Does this statement apply to you? Reblog it and be counted. More information here.
Does this statement apply to you? Reblog it and be counted. More information here.
white people will never understand
that a person of color explaining to them very painful topics that pertain to race
and you should appreciate when they do talk about it
and respect when they don’t want to talk about it
i don’t owe you anything
i don’t owe you an explanation or an education
i don’t have to do anything but stay black and die
Since Laverne Cox is just a stellar human being, she gave a shout out to Candis Cayne in her plenary speech at Creating Change, I thought I would dig up the paper I wrote in 2009 comparing Cayne’s portrayal in Dirty, Sexy, Money to Felicity Huffman’s role in TransAmerica. I couldn’t find the finished draft but I did find the rough draft. This paper/talk was given at the UNC Queer Conference in 2009. It is definitely rough around the edges so…take it with that particular grain of salt.
UNCA Queer Conference
(Tele)fornication: Queering Prime Time TV (Panel)
March 28, 2009
Dirty, Sexy, Trans America: Queering Acting Vs. Acting Queer
This paper will examine the ways transexual characters are played and portrayed in ABC’s Dirty, Sexy, Money as compared to the film TransAmerica. Utilizing perspectives propagated by Julia Serano and other scholars that dissect cinematic portrayal of media constructions of trans men and women, it will explore problematic and positive instances of depiction of these characters as well as the people they seek to represent or showcase. Further, this paper will explore instances of trans-playing-trans and cisgender-playing-trans, analyzing the social and cultural implications of each.
Without ignoring other important portrayals of trans people in television and film, the two focal characters examined here are meant not as representatives of the transsexual community but indicative of a system of transsexual portrayal in popular media. It is important to note that these two characters are not the only two trans characters in film or television. There are numerous examples, from Bond Girl Caroline Cossey to Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show, that can and do contribute to the body of knowledge about transsexual and transgender media portrayal. Specifically focusing on these two characters is meant as a device to highlight what the media (in all various and sundry forms) does right, and as can be expected in portrayals of marginalized groups, what it still gets wrong.
In ABC’s Dirty, Sexy, Money, Candis Cayne plays Carmelita, a transsexual who has an affair with New York Attorney General Patrick Darling (played by Billy Baldwin). Cayne’s representation of this character is notable as it is the first time that a transsexual character is played by a transgender actress. In TransAmerica, the award winning comedy about a transsexual’s journey across America and to a deeper personal understanding, actress Felicity Huffman plays Bree, a mtf transsexual.
These two characters have vastly different story lines and present avenues for problematizing the general perception and understanding of transsexuals as members of society. The character Bree is presented as a study of transition, while the character Carmelita’s transition is never addressed. This is an important distinction to make as each of these characters is presented as reflective of reality.
Felicity Huffman, a woman playing a man transitioning into a woman in this role, is problematic as a concept. For a cisgender woman to presume to act as a assigned male who will be a woman calls into question several key assumptions made by the writer/director of this film.
First, apparently there are no transsexual actresses that could accurately portray a transsexual character’s story.
This seems flawed at best and prejudiced at worst. The probable goal of such a casting was to make the story palatable to mainstream audiences by casting an actress that was at least known, if not well known. Huffman was just beginning to receive accolades as a Desperate Housewife when TransAmerica was filmed.
Second, the transformation that Huffman undergoes to play this character is almost the exact opposite of what the character would have experienced. In this way, it is inconceivable that Huffman would garner an understanding of the transition she is portraying by this antithetical “transitioning.” Huffman learned to lower her voice and walk with an affective male gait, the character Bree would have learned to walk with a feminine affect and raise the pitch of her voice (and is shown in the film practicing this).
Additionally, Huffman’s character is almost never seen in anything other than pink and is constantly shown fretting about her appearance, specifically her make-up. According to Julia Serano in her book Whipping Girl:, “The media hyper-feminizes us by accompanying stories about trans women with pictures of us putting on makeup, dresses, and high-heeled shoes in an attempt to highlight the supposed “frivolous” nature of our femaleness, or by portraying trans women as having derogatory feminine associated character traits such as being week, confused, passive, or mousey.” The character Bree as portrayed by Huffman, exemplifies nearly all of these “derogatory feminine associated character traits.”
In interviews with Huffman that surrounded the films release she mentions wanting to be true to the character and the “extensive” research she did in preparation for the role. Her research included “reading everything she could get her hands on” and interviewing several prominent transexual activists and writers (two of whom appear in the film in a scene that points out that transsexuals in groups are “obvious”). Aside from the conspicuous point of contention that Huffman’s research was colored by the avenues that she took to obtain it, the intent behind the research, to be able to portray this character insinuates that one can accurately play or portray a transexual character by simply emulating what real transexuals do. While this is generally accepted as a way to play any character that is not one with whom an actor may identify, it is problematic here because transgendered and transexual people are seen as emulating the other sex or gender. So, to a mostly heteronormative audience, Huffman’s Bree is a copy of a “copy.”
Amid “She Was A Man” headlines and much general media hype, Candis Cayne assumed the role of Carmelita. The first scene in which Carmelita appears is evidence of a hyper feminization of the character. Carmelita shows up at a Darling family affair and proceeds to berate the lover Patrick Darling for disappearing on her. She is shown here as the jealous “other” woman. At least in this instance, she is the other woman and not just an “other.” When referring to an emergency situation Patrick Darling uses “CODE PINK” to communicate the topic of the emergency, Carmelita. In this opening scene Carmelita and Patrick are speaking in the foyer of the Darling mansion, there is a noticeable and heavy “cage” that bars Carmelita’s entrance to the party and separates her visibly from the “inside.” Patrick tells Carmelita that “you can’t be here” that could be read as an insinuation that a transexual can’t be in the home of a wealthy family or that a transexual cannot interact with his family, or ( and this is probably how the writers intended) that a mistress cannot interact with the adulterer in daylight.
Immediately following this exchange, however, Patrick tells Carmelita to “Go get a room…and I’ll come when the party is over,” to which Carmelita replies, in a tone laden with sexual innuendo “Yes, you will.” This interaction serves to further the contention by Serano that trans women are hyper-sexualized. “The media hyper-sexualizes us by creating the impression that most trans women are sex workers or sexual deceivers, and by asserting that we transition for primarily sexual reasons (e.g., to prey on innocent straight men or to fulfill some kind of bizarre sex fantasy). Such depictions not only belittle trans women’s motives for transitioning, but implicitly suggest that women as a whole have no worth beyond their ability to be sexualized.” This idea is furthered when Patrick is asked if his affair with Carmelita is “just a sex thing.”
In the first interaction, it is also important to note that Carmelita’s voice was digitally altered by the shows producers to make it deeper, according to Cayne in an interview with Chelsea Handler. Cayne says that the digital deepening received a bad response and was never done again. In fact, this digital deepening was used for “shock value” according to Cayne in that same interview.
The idea of shocking the audience continues through out the first episode. Later, after the aforementioned family affair, Patrick Darling tries to get the family lawyer to meet Carmelita at the hotel where she is waiting to pay her to “go away”. The lawyer replies with an exasperated “I’m not going to go give a tranny hooker a check!” Not only is this response nearly shouted, it is repeated later, in case the audience failed to get the point that “tranny” and “money” are one idea. The response from the lawyer is again indicative of the shock value that trans people have on mainstream viewing audiences.
Ultimately, however, Dirty Sexy Money can be read as trans positive. When asked by the family lawyer what an affair with a transexual was, if not dirty, Darling responds with one word. “Different” And again, when Patrick’s wife learns of the affair and asks to meet Carmelita to work out an “agreement,” instead of the all too familiar outing scenes that so often include some form of violence, the audience gets the cheated on wife telling the two lovers “This is the new normal.”
The relationship between Carmelita and Patrick Darling is strained and tumultuous at times but is the most caring of all the relationships on the show(and possible the only one that involves love) according to Billy Baldwin in a promotional interview. “I think our relationship is you know, the most real and the most honest and I think that it will make people uncomfortable.” Here it is evident that there is still some trepidation around trans characters, when honesty elicits discomfort. In an article that originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry in Summer 2003 Gypsy Teague said “Transgendered (sic) men and women are now more accepted in their roles of heroes, heroines, villains, comedians, friends and neighbors. The shock value has worn off, and their fifteen minutes of fame has been passed to someone else. With that passing, the transgendered may join other minorities that have found acceptance in society. Their place in the movies and television is secured.” This is arguably still far from the truth, but as evidenced by the earlier examples, not wholly untrue either. The contrast between the two trans characters and their portrayals is evidence of the array of ways that trans characters can be shown to more mainstream audiences, who, in the larger scheme of things will at least know something about trans people. These portraits of trans people though often flawed, in fact, is preferable to out-right ignorance.
According to Damon Romine, entertainment media editor for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), these films and television shows raise awareness in significant ways. “Images on television and film have the power to help Americans embrace their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender family members, neighbors and friends with understanding and acceptance.” With a population that has been nearly invisible until recently and who are still marginalized at every turn, raising awareness is central to affecting change.
Reblogging myself. Yep.
Bold and italic because I gave this panel talk in 2009. I started writing it in 2008.
This. Is. Not. New.
You are late to the party. Its just a reification of the only way hollywood can *deign* to deal with transness.
So credibility is an issue here? I wasn’t aware that I had my own street cred to manage in addition to critiquing the marginalization, trope-itazation, and misrepresentation of trans people in the media/tv/film/hollywood.
I reference Calpernia’s statements, her op ed, about her role with the film in the first two sentences of the post. I feel like we can parse it all out. Make sense of varied information sources. Find the roots? Yes. Good. Thanks!
I may edit the link later to note that its got inaccuracies. I would just like to point out that the link’s inaccuracies are very small next to the inaccuracies depicted in films that misrepresent and trivialize trans people. So….
I’m not sure what difference this necessarily makes because regardless of how many trans women Jared Leto “beat out” for the role (and who was doing the judging? Cis producers?) there are still a lot of problems with this casting and the subsequent “Best Supporting Actor” acclaims.
If only 5 trans women auditioned for this role, then the production did not look hard enough before settling for a cis actor. If 2000 trans women auditioned for this role and the production still thought Jared was better than all of them, then that says more about the production and Jared’s cis privilege than the quality of his acting. I suspect the number was closer to 0 than 2000. There is no way to justify that Leto was the best actor for the role without also invalidating the work of every single trans actress as less talented. And, as trans advocates have pointed out, Leto’s gender as a cis man “is important to the perception of the role. He is perpetuating the ‘man in a dress’ trope.” The quality of his performance does not buffer against the reinforcement of this stereotype.
While there isn’t public information available about who else auditioned for the role of Rayon, Jared Leto has spoken about his audition experience. Leto believes that the director “may have seen Rayon more as a drag queen or someone who enjoys pushing a gender envelope or dressing up in women’s clothing.” In that case, it is more likely that cis actors auditioned fro the role of a drag queen, and Leto chose to interpret this character as a “transgendered" (not even the right language coming from someone who claims to be an ally) "beautiful creature.”
"There was a Skype meeting set up with the director [Jean-Marc Vallée]. It wasn’t really an audition, but it was kind of an audition, you know, underneath it all. But I decided to use it as a test really for myself to see what I had to offer. So I said hello via Skype, we were in Berlin, and it was wintertime. We were playing one of the biggest shows of our lives that night, I remember. I reached out and grabbed some lipstick and started to put it on, and you know, his mouth fell to the floor. I was wearing — I think this jacket — and I unbuttoned it and had on a little pink furry sweater, and I pulled it down over my shoulder and proceeded to flirt with him for the next 20 minutes and then woke up the next day with the official offer. Girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, baby." - Jared Leto on his audition for the role of Rayon.
Director Jean Marc Vallee said of this audition:
Do you know this actor Jared Leto? I just Skyped with him and he hit on me; He was feeling me up through the screen! I don’t know, it was very uncomfortable but I think we found Rayon.”
It’s sad, because it seems like from the start Rayon was an amalgam of cis men’s stereotypes of a provocative trans women. So of course the perfect Rayon is overly flirtatious and sexualized in a way that makes people uncomfortable. Of course the perfect Rayon is someone who gets the job by playing up the sexuality by hitting on a cis straight man.
Please shut up, he was great as Rayon. Stop trying to make a problem where there isn’t one. He created a character that the audience cared about. Because of Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, folks who normally wouldn’t even consider looking at a trans woman, transvestite, or drag queen (yes I know the difference) felt sympathy for that kind of character. This is the kind of role that changes the way people think, and all you can do is be upset that a trans woman did not win the role. MAYBE none of them were what the director was looking for. That does actually happen. Not everything is an attack. Mr Leto represented a wide range of people in the LGBT community that are constantly overlooked, abused, and stepped on- and he did it with respect.
Exactly. No trans woman was what the director was looking for. Did you not understand what the director said? He never looked for a trans woman. That is the point. That is some of the source of this outrage.
There was nothing to be learned by Rayon in that film. Despite what you say, I’m not sure you saw the movie. I did, and I played real close attention. Not once did Rayon mention her identity, sexuality, or preferred pronouns. Rayon isn’t based on a real person, but trans women did help Ron Woodroof in the Dallas Buyers Club, so it’s safe to assume that Rayon is supposed to be a trans woman in the movie. However, she’s repeatedly called “he” and other disrespectful names by Woodroof and Dr. Saks, and she doesn’t correct them. She kind of just giggles and goes on her merry way like nothing happened. I felt bad for her in that respect, because no trans person should have to go through that dehumanization and have no opportunity to defend themselves. But what is someone who otherwise didn’t care about trans women learning, when this portrayal of a trans woman is a cis man playing a stereotype? It was a wasted opportunity to portray trans women positively and most likely reinforced what most people already believe about them.
Well you don’t have to believe me, but I have in fact seen and studied the film several times. I never said that Rayon used any preferred pronouns because you’re right, she did not. She was vulnerable, depressed, and sassy. I loved her wit. She was charming. When she cries I cry every time. Yes she was called rude names, but the film also takes place in 1985-92 when violence against trans individuals was higher even than it is today. I stand by the idea that Rayon was overall a positive for the representation of LGBT folk because she was so sympathetic. My homophobic dad cried his eyes out when Rayon died and he’s never expressed anything but disgust about trans women in the past. The film moved him to where he connected with that character and wanted her to be happy. I’ve reached out to the few trans friends I have about their plight specifically because of the connection I feel to Rayon. I want to know more about them. That’s the kind of thing that is positive about all if this. Jared Leto will obviously never know what it’s actually like to be trans, and yes it would have been ideal for a true trans woman to play this role; but I still think the outrage is a bit much. Guessing about the director’s and Jared’s motives and such. It was made from a good place, though rather ignorant. In any case, I’m sure this film will open doors for true trans individuals. I guess you can be upset that cis men opened the door, but it’s happening.
Trans women have been fighting their own battles by themselves among adversity from everyone else since the beginning of time. Jared Leto didn’t open shit. You haven’t learned shit.
I need to put my thoughts all in one place.
Calpernia Addams did her thing (here:http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2014/03/05/op-ed-defense-jared-leto )…I hear that she wants to honor the work of those that are trying….but her arguments are full of logical fallacies and i just cannot get on board with that (re:”I caution others to remember, however, that the same logic that leaves zero room for a nontrans actor to try a trans role will be used to mandate that trans actors should not be able to play nontrans roles”=binary logic)… trans actors and actresses should be able to play ANY part, and now at a time when visibility is crucial and understanding of trans identities is low, they should especially be looked to for roles that depict their own or similar experience….
and then! when she calls folks who she is theoretically in community with arm-chair activists…I cannot even…
I appreciate the perspective from within the film industry, which is why I feel like she could have gone in on the industry instead of the community of folks responding to the nonsense hollywood puts out and then pats themselves on the back for being so diverse…
Maybe it is the circles i run in, but this is the only mildly optimistic/positive reaction Ive seen from trans folks/a trans person…I don’t know. I feel some kind of way about it…
Just in this post there are 4 articles. 4, on what is wrong with the performance and how people (trans people) are reacting. Please, tell me again what kind of marginalization or silencing I, or my community, is supposed to accept from “allies.”
Re: Jared Leto—He is part of the system. He EXEMPLIFIES the system. Why is it always and forever ok to argue back with a community that is critiquing and example of a messed up system??? Is it hard to understand that you cannot affect “systems level change” until you can recognize an example of the system? You absolutely need to look into system change. After you hear from the community being represented about WHAT ACTUALLY NEEDS TO CHANGE.
The only change I want is for white liberal cisgender straight people to listen when trans people are talking. Specifically when trans women of color are talking. Start there. Take all the seats and realize that you do not know of what you speak.
We cannot affect systemic change for trans people in Hollywood because you ( the folks “defending” Leto) are taking up ALL THE AIR talking about how “we shouldn’t focus on Jared.”
Nor is it the trans communities responsibility to fix the shit that cisgender people messed up to begin with. It is literally our job to tell you that its messed up and as a community of allies you approach the topic with the intent to fix it, not pick on how we broach the topic from beneath our marginalization, not to wring your hands for the poor millionaire and his awards.
I will gripe until me, and my trans brothers, sisters, and siblings are safe, well cared for, and valued. You (the hand wringing Leto ally), as mentioned before, should take all of the privilege that makes you feel like you can say one iota about this topic and sit with it. Because I don’t need or want an “ally” like you. I don’t know anyone in my community who does.
If you hear us saying that this kind if representation is a problem, and you are in the privileged group—claiming to want to affect change, it is absolutely your job to speak up about fixing the problem rather than speaking up about how trans people critique their own marginalization.
Real change never starts at the top. You should look into some social movements. Power doesn’t give away power.
From Leto supporter: “more needs to be done to communicate this message to those who would not typically hear it.” —-We speak and y’all don’t want to hear it. So….
"I hear a lot of frustration" You think? You act like this is the first time this has happened, the first time the trans community has tried to speak about it. Here, let me explain. We have always been saying this. Hell, I wrote a paper for a conference about it almost five years ago… you know, after the last time this was a thing.
The solution to the problem is the people who say they want to affect change, stopping their words. and listening. really listening. To our words, the words of our scholars, our elders, and not wasting your precious privileged energy on fixing US, but instead fixing that which your privilege provides you access to. I didn’t realize this was so complicated…
From the same, earlier fool: “At a minimum, when Jared Leto who is playing a trans character, does not even understand discrimination against the trans community, more needs to be done to communicate this message to those who would not typically hear it.”
It’s like…did somebody stutter? Hmmm. More needs to be done. Like hiring a trans person?????????? I wonder how a person of trans experience would have played that part, so that they would fundamentally understand what was happening, I wonder what that would have looked like… I swear its like…children could follow the logic here.
Here is all the stuff and things floating around in the ether. This is by no means exhaustive.
And I didn’t even have to look hard. Never mind that there are more scholarly resources wandering around. I just….. I just, ugh!