Tuesday, March 24, 2009

why can't a transwoman be played by a man?

I read here that actresses will play transwomen in an upcoming film titled K-11. Not long ago, I read that Nicole Kidman will play a transwoman in another upcoming film titled The Danish Girl.

This is a pet peeve of mine and I have complained about this before, so here I go again: Why does the movie industry prefer to cast women in the roles of transwomen?

Ideally, transwomen should play transwomen, but since there is a dearth of transwomen film actresses, the next best choice is to have male actors playing transwomen. Women playing transwomen should be the last choice.

Males playing transwomen are more realistic than females playing transwomen. Compare the average transwoman to the average female film actress and there is a noticeable discrepancy. On the other hand, compare the average transwoman to the average male film actor and the discrepancy is not so much.

Sure, Nicole Kidman is tall, but except for height, how many transwomen resemble Ms. Kidman?

(When I complained about this before, I got Felicity Huffman in Transamerica thrown back at me as an example of a successful portrayal of a transwoman by an actress. I agree that Ms. Huffman was excellent in that role and the audience was able to buy into her being a male-to-female transsexual, but I think that Ms. Huffman's success was an exception.)

In those instances where male actors play transwomen, the males have done a very credible job. I offer two films that in my humble opinion are probably the best examples of males playing transwomen:

Soldier's Girl, a true story in which actor Lee Pace's portrayal of transwoman Calpernia Addams was excellent.

Transfixed, a fictional account about transsexuals in Belgium doing what T-girls have to do in order to get by. Robinson Stévenin (above) leads a cast of males playing transwomen and they all do an excellent job. (This is a foreign film, but it is well worth watching with English sub-titles.)

And so it goes.


  1. And Steven Mackintosh in Different for Girls, and David Dencik in En Soap.

    "Why does the movie industry prefer to cast women in the roles of transwomen?"

    I guess because they see such films merely in terms of vehicles for their stars.

  2. In "A Girl Like Me", Gwen Araujo was also played by a male actor. As far as transsexual actresses go, I can think of Calpernia Addams and Candace Cayne right off the top of my head.... and both of them are quite feminine and attractive.

    As for Felicity Huffman's portrayal, I found it to be a bit too stereotyped... I found it quite difficult to relate to her character. But then that's just me.

  3. I must agree that it would be better if the film industry used male actors or real transgendered actors to play transgender roles. I loved Cillian Murphy in Breakfast on Pluto. OK that was portraying a crossdresser, but the degree of 'Femulation' was excellent (IMHO) :-)

  4. Yes, amen, Angel! It's not that there's a dearth of talented transsexual actresses, it's that we never get to see them because they are so rarely cast! I think it's that producers assume mainstream audiences will find a genetic female more palatable... I think they're underestimating the American audience, though. Well, hang on. I think the tide is about to turn in a very big way...

  5. I enjoyed John Lithgow's portrayal of Roberta Muldoon in "The World According to Garp".

  6. Candis Cayne plays a trans character on "Dirty Sexy Money", which hasn't been on TV in a while, another casualty of the Writers Strike, I think. She played another trans character in a one-off appearance on "CSI: NY" (Her character was murdered, natch). The trans teenage character on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" last month was played by a boy.

  7. Jaye Schmus: You hit upon my pet peeve about transgendered characters: They're usually portrayed as murder victims or sex workers. When they're portrayed as the former, there's the implication that they were the latter and therefore had it "coming to them."

    I, too, didn't buy Felicity Huffmann's characterization. Then again, Transamerica didn't have the best-written script, so I don't think the character was credibly written.

    In case anyone's interested, I have a blog in which I document the year leading up to my gender reassignment surgery, which is scheduled for 7 July. Here's the link: http://transwomantimes.blogspot.com/

    Have a great day!

  8. Transwomen are a type of woman... It only makes sense that they would have women actors play women roles. It's like if you had a character who was a Hispanic female and you got an ethnic looking white woman with dark hair to play her... would the casting choice be better if you put a male Hispanic actor in the role? I mean he's Hispanic so he looks more the ethnicity he needs to portray.
    Also this pigeonholes trans actresses to where they can only play trans roles.
    Conclusion Women play women doesn't matter their background they will do a better job than a man.

  9. AnonymousMay 09, 2011

    Wow, ok having men play the role of a trans-women (emphasis on the women)is actually a big issue for trans-women. Yes true ideally a the part should be given to a trans-woman but when that is not possible it should defiantly be played by a women. Not only does it insult the identity of trans-women to imply that they are more like men it physically is just not true. My partner is trans and when people learn of this they are shocked because she looks so unquestionably female. Post hormone treatment, Trans women have female hormones, fat distribution, and breasts. My partner is also NOT an exception. Through her I was able to meet many other trans women who look undoubtedly female without any makeup or feminine clothing.

  10. lotsa greenJuly 29, 2011

    She can defenitely play a transwoman..she was so gorgeous as Gabriel in the film Constantin with Keannu Reeves