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10 Trans Actors Who Could Have Played Jared Leto's Role in 'Dallas Buyers Club'

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by Matthew Hammett Knott
February 20, 2014 12:49 PM
130 Comments
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Laverne Cox

I was going to start this article by saying that I don't want to take anything away from Jared Leto's performance in "Dallas Buyers Club". But in a sense, I do. The performance certainly holds up as a piece of art, but as a part of our culture, I believe it needs contextualizing.

I am not the first person to suggest this. Chelsea Hawkins wrote in PolicyMic that "Dallas Buyers Club" fails trans actors while Paris Lees in the Independent was perhaps more equivocal but still asked "Why can't we cast trans people in trans roles?"Of course, nobody wants to limit trans actors to trans roles, but in the context of the status quo and general acceptability of handing the role to an actor such as Leto, it would be an undeniably liberating move.

But wait, you say - Leto was playing a pre-op trans woman. Surely it would be appropriate for the character to be played by a biological male? This doesn't strike me as exquisite logic. Laverne Cox famously spoke out against the objectifying focus on the status of trans people's genitalia, while Janet Mock talks about the obsession with "passing", pointing out that in her mind she is not passing as anything, but simply being herself.

The concept of "passing" betrays a corrosive misunderstanding that being transgender is in some sense a performance as opposed to a reality. By casting a well-known cis actor in a trans role, it makes it all about the performance. Anyone who has watched "Orange is the New Black" will know that watching a real trans actor in a trans role has an entirely different, utterly compelling and humanizing effect.

With that in mind, I thought it worth highlighting ten actors who could have played the role of Rayon. This is not because they meet the specifics that Leto brought to the character. The role was a fictional one, not based on a real-life person like Matthew McConaughey's Ron Woodroof, a fact which would seem to afford a great deal of freedom and possibility. In this case, the filmmakers chose not to pursue that route. But that doesn't stop us from imagining.

Harmony Santana

1. Harmony Santana

Santana's role in "Gun Hill Road" led to a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards, the first trans actor nominated for a major acting award and a hugely significant milestone.

2. Laverne Cox

Breakout star of "Orange is the New Black", passionate trans advocate and exceedingly eloquent educator of Katie Couric, Laverne Cox's star is rising fast and is a delight to witness.

3. Jamie Clayton

Jamie Clayton

Clayton hosted VH1's TRANSform Me alongside Laverne Cox, but she is also an actress of note, with perhaps her most high profile gig to date being her appearance in two episodes of HBO's "Hung".

4. Stephanie Michelini

Fellow Francophone director Sebastian Lifshitz showed "Dallas Buyers Club" director John-Paul Vallee how it's done by casting a trans actor in his feature film "Wild Side". The film won the Teddy at the Berlinale and a clutch of other festival awards, including a Best Actress trophy for Michelini.

5. Alexandra Billings

With roles on "E.R." and "Grey's Anatomy" among her credits, Billings made history as the first trans actor to appear in a transgender role on American television.

6. Elizabeth Coffey

OK, so she hasn't done any screen acting for a while, but let's pay our dues regardless. Known as a "Dreamlander" as one of John Waters' regular cast of actors, Coffey played a transgender role in the iconic "Pink Flamingoes". Two years later, she returned to play a non-trans role for Waters in 1974's "Female Trouble".

Calpernia Addams

7. Calpernia Addams

Addams first made the news for tragic reasons when her soldier boyfriend was murdered by his colleagues on discovery of their relationship. A subsequent fiction film of events led to her meeting Jane Fonda at Sundance and conceiving the idea for an all-transgender production of "The Vagina Monologues". Addams was later invited to perform in the 10th anniversary edition of the play alongside Fonda, Glenn Close and Salma Hayek.

7. Eva Robin's

Robin's considers herself androgynous rather than transgender, having been born male and then developed feminine features naturally. Her most famous role was in Dario Argento's horror film "Tenebrae". While the film's politics are certainly thorny, a non-cisgendered actor playing a female role for a celebrated director is a shamefully uncommon occurrence.

Candis Cayne

9. Bibi Andersen

Competition for a place in Almodovar's stable of actresses is fierce, but Bibi Andersen clocked up no less than four credits in Almodovar feature films in the late eighties and early nineties. It is also rumoured that it was Almodovar's desire to attend the 1988 Oscars with Andersen as opposed to his leading lady Carmen Maura that caused the 18-year professional rift between Maura and the director.

10. Candis Cayne

Following a role on "Nip / Tuck", Cayne went one further by becoming the first ever transgender actress to play a recurring transgender role on primetime as Carmelita in ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money".

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130 Comments

  • jimmy palmieri | April 23, 2014 4:43 PMReply

    And not one of them would have had his box office pull. Be happy that he got the cponversation going. I was and contniue to be happy when people like Sean Penn and James Franco bring the conversation of the love of gay men into their work, starting conversations. AN OLD ENGLISH WOMAN COULD HAVE PLAYED MARGARET THATCHER.....BUT MERYL STREEP DID. This is mean spirited and is not advancing the conversation.

  • beanz | April 14, 2014 12:18 PMReply

    Why is this movie such a big deal? No one was arguing about Felicity Huffmans role as a transgendered MTF in Transamerica and shes a biological woman. Why is this any different? Are we expect directors to only hire gay actors for gay roles no matter their abilities to play the part? Or not to hire people of mixed race to play the part of a white person? Its ridiculous to say only trans people can play trans roles its no different than saying trans people cant play nontrans roles. And as pointed out above obviously trans actors and actreses are getting roles just not this one so whats the big deal?

  • Pierre | April 13, 2014 1:37 AMReply

    Calling Sébastien Lifshitz "Sebastian Lifshitz" is a good example of United Statesian neo-colonial MINDSET and cultural appropriation.

  • RFsh | March 28, 2014 11:19 PMReply

    Jared Leto's performance was stellar. He did it with such subtly and grace. Truely deserved his award. I have seen 6 out of the 10 actresses listed above - and none have his skills. None. The director chose the person he felt would be best. Period. Actually being trans doesn't mean you automatically get to play trans roles over better actors. That is total nonsense.

  • Anon | March 26, 2014 11:27 PMReply

    Jared Leto is perfect. He brought attention to the film and an important topic for our generation. While the above actresses are beautiful in their own right, they are not as well known and likely wouldn't have drawn as big of an audience.

  • Jon | March 12, 2014 5:38 AMReply

    I can't believe the trans gender community is making this into such a stupid issue. Don't you folks have bigger issues to speak out on, or are you just doing this to get attention for your cause? Regardless, it's hypocritical, immature, and is really giving you idiots a bad name. Don'y dirty up the reputation of other trans genders who aren't whining like the few of you. None of these actors/actresses would have done a decent job. The director's reply, when asked such a stupid question, was honest and appropriate. It's one thing to make penises out of your vaginas and vice verse, but to make an ass out of your whole self is pushing it.

  • Missmess | March 17, 2014 11:18 AM

    With all due respect (meaning none), the director's response - that he didn't even know there were transgender actors - was just plain stupid.

  • Missmess | March 17, 2014 11:15 AM

    Of course we have bigger issues to worry about. Welcome to the internet, where people talk about everything. They give the human race a bad name, if you're so inclined to judge humanity by a few flame wars - that's willful ignorance, not the fault of trolls.

  • Sean Clancy | March 10, 2014 2:10 PMReply

    Would any of those transgendered actors have been willing to put their bodies through the punishing ordeal of having to lose 40 pounds in order to portray a person with AIDS, and for that matter a pre-op MTF transgendered person with AIDS?

    Science fiction writer David Gerrold posted on his Facebook feed about this topic recently. A transgender friend of his emailed him to offer a bit of perspective on why it would likely have been quite difficult, if not impossible, to find an actual transwoman to play the role. He quotes her with her permission; edits are mine to avoid potential annoying comment overmoderation.

    "…this transwoman already has enough body and identity s**t to work thru. Having to lose all that weight would really screw up anyone’s metabolism. On a transwoman, hormone [breasts] will disappear and implants will look like tennis balls glued on. I had to work years to get here. Why would I want go back to looking like a boy?"

    Interesting insight, indeed.

  • Missmess | March 17, 2014 11:21 AM

    Interesting, yeah. I never knew skinny transwomen didn't exist. In fact I was pretty sure I had to face extremely visible proof every time I looked in the mirror. I must be on drugs.

  • anonymous | March 7, 2014 10:46 PMReply

    So... you want transgendered actors and actresses to be type-cast as only transgendered people for their whole careers? Sounds like a step in the wrong direction to me...

  • Nuala | March 8, 2014 9:34 AM

    No...

    Progress would indicate that trans actors and actresses would eventually be cast in roles portraying cis persons as well, but as with all of the other marginalized minority groups we have witnessed entering films over the last 50 plus years, we know that progress at least begins with being able to secure roles portraying persons from your own community in screen.

    The current issue is that good Trans actors and actresses are not only denied roles portraying cisgender folks, but trans folks as well. To add to the issue, there seems to be an abundance of films where the roles of women who are trans are given to cisgender males to portray.

    Actresses from the trans community have lost roles to cisgender men because they "didn't look trans enough".

    Seeing more trans actors and actresses in any good roles is laudable. Seeing them in the roles of trans folks is a long overdue beginning.

  • commentwarrior | March 7, 2014 10:47 AMReply

    I keep hearing this argument from the trans community and I think that an opportunity is being missed. Jared Leto as a trans character in a story that originally didn't have a trans character does feel a little bit like they were stacking the Oscar deck but it gained attention. He is a big enough box office draw to get viewers to the theater and because he won an award, a discussion is opened up. I say use the discussion to talk about important issues, not which actors should play which roles. Sometimes straight actors play gay characters, sometimes gay actors play straight characters, some non trans actors will play trans roles and some trans actors will play non trans roles. That's acting. The creation of a movie through acting, writing, directing, etc. should pull a viewer into a world where they are not worrying about how the actor lives and who they are. The actors should become the people that they are playing and through that, new ideas and new discussions should begin. Don't labor over the wrong points. Use this moment to talk about the dangers and the discrimination that trans people face. Talk about the changes that you hope to see, the language that you want people to use. Laverne Cox is doing a wonderful job by taking part in this discussion, but I also don't demand to know that she is a member of the trans community. I thank her for talking about that to help inform people. If she chose not to, however, I would still love her in that role because she is a good actress and she is written well. These characters are being written now. They are making it into mainstream shows and movies. Don't be so quick to call a foul. If a community continually tells people that they are failing and have offended everyone then you have ended a conversation before it could begin.

  • CommentWarriorResponder | March 10, 2014 8:16 PM

    I couldn't agree more. That's why it's called "acting". The best actors are ones who are so effortlessly real and authentic through their incredibly well-honed skills and talents to transform our disbelief into belief. As you've stated, gay actors play straight roles, straight actors portray gay roles. Should "Tootsie" have been played by a real transvestite as opposed to Dustin Hoffman? In my view, the best actor for the part should get the part. Period. We've become so politicized that we forget about the fact that acting is acting. It's entertainment. It's fantasy. I certainly don't think that the role of a transgendered person should be played by a real transgendered actor anymore than I believe the role of a psychopath should be played by a real psychopath.

  • Mark Peyton | March 7, 2014 8:24 AMReply

    Maybe it was in the script but after seeing Dallas Buyers Club I don't recall any mention that Leto's character Rayon was transgendered. I took the character as someone who loved to be in drag. That was the director's intention--to not put a label on that character and I don't think you can put a label on an actor either.

    With Leto's face especially his eyes, the audience knew he was a man. I couldn't help but wonder throughout the movie what is this guy's backstory. Is he a drag queen, or a transgendered woman? And that wondering is good, cause you're wanting a juicy bit of dialogue that's gonna explain everything, right? But that doesn't happen. We get a tense scene with his father. And that's it. We don't know much about Rayon, but because of Leto's eyes, the character is likeable. The director probably chose Leto because of what he could communicate with his face, not because of his gender.

    All that aside, I think it's great this article put the spotlight on all these up and coming transgendered actors. And I hope someday someone hires a transgendered man or woman to play the everyman, or everywoman.

  • Retro | March 6, 2014 4:34 PMReply

    This argument is silly! it's a movie you can't have it both ways you want transgender actors only to play transgender people yet you also want transgender people to be able to take regular roles also can you say hypocrite? Also that's why it's called acting folks and as a heads up when you see aliens in the movies there not real aliens either. Leto did a amazing job good enough for a Oscar so he deserves not only his award but the respect of everyone. 20 years ago a serious transgender role would never have been shown let alone arguments against the actor.

  • BigBaderik | March 6, 2014 12:24 AMReply

    I wonder which of these "10 Trans Actors Who Could Have Played Jared Leto's Role" had star names that would have brought funding to the film back in 2008 when it was finally cast. Oh, none of them.

    Now let's acknowledge two facts:

    FACT #1: this movie has been kicking around since the mid '90's, with the lead role offered to folks like Brad Pitt, Woody Harrelson, and Ryan Gosling. Jared Leto was SENT the script back then, but he didn't even read it.

    FACT #2: Hollywood is unfair and and not a meritocracy. So, let's continue to support our transgendered actor community in building careers where they can pick and choose roles like Jared Leto does.

  • historia | March 6, 2014 12:23 AMReply

    Too bad none of them tried out then huh? :P

  • Nuala | March 8, 2014 9:45 AM

    For all of the commenters on websites saying that rather obviously Leto's audition was much better than all of the trans actors who auditioned:

    Director Jean-Marc Vallee responds to critics who ask why he didn't consider transgender actors for the role Jared Leto played in Dallas Buyers Club.

    "...Is there any transgender actors?"

    So much for this common speculation that Leto's audition must have been superior to all of the trans actors and actresses who tried out for the part...

  • Avocats | March 6, 2014 12:17 AMReply

    Needs contextualizing? Why? So the movie can be about you? I cannot believe how much time otherwise smart people spend slicing up the categories of human nature and obsessing with how they and only they can discuss their self-identified slice. This is the direct opposite of the civil rights movement. we're all people. What people think or feel about gender or sexuality is their own business. Who cares? I don't. But there is no more oversensitive hyperactive reactors out there than the LGBTQAXYZ crowd.

  • Anthony | March 5, 2014 4:38 PMReply

    This is absurd. It's acting. I suppose only Greek actors should portray the Spartans in 300? Only Marines should have portrayed Marines in Full Metal Jacket? Actual gay men should have portrayed the main characters in Broke Back Mountain, right? A real super hero should have been cast to play Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy, correct? Only vampires may be cast to play vampires in vampire movies to be fair.

    Do you see how absurd this stance is? Actors portray things they are not. They act.

  • zach | March 5, 2014 3:18 PMReply

    if none of these actresses auditioned for the role, then there is nothing else to be said about this list, sorry

  • Nuala | March 8, 2014 9:48 AM

    Director Jean-Marc Vallee responds to critics who ask why he didn't consider transgender actors for the role Jared Leto played in Dallas Buyers Club.

    "...Is there any transgender actors?"

  • BETSY | March 5, 2014 4:14 PM

    Jesus! Nothing to be said? The whole point of the article is giving them visibility. Discussing the issue of trans representation. But if you got nothing to say........ fine.

  • Regina | March 5, 2014 3:43 PM

    Thank YOU Zach!!!!

  • lina | March 5, 2014 11:21 AMReply

    Jared i think, he didn't get the real point of the character .He was acting good as trans women , but on the end. The point was not there ,was just acting trans with not going deep into it .The feelings and real picture i think was lost on the end of the movie , forgotten .Didn't stay in mind and make you think about character as trans person with all that historic story .And also after the oscar Jared, said this is for my MOM... and why ? He didn't said anything about Trans community ( that was hiss roll ) i think he didn't put the character first ..He was always first ,and all about him , his mom ..The movie and the acting point was about the marginalize trans hiv+ women, and the message was not sent out there after the wining oscar ..It was all about him and the oscar . I think real Trans person could putt more up the character ,and make it real and to stay remember the character of the movie ..Sorry Jared i like you , but me not happy specially with your Oscar speech .

  • zach | March 5, 2014 3:22 PM

    Ok really? i get the other complaints but he can accept an award in whatever manner he likes, he is not in any way OBLIGATED to thank anyone except the people he really wanted to thnaks. SO WHAT if the guy wanted to thank his mom. HE IS AN ACTOR they act within the context of the movie, they learn about things and they may formulate opinions but at the end of shooting and at the end of the day he was JARED LETO and not RAYON. SInce when are we supposed to be dominated by the personas we put on and not our actual selves? i missed that memo.

  • Elway | March 5, 2014 9:57 AMReply

    Are these actresses full-females - meaning have they transitioned genders through surgery? If so, then they aren't appropriate for the character since Rayon is still waiting to have the surgery.

  • pseudonym | March 5, 2014 12:43 AMReply

    I believe that people are looking at this in the wrong way. As an actor or actress, you shouldn't tie yourself down to a specific kind of character. Leto did a fantastic performance in that role, and by not playing a character he could immediately relate to he showed his versatility as an actor. The same would go for anyone else; it is easy to play a character who you can relate to immediately (whether it be the characters gender, mindset, or sexual orientation), but by only sticking to that specific subgroup of characters you are showing a lack of versatility. If the people in this article were a better fit than Leto because of their acting ability than it is a completely different story, but saying that a person should be cast because of they are already immediately relatable to the character? That is ridiculous.

  • WowINeverDoThis | March 4, 2014 8:01 PMReply

    Responding to the comments below,I think it is important to recognize that cis-gendered people occupy a huge place of privilege in society. In show business, this translates to cis-gendered actors having many more roles available to them as they are not discriminated against on the basis of their cis-gendereredness. However, transactors have much fewer roles available to them, as is, in part, a reflection on the rampant transphobia in our society and the lacking depiction of trans-characters. It is certainly a positive sign that more trans-gendered characters are popping up in movies and on TV but there needs to be an active effort to also recognize the transgendered talent in Hollywood and to make sure that these roles provide opportunities for transactors that otherwise experience much more adversity in show business.

  • BonerBreath | March 4, 2014 7:22 PMReply

    Not a single one of those actresses on that list is nearly as talented as Jared Leto. I'm glad he was cast over all of those people.

  • Gordon | March 4, 2014 6:29 PMReply

    In early February, Leto attended a Q&A at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, when a heckler suggested he not be shouldn't have played a transgender person, Leto, keeping his calm, said that by that logic,
    gay people wouldn't be allowed to play straight people.

    Think about that; here is a small list of gay actors who’d be out of work using that logic:
    Ian McKellen, Ellen Page, Rosie O’Donnell , Wentworth Miller, John Barrowman, Stephen Fry, John Glover, Neil Patrick Harris, Tom Hulce. Jim Nabors, Jim Parsons, David Hyde Pierce, Zachary Quinto and Portia de Rossi…just to name a few.

  • grace | March 4, 2014 6:26 PMReply

    personally I really enjoyed his performance as Rayon.
    I just wanted to ask and please if this is misinformed or ignorant I am sorry but haven't the advancement in recent years made it so much easy to make someone who feels they are a woman inside look a woman outside.
    Rayon obviously was not well off and talked in the film about wishing she could afford the operation and the breast but couldn't.
    Personally I hope in years to come that transgender women will not just be playing transgender women, but women
    as the transgender people I know would tell you they are a woman and if pressed part of the transgender community rather than being transgender as a woman.
    please forgive me if I am mixing up transgender and transsexual or if I offend.

  • Joelle for President | March 5, 2014 2:35 PM

    Again, just, preach.

  • Joelle | March 4, 2014 10:51 PM

    Grace -- thank you for your sensitivity in asking.
    On the one hand, as more people learn that transsexuality is an intersex condition that can only be treated through physical and social transition, people are transitioning younger than they used to. If a person transitions during puberty -- if a trans man teen starts taking testosterone, or a trans woman teen takes testosterone blockers -- then they will look more like a cis person than they would have if they had transitioned later in life. Trans men often "pass" well after hormonal transition, because testosterone is a very strong hormone (though surgery is necessary to remove breasts) -- but because testosterone is so strong, it can be very hard for a trans woman to "pass" as a cis woman if she transitions after many years of having high testosterone in her body. That's why some opt for facial feminization surgeries, etc.
    (cis = Latin prefix meaning "same side", opposite of trans -- that is, when the sex a person is called at birth matches the sex they know themself to be)

    There are still many factors that prevent trans people from transitioning young, though. For example, (1) family or community members that verbally torment or physically abuse people who are gender non-conforming, let alone out as transsexual (2) culture is very hostile to trans women, constantly telling them they are wrong and sick and should just accept the sex they are assigned, and this inflicted self-hatred keeps a lot of them in denial about being trans, (3) medical transition can be very, very expensive (tens of thousands of dollars if it includes surgeries)... and is often not covered by medical insurance.

    Besides the high cost of medical transition (including hormones and surgeries), there is the fact that trans people face heavy discrimination in the workplace. A study in 2011 found that 90% of trans people have suffered discrimination or workplace harassment. I personally have a friend whose salary was cut by $3,000 after she transitioned, and she was sent to the least-desirable, most dangerous post in the state... she often faces slurs and slander by clients and coworkers, and once received an anonymous death threat which authorities refused to investigate. All of which is to say, not only is transitioning expensive, but many trans women are forced into poverty by lack of workplace protections, or are refused work because they are trans.

    About the difference between the terms transgender and transsexual... these terms are still undergoing change in the way they are used, so please don't take me as the last word on it -- but as I understand it, a transsexual person knows themself to be the "opposite" sex from the one the doctor assigned them at birth and they take or want to take action to modify their body to match their identified sex; "transgender" is a broader term that can include transsexual people, but also can include people who do not have any desire to change their body but still live their life in a way that is more consistent with the "opposite" sex than the one they were assigned at birth.

  • Sane | March 4, 2014 2:22 PMReply

    So by this logic, Matthew McConaughey shouldn't have been cast for the role because he doesn't have AIDS, and Jennifer Garner shouldn't have also been cast because she's not a real doctor.

    They're actors. Their job is to portray a character.
    It's about talent and skill--neither of which is a product of gender.
    You're only ostracizing your gender if you factor it in.

  • Redalurk | March 4, 2014 6:13 PM

    Well said and I couldn't agree more with your response. It's a movie! It's called acting.

  • Rebecca Benoit | March 4, 2014 1:25 PMReply

    Yawn.

    If you're angry that a straight male played the role of Rayon, get over yourself. It's called acting. Did we cast a mentally challenged man as Forest Gump?

    As for him not thanking the "transgender community" during his acceptance speech... If he had, someone would have had something to say about that, too. You WANT equality, you DESERVE equality. Great! Don't bitch when you get it. He didn't personally thank everyone with curly hair either.

    My final rant ends where it began. I'm sure that there ARE a lot of wonderful, transgendered actors and actresses out there, but to assume that when a role like this opens up, ONLY they should be cast in that role (or that they should be firstly considered), undermines what acting is all about.

    Some people always have a problem

  • I LOVE JOELLE | March 5, 2014 2:33 PM

    Whoever the commenter below is, I adore you. Such sense, so articulate, and so patient. More than I could do. Thanks for taking the time to write all of this.

  • Joelle | March 4, 2014 10:24 PM

    "I'm sure that there ARE a lot of wonderful, transgendered actors and actresses out there"
    Name one. Name more than one. I dare you.

    The problem is not that people should only be cast for roles that match their background 100%, that's obviously unfeasible. The point is that trans woman actresses are never given roles as cis women to play, and because of casting choices like Jared Leto, they are rarely even given roles as trans women... and so they are entirely forced out of the industry.

    When 90% of trans people have suffered discrimination or harassment at work, over half have been verbally harassed in public, and 35% have been physically assaulted at school, it's hardly an issue of "some people always have a problem". It's a matter of widespread ignorance and hostility that make it so there's no place where trans women feel safe. It's a matter of mainstream media perpetuating this situation by consistently portraying trans women as nothing but punchlines, prostitutes, or psychos.

    Did you see how the cast and crew of "12 Years a Slave" thanked the REAL person upon which the story was based, and explicitly spoke to honor the people who have been slaves throughout history, and the people who are still slaves today? Something like THAT would have been a step towards equality. Your statement about curly hair is ludicrous.

    If you're interested in learning about trans issues, I would be happy to recommend some resources. You really shouldn't go ranting about subjects about which you obviously know little -- if you learned something about what real trans women face in their daily lives, I doubt you'd be so glib and condemnatory.

  • Craig | March 4, 2014 11:05 AMReply

    Jared did great in the role and that is all that matters in my eyes. Just for the writer of this articles info though it was Calpernia Addams who worked with Jared on his role, she was mentioned in his thank you speech during the Oscars

  • BESSIE | March 4, 2014 11:44 AM

    "All that matters in my eyes" - some people would call that a limited perspective.

  • Rett | March 4, 2014 5:41 AMReply

    This is so stupid.

    Do these people have any idea how hard Jared Leto worked on the role? He essentially starved himself to LOOK LIKE SOMEONE DYING OF AIDS.

    Not to mention he's a better actor than the rest of these people put together, and newsflash, kiddos: movie executives will ALWAYS cast the highest-profile actor they possibly can to play a part. That means more money. Duh. If one of these other people had been cast, the audience would have dropped dramatically.

    And don't tell me the SJWs of tumblr would have rode in to watch it and boost ratings and views, because the majority are broke 15 year olds who would much rather pirate it.

    Also, Rafi, on the off chance you read this, grow a pair.

  • Jarett | March 3, 2014 11:14 PMReply

    ok. so... here is my two cents on the topic soley because #1) I have traveled in Rayon circles and #2) as a talent agent in hollywood, I used to book actors in these roles (Willam Belli as pre-op transsexual, Cherry Peck, in Nip/Tuck): most of these trans actors really look too feminine to play a pre-op transgender person in 1985 in.. TX was it? gay men heading to become sex bombs didn't have massive implants available. now.. looks aside, consider the mannerisms. when you change your gender, you change how you act. i did drag for years and after i stopped , all the feminine mannerisms slowly went away too. but to my m2f friends, they were woman, hear them roar. i think (willam bias aside) that the only person that could have pulled this role off already did. years ago, in The Crying Game. #jayedavidson And that year they gave the Oscar to Gene Hackman because during Oscar season, he said he was retiring from acting. We need to stop pointing at all the wrongs (gays were vicious at the Oscars #johntravolta) in major award winning gay cinema and start finding ways to improve it now that these doors are being open. by which sexuality? whooooo cares. #onelove #onemic

  • Q | March 3, 2014 8:12 PMReply

    Does the fact that Jared Leto understands and accepts that he should not have been cast to play a transwoman mean anything, though? He's acknowledged how problematic the casting was, and did his best to give a thoughtful and sensitive performance anyway because he recognized the context.

    Isn't it important to note how his character in the movie's a really negative stereotype and most transwomen wouldn't want to portray themselves in such a terrible light? It doesn't justify the error in the casting at all, but we don't know who else was considered or was sent copies of the script. It's not impossible to believe that any transfeminine people who recieved the script declined going to the audition, you know?

    Also, wasn't the character meant to be portrayed as a drag queen, and therefore the casting wasn't transphobic? I'm not sure how or where this rumor came to be, but I've heard it a few times and I'm not sure what to think of it.

  • Sara | March 4, 2014 7:51 AM

    But Leto hasn't been thougtful or sensitive in publicity for the role -- he's referred to trans women by the pronoun "it", called Rayon an "impossible creature", and joked about waxing his butt for the role, instead of using his fame to publicize the fact that transgender people still face discrimination in health care (50% have had to educate their provider on trans health care, 19% have been denied health care) and suffer high rates of HIV-positivity and drug addiction.

    The head writer of The Dallas Buyers Club stated in an interview with Fresh Air on NPR that he chose to create Rayon as a way of giving the main character a "flamboyant, unloveable character to test his ability to mature as an open-minded man." He acknowledged that he created Rayon as "one of those" trans women.

    So a bigger question than why Leto was given the role is why a "really negative stereotype" and "terrible" portrayal was considered acceptable in the first place.

    Leto had Calpernia Addams (co-founder of Deep Stealth with Andrea James, which helps trans women socially transition) on set as a consultant and coach, not a drag queen as consultant -- which would indicate that Rayon was intended to be a trans woman and not a drag queen, even though she is never properly gendered -- called "she" -- throughout the film.

    And the fact that people are conflating Rayon for a drag queen is also really harmful -- it happens in public spheres that everyday trans women with non-entertainment jobs -- eg, teacher -- are "mistaken" for being drag queens. The public doesn't understand that drag is merely a form of entertainment, but MTF transition is the only feasible response to an excruciating medical condition.

  • Rafi | March 3, 2014 6:33 PMReply

    As an aspiring actor (who is a straight, white, cis male) I have serious questions about what parts I should allow myself to play, and I really appreciate the perspective on this particular issue provided by this article. I am curious as to what parts all you readers think are acceptable for me to play or want to play. I fully agree that trans* people, people of color, and members of the lgbtqa . . . community are very underrepresented in the media, especially television and film, both in terms of characters and actors, and I really want to fix that, but I'm not sure demanding that every part be filled by a member of that group is the correct response (of course, I am speaking from a position of privilege, so please tell me if you disagree. I don't want to offend anyone, I'm honestly curious what people think). Actors (I use this term for all people who act, regardless of their gender identity unless a specific person asks me to use a different word for them), by their nature, play characters who are nothing like themselves and whose life experiences are entirely foreign to them. While I agree that I have no personal knowledge of the life experiences of a transwoman, I also have no life experience as, say, a Christian man. Does that mean I should only play atheist characters of Jewish heritage (my religious identity)? After all, there are plenty of Christian actors who could likely play the part. If anyone has any ideas about what lines I shouldn't cross (for example, due to the destructive and painful history of white men playing African-American characters through the use of blackface and minstrel shows, I refuse to play an African American character), I'd love to hear them. Thanks!

  • Sara | March 4, 2014 7:37 AM

    Good for you, Rafi, for being conscientious and learning about others' experiences -- I'm sure your acting benefits from your empathy.

    I think the specific factor in play here is that there is scant work available for trans actors -- as the article states, the first time a trans role was played by a trans woman on American TV was 2005. In contrast, gay actors have been playing straight characters for a long, long time -- and recently, it's become no big thing for straight actors to play gay roles.

    So the issue isn't that people should only play parts that reflect what they actually are; the issue is whether playing a role creates a disrespectful caricature of a group (eg, minstrel shows) and whether it locks out minoritized people who already face discrimination in trying to find work (eg, are trans women allowed to play cis women on screen?)

    Note that Laverne Cox has used her fame to speak out about discrimination and violence against trans women of color; eg, she played an incarcerated trans woman, and now she is instrumental in making the documentary "Free CeCe" about a real-life unjustly incarcerated black trans woman.
    Jared Leto has used his fame to joke about how he got his butt waxed for the part of Rayon, and has called Rayon "it" and a "creature".

  • jahn | March 3, 2014 5:51 PMReply

    This character wasn't written to be a beautiful, well adjusted, passable trans woman. this character was intended to be broken, flawed -- a hustler. A trans woman goes through thousands of dollars of HRT and counseling -- not to mention the tens of thousands of dollars to become passable. Those things weren't happening in 1985 in the same way they are now -- and no broken, flawed, broke hustler would have had the money to pay for HRT, counseling, surgery, etc...I think the writer is missing the point of the character -- and while I agree that trans men and women should be better represented in Hollywood, Leto's "trashy", broken characterization done by a real trans person may have done more harm than good -- not to mention the fact that the story itself wouldn't have gotten the funding to even be made without the star power Leto and the rest of the cast brought.

  • spanishtgirl | March 3, 2014 5:40 PMReply

    Benefits for being transgender ? ? . Clear . Now it turns out to be an alleged " mentally ill " is a social privilege.
    Turns out to be a transition government will not hire ( quite common ) or have problems at work. And that's normal socially speaking .
    Besides ignoring the fact that most transgender people in most movies usually be based on stereotypes intended to mock the reality of transgender women. But nothing . That reality is the obvious Hollywood and Jared Leto. Best treated as the true background of silly criticism (perhaps poorly expressed ) and come with the fallacy of " performance."
    Sorry. But it is just search for the suitable to obviate the attitude transfondo pretext evidence .
    Outside the words of review were not the luckiest . That does not mean you have a lot to talk about the social hypocrisy to talk about us or calling us .
    But yes . Then in the news when it comes to murdered us in our birth gender . Nothing happens. Nobody takes responsibility . Same should be that only cisgender people are entitled to their identity is respected. That must be it .

  • spanishtgirl | March 3, 2014 5:33 PMReply

    The film is not based on the facts that allegedly says based . Then comes all the way to Rayon Men and even has cheap Graciet . Stereotypes Then ... the trans to trans woman comic stereotype women ( the other is the man-eating ) . Regulars at the movies with transphobic dyes.
    In addition to not talk much about AIDS . The story seems a conspiracy of the pharmaceutical criticism . And that's all that is real in relation to the real story behind it.
    But na . Besides the obviate unwarranted exclusion work ... Only few transgender people have been calls for the film to remember . Counted . And yet even less for movies specifically related to those circumstances. Is it coincidence ? . No. Just there is always willing to discuss the situation of trans people without having the same , society account .
    Except in a very timely manner , it is almost always the case.
    And many films with transgender characters just looking comic stereotype or trans woman devours men (and evil ) . There are very few movies that are dramatic and usually take seriously the background of the story of a transsexual woman .

  • Stephen | March 3, 2014 5:10 PMReply

    Whilst I believe there are valid grounds to say a transgender should and could have played the role of Rayon, in my opinion it wouldn't have been any stated above. The film itself is set in 1985 and depicts a 'pre-op' transgender woman. These women would have been very different in appearance to those we say today and you have listed above. The advancement in surgery and hormone treatments, etc alone makes the two vastly different. So whilst there may be many available candidates out there who could fit the criteria as well as Leto, I don't believe it to be any you have named. Jared Leto turns in a great performance which should be enjoyed rather than nit-picked.

  • Scott | March 3, 2014 4:47 PMReply

    I think this article is really unfair. We are all human beings and should not place one gender above another. So lets be honest, the part should go to the one that the filmmaker believes is best for the part. being transgendered does not make you a privileged class.

  • Sara | March 4, 2014 7:19 AM

    According to a survey in 2011*, 90% of trans respondents have directly experienced harassment or mistreatment at work or felt forced to take protective actions that negatively impacted their careers or their well-being; 78% were harassed in elementary or high school, 35% physically assaulted in school; 53% percent reported being verbally harassed in public; 44% were denied equal treatment in public accommodations; 50% had to educate their medical providers on how to provide transgender care and 19% were flat-out refused medical care.

    So... what's that you're saying about transgender being a privileged class?

    *Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey

  • Michael | March 3, 2014 3:51 PMReply

    It is called acting! And he did a wonderful job. As a poz member of the glbtq community it is reprehensible to see this story criticising a wonderful opportunity and chance to spread awareness of the important issues that we faced then and now. They did a beautiful job in this film and we should all be grateful they did.

  • Léa | March 3, 2014 3:40 PMReply

    what about french writter and model Andréa Colliaux ?

  • Nikki | March 3, 2014 3:19 PMReply

    You forgot Willam Belli.

  • courtney | March 3, 2014 5:24 PM

    Willam Belli isn't transgender. He's a gay man who performs in drag

  • Alex | March 3, 2014 2:57 PMReply

    The biggest question is, "Would any of the people above had been willing to go through the physical transformation both Jared and Matthew went through for their roles?" If yes, then I feel they should have definitely been considered for the role. I was shocked at how emaciated both Jared and Matthew looked. I understand it's their job but I would have declined the role knowing how much of a dangerous transformation I would have to go through.

  • Bolton | March 3, 2014 2:57 PMReply

    I've never heard of the term "cis male" until I came upon this article and the comment section. Is this a new thing? cisgender and cismale? When I looked up the definition, it states "Cisgender is a term used to describe people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth." So I'm really confused about this because that just seems so obviously, well, odd to me. I'm not trying to offend, but to understand: Isn't this basically what many people would think of as "normal", but that's the exact reason people came up with the cisgender term, to avoid the political incorrectness of one group being referred to as "normal" while another isn't? Why would we need to start calling someone, for example, who was assigned 'male' at birth, and identifies as a 'male', yet now we call them a cismale or cisgender? I don't know, just seems like this is getting way too complicated than it should be (i.e. 50+ facebook gender options now is comically ridiculous)

  • Joelle | March 4, 2014 9:57 PM

    "cis" is a Latin prefix that means the opposite of "trans" -- that is, trans means "across from" (eg trans-oceanic), cis means "on the same side as". Look up "trans/cis isomerism" on google or wikipedia and you'll see these terms are used in chemistry all the time. So it just naturally follows that cis is used to mean people whose assigned gender and identified gender are the same.

  • angel-girl | March 4, 2014 7:31 AM

    Probably "typical/atypical" is a better word choice than "normal/abnormal." There's less stigma attached.

  • BOLTON | March 3, 2014 3:12 PM

    NOMA-
    I don't get why being abnormal has to have a negative connotation.

    If you have a trait that's unlike the majority, you're abnormal. I'm bisexual, therefore I'm abnormal and am perfectly content and happy with that. What's wrong with saying you're not normal?

  • Conor | March 3, 2014 3:09 PM

    Really? Giving people the option to identify in a way that makes them comfortable is ridiculous?

  • Noma | March 3, 2014 3:08 PM

    Implying that cis people are "normal" says that trans folks are not. There is no NORMAL. I'm a cisgendered female, and I have no problem saying I'm cis, because it's neither complicated to understand nor an insult. It is an insult to imply that trans folks aren't normal.

  • ChrisT | March 3, 2014 1:41 PMReply

    I don't understand why a female should play a transgender role rather than a male, this isn't new men play women, women play men so there is no reason a man shouldn't play someone born male who wants to become a female.
    I am sympathetic to the LGBT community but I do think in this case there is no reason.

  • Mélissa | March 3, 2014 1:32 PMReply

    The name of the guy who made Dallas buyers club is actually Jean-Marc Vallée. Not John Paul. Please correct that, it would be really appreciated from us francophone readers. Also, i really agree with a comment left below about the role being really stereotypical for a transgender. Being a trans actor/actress shouldn't mean only having trans roles as being gay shouldn't mean having only gay roles. I would me happy to see a straight woman played by a transgender woman. It would have a lot more impact than a trans prostitute with HIV played by a trans actress. For example, i think that the role played by Felicity Huffman in Transamerica would have been less impactfull if played by a trans. It would have been great, dont get me wrong, but the whole thing about acting is impersonating someone you're really not. That is what makes it impressive, in my humble opinion. But that doesn't mean a gay actor can't play a gay character or someone with down's syndrom can't play a character with down's syndrome. My whole point is that actors shouldn't be cast as a character because of what they are in real life.

  • Jim | March 3, 2014 12:18 PMReply

    Transpeople are literally men in make up/drag lying to themselves, so Jared Leto was essentially a trans person.

    Wow.
    Amazing.

  • Joelle | March 4, 2014 10:10 PM

    Trans women have brain structures that resemble the brains of cis women more than those of cis men; and vice-versa for trans men. Trassexuality is an often-excruciating medical condition (look up "gender dysphoria")

    I recommend the wikipedia article "Causes of transsexualism" for a historical overview, and for a references section that links to numerous scientific articles indicating that transsexuality is an intersex condition that involves the brain as well as body rather than solely the genitals.

  • angel-girl | March 4, 2014 7:33 AM

    Sir, please inform yourself. There are plenty of places online where you can read why what you said was very wrong. I'd suggest starting with googling t-vox or trans101. That is, if you can bring yourself to stretch your mind.

  • jessica | March 3, 2014 3:55 PM

    Jim is not a transphobe. ...but a piece of s#%&* im sure he is just a savage redneck from a small uncivilized town😎

  • tab | March 3, 2014 1:10 PM

    You are an ignorant transphobe. How can you have the audacity to make comments like this on an article about trans women. Do you have any idea how dehumanizing your stance is? Do you know how many trans women have been murdered because assholes like you consider them to be "tr*ps"? Do you know what gender dysphoria is? You have no respect and should never ever make a comment about trans women again.

  • hops | March 3, 2014 12:05 PMReply

    A lot of people commenting on how ignorant this piece is are incredibly ignorant. It's not about whether Jared Leto did a good job, or if the people were well-intentioned, or whether all gay/trans characters need to be played by gay/trans actors. Not once in your analyses have you considered what it's actually like to be trans, and the fact that being trans immediately makes it incredibly difficult to get an acting role in ANY kind of movie. God forbid one of the tons of trans actors who the mainstream culture regularly shuns gets to play a trans character on screen. We're talking about an issue of representation here, and representation is one of the most important factors in eliminating senseless violence against innocent people. Trans people are very often the subject of extreme violence and hatred, and sensitizing the public to them is A) incredibly important and B) something that *they* should have a direct stake in.

  • Avocats | March 6, 2014 12:36 AM

    Really? Trans actors not getting jobs leads to senseless violence against innocent people? Talk about ignorant. It's incredibly difficult for a trans actor to get a role because there are relatively few roles they could fill convincingly. Only a handful could play women, and there are only a handful of trans roles written, probably in proportion to the number of trans people in society. That's two handfuls. And there are lots more trans actors. Just as there are a lot more straight actors than straight roles. Is there a trans actor full employment program somewhere?

  • Joelle | March 4, 2014 9:59 PM

    Well said, Hops! Agree 100%

  • Jacinta | March 3, 2014 11:57 AMReply

    By this article's own logic, Laverne Cox's brother should not have played a pre-op Sophia in OITNB, but Laverne Cox should have...

  • Mia | March 4, 2014 6:03 AM

    Her brother by all technicalities did not play a pre-op Sophia. He played a pre-transitioning Sophia.

  • Nicole | March 3, 2014 10:34 AMReply

    This is actually the most ignorant piece ever. The point is to find the best person for the role whether they are gay, straight, bi, transgendered, undefined, it doesn't matter. By the logic presented, as one person stated, a straight actor should have played Barney Stinson, A gay actor should have played Will (Will and Grace), a real superhero should have played Superman, an actual God should have played Thor,...I hope you get the point.

  • Michaela | March 3, 2014 2:41 PM

    It's actually not as ignorant as that makes it out to be. The thing is that trans people are regularly cheated out of jobs, especially in the entertainment industry. Off the top of my head, I can only think of 4 trans characters in popular media, and of those 4 only 2 are trans women PLAYED by trans women. It's a huge issue that the media will cast cis people for trans roles, as it further enforces the idea that trans people "really" cis. It's harmful, and makes young trans kids doubt themselves and their identities.
    It's not about finding the best person for a role, it's about casting a role for the correct gender. A male character wouldn't be cast with a female actress, so a female role shouldn't be cast with a man. It's as simple as that.
    A somewhat related point: a gay man (John Barrowman) did go out for the role of Will in Will and Grace but was deemed "too straight" to play the role. This fits in with enforcing harmful stereotypes, as it suggests that there's a "right way" to be gay which, apparently, a gay man couldn't portray.

  • Hale | March 3, 2014 2:38 PM

    I mean, a gay actor SHOULD have played Will in Will and Grace, and in fact they passed up a gay actor (John Barrowman) because he wasn't "gay enough" for the role- it just goes to show that oftentimes casting is more interested in portraying stereotypes than representing marginalized people.
    You have a false premise- we cannot have equal opportunity casting in a society that differentially privileges certain kinds of people.

  • tab | March 3, 2014 1:14 PM

    the difference is that trans women actually exist? Unlike actual gods? And they are incredibly marginalized and their chance of becoming actresses is tiny, because the industry prefers to hire cis men? It's more like arguing that a white actor in blackface should be allowed to play a black man, because "it's about finding the best person for the role".

  • g | March 3, 2014 8:56 AMReply

    Can we get a list of 10 straight actors who could've played Barney Stinson?

  • Tanya | March 3, 2014 9:36 AM

    While we're at it can we get a list of every box office hit about straight people with straight actors? Maybe that would be too hard; what about a list of every hit about GSRM people with a cast that actually identifies as the sexuality of the character they are playing? Hmmm.

  • Greig | March 3, 2014 8:55 AMReply

    Hey, guess what, there were probably dozens of straight male actors who could've played this role too, but did you know that movie roles aren't always filled by the most talented actors? Would 1/100 of the people who saw this movie have seen it if Leto and McConaughey weren't in it? The makers wanted to tell a story, and they wanted people to see it. So they cast great actors that people had heard of. And they knocked it out of the park.

  • Charley | March 3, 2014 1:36 AMReply

    They weren't looking for a transgender woman because that's not how the role was originally written. In the script it was a drag queen. So all these fuss is not valid. Also, a transgender woman ís a woman, I totally agree, and she should be treated as one. The problem here is that the woman is born in the wrong body (Male?) isn't it? And isn't the body one of the 'tools' of an actor? I'm all for emancipation of everybody but I'm also against attacking people who had every good intention.

  • Joelle | March 4, 2014 10:06 PM

    If the part were a drag queen they logically would have had a drag queen as consultant. Leto had Calpernia Addams -- co-founder of Deep Stealth with Andrea James, which helps trans women socially transition -- on set as a consultant and coach.

    If Leto had "every good intention", maybe he wouldn't have referred to Rayon as "it" and a "creature", dehumanizing the character he is getting such praise for playing. If the director had "every good intention" in creating the character of Rayon, it's doubtful he would have called her "unloveable" on NPR's Fresh Air.

  • Beck | March 3, 2014 1:22 AMReply

    Almost all of these people are women, so they're called actresses, not actor. They wouldn't have won best supporting ACTOR if they played and been nominated, right?

  • CassandraLeeTate | March 3, 2014 1:04 AMReply

    You do understand that pre-transition Sophia Burset was played by Laverne Cox's cis twin brother, right? I feel like you are trivializing the experience of not passing - it's a real thing that happens that has real consequences for people's lives, not just something you can theorize away. Also, one of the people on your list, Calpernia Adams, has written a counterpoint to this on her facebook.

  • Aunty Mib | March 3, 2014 12:15 AMReply

    Two other Transwomen actresses who would have been good.

    Nina Arsenault who was a transwoman who played a transwoman on Canadian television.

    Alexis Arquette.

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