This is an essay by Dana Beyer at the Huffington post, which I read twice, and which I confess does not really reach any conclusions nor really take any hard positions, but does cover a bit of ground and raises some things to think about. Most specifically:
The schism that is uncovered by this debate is between the gay male and trans female communities. It arose very recently in the wake of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor being given to Jared Leto for what was viewed by many as a very drag-queen-like portrayal of a trans woman, Rayon, in Dallas Buyers Club. These communities have never really been politically comfortable with one another, and some of that discomfort is now erupting publicly.
(The pedantic professor in me does object a bit to her relying upon Wikipedia as a reference for the etymology of “drag” and choosing what she refers to as a “folk etymology.” The earliest references to “drag” both appear in 1870 (Reynolds’s Newspaper and the London Figaro), and neither they nor the 1887 and 1927 references in the Referee and the Sunday Express respectively, let alone the other 7 historical references, make any reference to drag meaning “dressed as girl.” (source: Oxford English Dictionary). It is almost certainly an ex post facto acronym.)
Anti-Trans Slurs and Drag: Who Exactly Is Transgender, and Does It Matter? | Dana Beyer.
I confess I’m completely ignorant of this film. I never saw it, and on the advice of friends who were turned off by Leto’s performance, I never even wanted to see it. Time magazine is running an editorial which really casts the film in a damning light, especially with the revelation that the character of Rayon, the flighty transgender drug addict and AIDS victim, was created out of whole cloth for the film. Apparently so she can portray every single negative stereotype about us on the big screen.
What’s worse, more stereotyping is coming.
Hollywood has long found humor in aspects of transgenderism — be it simple cross-dressing or actual transexuality — and shows no signs of letting up. From “Some Like It Hot” to “Tootsie,” a guy in a dress is always deemed clever and funny. And the trend, if anything, shows signs of escalating from benign and misinformed to threatening. As Jos Truitt notes at feministing.com, the trailer for the upcoming film “Bad Words” shows Jason Bateman telling a young South Asian boy to shut his “curly hole.” That’s slang for female genitalia and allegedly funny for its callout to Thai lady-boys. Meanwhile, the “22 Jump Street” trailer doesn’t even cloak its transphobic “humor” in allusions, with characters cracking wise about the prison rape of trans women. These are the coming attractions, the parts the filmmakers or their marketing consultants think are the most enticing. “Most of the increased visibility trans women are getting in Hollywood right now is not a good thing — it’s cruel and it’s dangerous,” Truitt wrote.
Um…yeah. Hoo-ray for Hollywood, I, um guess?
Don’t Applaud Jared Leto’s Transgender ‘Mammy’ | TIME.com.
An essay from Playboy magazine, which overall is somewhat negative on Leto’s performance and the fact that no transwoman actress was chosen. I must say, at first blush the comments of Leto and Calpernia Addams sound reasonable:
“Do we need a molecular nano-biologist from Zaire to portray a molecular nano-biologist from Zaire?”
When applied on a general basis, this argument holds water, except in certain situations (it would be quite a stretch to have Drew Barrymore portray Memphis Minnie, for example). Unfortunately, due to the incredibly few transgender characters appearing in television, plays, and films, this general rule creates a chilling effect on the prospect of having any actual transgender actor or actress portray a transgender character. The same general arguments were used at one time to block Jews from portraying Jewish roles, and gays and lesbians from portraying those roles. So for now, we pretty much have Laverne Cox as the sole representative of a transperson portraying a trans character in a popular series. How unfortunate.
Should Jared Leto’s Dallas Buyer’s Club Performance Be Lauded or Loathed?.