman was previously in the running to play this role. Yeah, there is that.

If you want to make a film, or television series, and there's a trans character in it, it is not enough to just consult the trans community. It is not enough to read up on the experiences trans people have. It's definitely not enough to "...put on dresses and wigs and makeup" in preparation for the role as Eddie Redmayne put it in one interview.

We deserve more than that.

If you really want to make a film about a trans person, then cast a trans person in that role. If you want to represent us in a positive and empowering way, if you want to make a statement, a statement that says you're taking this seriously, then cast trans people to play trans roles.

It really is that simple.

You can give reasons as to why you can't sure, but in reality they're not actually reasons. You can call them what you will, but at the end of the day, they're excuses, and we really deserve more than that.