So, congratulations Jared Leto on your Oscar win for your portrayal of “Rayon” a Transgender woman in the movie “Dallas Buyers Club.” I’m quite certain it was well deserved and that you worked quite diligently to bring reality and humanity to the role.
I’ve been watching the ruckus on my Facebook feed, on Twitter and on the blogosphere and it seems like there’s just no pleasing us! I guess I’ll add my 2 cents.
I’m writing from the perspective of a Transgender woman. I am not the “Trans* Community.” Frankly, nobody is. I am proud to be a part of that community but I am me and I don’t represent them any more than an individual or group represents me – so let’s get that out of the way.
I was having lunch today with my roomie at a local haunt near the “Gayborhood” in Dallas and over coffee and pancakes I was wondering out loud just what type of role or film I would create that would satisfy my need to be understood.
Really, I think that is at the core of it. I (we) want to be understood in a way that we presently aren’t. (Again, I will use “we” where I know there to be commonality with other members of the Trans* community that I know – but there are surely going to be dissenters – and that’s cool – I love you all anyway!)
I would like to see a character that isn’t a stereotype. Drag queens are typically gay men dressed in women’s clothing. I’m not a gay man – I’m a transgender woman. Love my gay friends – but we are not the same. A gay man coming out still uses the same bathroom and does not need a judge’s permission to carry the proper I.D.
The problem is that we are diverse. There are Transgender women who do drag. Some are drug addicts. Some are sex workers. Some are infected with H.I.V. Some are homeless.
Some are graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy. Some are scientists or Physicians. My roommate is an attorney, another friend is a science teacher and a former cop.
Many more work in high tech as some of the more gifted software architects and developers. You may not have heard of them, but you interact with the software they designed on a daily basis. They are invisible to you. Many have children, get up, get them dressed and off to school, go to work, come home and fix dinner and help with homework and do it all again – functioning in a world that is still hostile in many ways to us.
I spent 30 years in radio and television and I find myself struggling to pay the bills because employers are FAR more likely to have seen or read about Transgender women as the first group of stereotypes and this makes it difficult if not impossible for many of us to find work. That’s the main issue I have with roles such as this. I have no issue with Jared Leto – he did a great job with that role – it just doesn’t represent a significant part of the Transgender Community. The segment that isn’t sensationalistic or appeal to America’s fascination with us.
I have a management group in New York that was pitching a reality show about my life. There were several producers and networks that showed interest. I was asked for video and I provided a screen test of sorts. The comment back was “She is very talented, a gifted storyteller” BUT– “She’s too normal.” I suppose I could take that as a compliment – but I was disappointed nonetheless. I was asked if I would be OK with them “scripting” my story. I said absolutely not – because what they would do is sensationalize my life (It’s wild enough as-is in my opinion) and I am not the type who goes to the store to buy groceries dressed like Scarlet O’Hara wearing a hoop skirt and white gloves – I’m just like every other woman – jeans and a t-shirt.
So over lunch today I tried to imagine just how I would create a character that would better express who we, as Trans* Women are and I was frustrated – because we are all so different. It would end up being a documentary and nobody watches those.
The best I could come up with is a show with an ensemble cast, like Seinfeld or Sex and The City – where one of the main characters is Transgender. In an episodic show it would be far easier to create a rich and developed character that is more than just a Transgender person – she would be a woman that just happens to be Transgender.
It would be good for America to maybe get to know and love this person as their assigned gender and see the pain and discomfort that brings them to come out (to other cast members) and the excruciating difficulty of presenting this new person to the rest of the world. Maybe have the character have a wife and kids and see the devastation and heartbreak it causes – coming out at work with potential job loss. The difficulty in deciding which restroom to use with potential repercussions regardless of the choice. See them experience the terror of shopping for clothes for the first time and not being able to figure out how to put an outfit together correctly at first, and the impossible search for cute shoes in a size 12! See them talk about these issues in therapy – finally seeing a Dr. and with shaking hands taking that first dose of hormones that will eventually transform much but not all of their body. I could go on – The agony of still being called “sir” on the telephone.
There are many experiences that we all share – then others where we split off. We are all different
There is no one role that defines us. Certainly not “Rayon.” But that’s OK. If the person depicted was me, I could imagine the hue & cry about how “I” don’t represent the community either. “She’s too boring” or “Not everybody is into THAT!”
Personally, I believe the frustration isn’t so much with Jared Leto, or this particular role, or an acceptance speech – it’s that we truly are so marginalized by society largely because for many people, the stereotypes are all they know of us. Plus, being tagged on to LGB makes as much sense as being tagged on to “MADD.” Trans interests are not the same as Gay interests. Politically, we need different things done and I value and appreciate every person, Gay or Straight that has stood by us as an ally. (We don’t always make that easy.) But one day soon, we are going to need to fight this fight on our own.
So please forgive the gnashing of teeth – none of this is Jared Leto’s fault. He’s a great actor and deserves his moment in the sun. Let’s not take that away from him. I don’t begrudge him and I am personally grateful for the discussion – I pray it is productive.
I don’t want an apology. I don’t want special privilege (equality would be nice) I don’t need my own movie or a Trans* actor in a particular role…
Mostly – what I want – is just to be understood.