23 June 2015

When Will Trans People Live Cisgender Lives?

I was rather pleasantly surprised by this article in the New York Post. Its author, Eric Hegedus, seems pleased that more trans actors are appearing in films and television series.  On the other hand, he points out that there is a danger of trans actors being typecast if they are called upon to play nothing but trans characters. 

To me, an actor is someone who can step into a role, even one completely different from his or her own experience.  Of course, by that definition, there aren't many true actors.  But the day is coming, I think, when we'll see just how good some trans actors are when they play cisgender characters.

I had to laugh, though, at the title of the article:  "When will we start seeing transgender actors in non-transgender roles?"  Fact is, it's happened, at least once.  And the trans actress I'm thinking of played a cis woman all the way back in 1981.

Back in my previous life, I would sometimes go to the movies with my father and brothers (My mother has never been much of a movie-goer!) and, later, with male buddies or co-workers.  Some of the most popular "guys' night out" movies (I almost typed "films") are the James Bond flicks. I think the last one I saw was For Your Eyes Only.

And, yes, that was the one that featured the trans actress:  Caroline "Tula" Cossey, who played the obligatory "Bond Girl" in the movie.  To promote the movie, she also posed for Playboy magazine.  She was probably the first trans woman to do that as well, although nobody--at least, nobody in the general public--knew about her identity at that time.

However, a year later, News Of The World, a British tabloid, "outed" her.  For the next decade, she fought for transgender acceptance and worked to educate people.  In 1991, she approached the editors of Playboy, who did another pictorial of her. 

Now 60 years old, she lives in the Atlanta area with her husband.  She says she is happy that there is more acceptance for trans people, though she was still shocked when Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn before the eyes of the world.   Ms. Cossey empathises with Caitlyn's pain and suffering, so she knows just how difficult the road ahead could be for Caitlyn, in spite (or perhaps because) of her fame and fortune.  

Even with such changes, and with the love and support she's received, "Tula" says doesn't know whether she'll ever "stop feeling like a second-class citizen".

Unfortunately, even her looks and talent aren't a shield against internalizing the hate and meanness that was directed at her.  So,  I believe, the question shouldn't be about when we will see trans actors play cis parts.  Instead, we should find when people who just happen to be a little different from what society deems "normal" will be able to  grow up and live without bullying, shame, discrimination and the threat of death for simply being who they are.

(Aside:  Angelina Jolie was offered a role as a "Bond Girl" in Casino Royale.  She turned it down.  "I'd rather be Bond," she said.  Now that, I would pay to see!) 

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