Not only does Matt Bomer’s portrayal of a transgender woman enable violence against trans women, it also takes away yet another job from a trans person.
TW/CW – Mentions of transmisogyny and physical violence against trans women.
In yet another setback for the transgender community, the film Anything written and directed by Timothy McNeil, premiered mid-June at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film portrays cis male actor, Matt Bomer as a transgender woman who enters a relationship with a widower (John Carroll Lynch) who recently moved to Los Angeles.
Cis people playing and being rewarded for their roles as trans people is nothing new — Robert Reeds, Elle Fanning, Jared Leto, Hilary Swank, Jeffrey Tambor, Eddie Redmayne and many other cis actors have portrayed the roles of trans people in both film and television.
The transgender community has repeatedly criticized these films because we are being misrepresented and this is deeply troubling because only 16% of the population knows someone who is transgender. However, our critiques and demands for fair representation are continuously ignored as the film industry keeps hiring cis actors to portray us, ultimately leading us to wondering why this persists.
The pattern that many of these actors have in common is that they are all considered bankable stars, meaning that they’re capable of guaranteeing a movie has box office success simply by starring in a film. Film industries and actors who choose to portray us don’t care how much of a negative impact it has on the transgender community – their misguided attempts to increase visibility and show struggle and human pain is really only about exploiting our experiences for the film’s success — bringing them money and publicity.
It’s time for the film industry to stop thinking about their pockets and really consider how hurtful these roles are for trans people. When cis folks exploit our experiences for the big screen, they are implying being that gender is simply something someone can use at our expense and for their own financial gain.
Visibility for the trans community isn’t going to be obtained by using cis male actors who put on a wig and a dress. In fact it is dangerous because it further gives people a reason to harm us by misgendering us, discriminating against us and perpetuating violent cis-normative standards.
Having cis actors portray us doesn’t help us when there are lawmakers in North Carolina creating laws designating which bathroom we are and aren’t allowed to use. Matt Bomer playing a trans woman isn’t going to stop trans women from being brutalized like Islan Nettles was when she was beaten to death in New York City. Letting cis actors make money off of their ideas of our experiences isn’t going to change our quality of life – trans women of color have an average life expectancy of 35 years of age. Last year was considered the deadliest year on record for trans women of color, and this year so far, 17 transgender women have been murdered and those numbers are expected to rise.
When filmmakers and cis actors create these movies, it’s easy for them to ignore the violence and erasure that they are perpetuating – not only does Matt Bomer’s portrayal of a transgender woman enable violence against trans women, it also takes away yet another job from a trans person. How many trans actors are out of work because they are considered not cis enough to portray cisgender roles and not trans enough to portray transgender roles?
If people continue to pay to see these movies, the film industry will continue to make them. It’s important that we continue to criticize films that harm us and take action when they erase or manipulate our experiences for financial gain. Beyond criticism and protest, the only way they will stop doing this is if they don’t make money – so don’t pay to see cis people play trans folks when we’re here.
Readers looking for films and shows which feature trans actors can find a list here and you can support trans and non-binary artists and performers here.