I absolutely do not support Scarlett Johansson playing a trans man. I will not ever support a cis actor in a trans role, but I will not support her playing Dante “Tex” Gill in Rub and Tug and dismissing it on the grounds that other actors have done the same.
I am an actor, and though I have very little experience in acting, what I’ve done I’ve enjoyed immensely, but by being transgender, I know acting to the extent I would like to won’t happen. Why? Because I will not be given the opportunity to. Well, you may say, what about actors like Elliot Fletcher, or actresses like Laverne Cox, who are transgender and successful? They -you may notice- have only ever played trans characters, and there aren’t many of those. Transgender actors are only ever hired to play trans characters, which raises two huge issues.
- Trans actors are given trans roles, but so are cis actors; trans character for some reason does not automatically mean a trans actor should be used.
- Trans actors aren’t given cis roles; this is an issue because it means that trans characters and trans actors are still being viewed first and foremost by their gender identity, by that qualifier “trans”
On top of this, in representing the story of a transgender person, it is important to understand all aspects of the transgender experience. And for me personally, community is essential to the trans experience. What I mean by this is that solidarity and awareness in the entire LGBT+ community, but particularly the trans community is what drives positivity and the closeness that has provided me and many others like me the security and freedom to come out and know there are places we are accepted. So, by hiring a cis actor to ply a trans role, that sense of community is entirely erased, the ability to provide representation for an actor and community is erased. There is no togetherness or solidarity in having a cis woman play a transgender man, there is an extent to which she will never understand the experiences of said man or any other trans man and therefore it is disrespectful and I would go so far as to say a farce to cast her.
It has been mentioned that she was cast for her skill in acting, and that her job as an actor is to embrace what she, as a cis woman, would not naturally understand, and to act out the character. Of course, that makes sense, but we don’t expect a white person to act out the black experience, we don’t expect a cis man to act out a cis woman’s experience, because we can understand that that actor would not fit that role (and I am not saying this to compare the experiences of transphobia, racism, and sexism as directly equal, but to compare the lack of representation and disrespect such casting creates).
Whole days could be spent drawing similar parallels, on the inability of an actor to fit certain demographics, which is the reason why we evolved past medieval casting- not every actor is a white man because not every character is a white man. Yes, maybe ScarJo will perform well in this film, but that’s not what’s being addressed, her experience in that role will mean significantly less to her than to a trans actor given the same opportunity. She does not share the same history with the character she’s representing, she does not share the same community, and cis white women are not lacking in Hollywood representation.
Maybe ScarJo will be able to act as a man, but that phrase “act as a man” is one that has, in many phrasings but always the same meaning, been used to ridicule the trans community, claiming trans individuals are just “acting” as the opposite gender. I have been told I am trying to be someone else, and the man that I am has been compared to a character when he is my reality, my past, present, and future.
Having any cis woman play a trans man allows, to some extent, for the “acting as a man” to become a representation of what trans men are doing, which is why the casting is so inappropriate, it reflects on how society views and is allowed to view trans individuals as a whole.