The outcry against Rayon in Dallas Buyer’s Club is less about Jared Leto playing a trans woman, and more about an industry where Rayon is the only trans woman allowed to exist.
BY Parker Marie Molloy
March 10 2014
Last week, Calpernia Addams wrote an op-ed for this publication regarding Jared Leto’s portrayal of transgender woman Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club. Addams, a trans woman who coached Leto on his portrayal in the Oscar-winning film, suggested that cisgender (nontrans) actors should be able to play trans roles, so long as they’re the most qualified person for the job.
In doing this, Addams, like so many others, understates the frustration many trans people have with Leto’s portrayal; It’s not simply that he was a cis actor playing a trans role — but that he was a cis actor playing the same trans role the world has seen a hundred times before.
Addams, herself, represents a very specific type of trans woman. She’s a showgirl and she often refers to herself as a transsexual. There’s nothing wrong with individuals like Addams, just as there isn’t anything wrong with “the Rayons of the world.” What is wrong is that transgender individuals — specifically transgender women — are almost always portrayed as this particular type of trans woman.
But I ask you to really think: when was the last time anyone saw a transgender woman portrayed on-screen as a T-shirt and jeans-wearing, makeup-free accountant? Or how about as an advertising executive, or maybe a doctor?
The overwhelming majority of portrayals of trans women paint us as one of three tropes: a sex worker, a deceptive “trap” for heterosexual men, or as a dead body on Law & Order or CSI. Occasionally, just for laughs, a film or TV show will take the “ridiculous trans woman” route, and put a burly man in a dress so others can ridicule the character.