Actress Michelle Rodriguez has come under fire recently after making transphobic comments in the media and on her instagram. She was cast as the leading role in the movie (Re)Assignment as a hit man who is forced to undergo gender reassignment surgery as punishment.
After seeing the video of Rodriguez’s comments, I was furious. There’s so many different layers to this, honestly.
First, in the video, Rodriguez says, “are you mad that someone decided to take their branded transgender operation and use it on heterosexual people?” How does this even make sense? Gender and sexuality are two different entities. You can be transgender and heterosexual. Hell, a lot of trans people are heterosexual.
Second, she says, “For a transgender person to play that role, now you’re talking about, ‘is that person bankable? Are they going to sell the movie?'” So I guess trans actors aren’t good enough to act now? Does she know that there have been several wildly successful transgender actors and entertainers in the industry over the years?
“I’m bisexual … you can’t really argue with me because I’m you … I’d never do a movie with the intention of offending anybody in the LGBT community,” Rodriguez tells the interviewer. But she fails to realize that she’s still cisgender. She’s absolutely failing to recognize all the privileges she has as a cis person.
Even though she’s a queer Latina, there’s so much institutional power and privilege that she holds over those of us who are trans. You can’t use your bisexual identity as a blanket to shield yourself from the ways in which you’re contributing to the systemic oppression, erasure and killings of transgender people.
Rodriguez seems like she’s got a big head, even telling cameras, “you can’t say shit to me.” Towards the end of the video, she tells trans people to “calm, down because it’s ‘not that deep.'”
Rodriguez needs a stark reality check on the severity of the contribution she’s made to our oppression. She needs to recognize the privileges she holds, and recognize that her actions affect tens of thousands of people — if not more — not only by doing this movie, but also by all the bullshit she’s been saying.
She could have easily answered the criticism and media questions kindly. Instead, however, she decided to add insult to injury by being completely trans-antagonistic.
If nothing else, her response is very telling. Many people have this perception that all cisgender queer people are allies for trans folks, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, most cis queers are very transphobic and don’t know the first thing about how to be a good ally for trans people. Many cis folks openly admit they’d never even date a trans person. When we’re being misgendered, harassed, abused and denied institutional access to transition support, where are they? When cis folks infiltrate our spaces with their binarism and cissexism and intrusive questions, where are the real allies?
This is a prime example of ally theater. Folks who call themselves allies give lip service but when things get real, they’re quick to throw the people and communities they’re supposedly allies for under the bus and minimize their pain in the process. They want praise for being an ally, but they don’t want to put in the work, take criticism or learn.
With trans people being so hyper visible, with trans activists out on the front lines, with information on what you should or shouldn’t say to trans folks and other resources on ways to be a decent ally/person for trans folks, people — especially cis queer people — are running out of excuses for being transphobic and ignorant.
There’s more than one thing that happens when a cisgender person plays a trans role in a movie or show. For starters, it reduces trans people to the gender they were assigned at birth (i.e. it reduces trans women to men). Second, it takes space and opportunities away from trans actors who could have played that part, and could have used the platform to bring trans awareness and visibility.
It seems Rodriguez doesn’t understand the seriousness of her impact. Trans people don’t need to “calm down.” We need to be taken seriously. We need cisgender queers to show up and fight for our liberation. Don’t say you’re us because you’re not. Your sexuality doesn’t make you exempt from your privileges, nor does it render you unable to be transphobic.