Question: Trans actors, can you hear me?

A reader asks…

Being conventially feminine makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’m afraid that if I decide to act on my trans tendencies and present a more masculine face to the world, I won’t be able to keep my place in the acting community.

Most theater, the theater that I love, is so binary– the character is either male or female. There’s the occasional exception, but I can’t imagine being regularly cast if my gender expression doesn’t match my physical body. How many trans/genderqueer actors have made it out there?

Please post your response in the comments below.

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Posted by on February 21st, 2010 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 12 comments »

12 Responses to “Question: Trans actors, can you hear me?”

  1. Anonymous

    Well, I have a little inspiration for you that just might help.
    I’m still in high school, and I don’t belong to any theater group, but I did recently ask my Drama teacher if I could be tossed into Drama Club’s production of Singin’ In The Rain. I asked at a convenient time, because luckily, due to some complications, two characters now had no actor. Thus, out of nowhere, I was granted a speaking part.

    However, the role is Rod, a rather minor, male character but still with some significance. Mrs. B asked me if I would like to change Rod to a female character, change the name, etc. I told her no. I wanted to play a male on the stage, like I did in 6th grade. Hey, I played Long John Silver in Treasure Island. I got the role over all the dudes. I think I can handle this.

    This is really only amazing because of one large factor: I go to a small country school. Literally, 98% of the population is white. There are maybe 3-4 openly gay or bisexual kids. As far as I know, I’m the only genderqueer, and I’m not even completely out yet. And the queers that are out get a lot of shit behind their backs. It isn’t exactly a diversity friendly environment.

    But you know what?
    I still got casted as a male.
    And the only person that has an issue with it is my Mum.
    Everyone else, even in such a tiny, monotone school?
    Hey, they’re proud of me, and happy to have another Rod on board.

    I hope this helped.
    P.S. I plan to make Rod a slightly androgynous character, too. But shhh…Don’t tell anyone yet.


  2. Jack

    I just finished a run as Viola in Twelfth Night – an androface playing a girl who’s playing a man, go figure – but I’ve also played Hamlet, a male photographer in a Tina Howe play, and Catherine in Arms and the Man in recent years. My best advice is that you be open and honest with your director about your range; you don’t have to out yourself or be obnoxious about it, but most people automatically assume that actors only play roles that match up with their physical sex. At an audition, read for an opposite-sexed role or, if you’re on good terms with the director, specify the sex you feel like playing. I wouldn’t outright say that you will only play one gender or another because directors normally like versatility (unless you’re trans, perhaps, and want or need the experience in a particular-gender-role), but just let them know that you’re open and eager to gender-bending either by telling them straight up or insisting as much via the text you read or the part you audition for.

    If you want to be a movie star, well, things are starting to open up somewhat for transpeople and the like, but I’ve found the theatre world is very open to queerfolk, particularly in cities. Don’t despair! When you’ve got a part, you make it your own regardless of sex, and professional theatre only gets more open and ambiguous to the idea of gender-bending. There are loads of opportunities out there, honestly – don’t be fooled by ‘woman’ or ‘man’ on the character bios printed in the first pages of plays.


  3. Luke

    I know exactly how you feel! I have the same problem. Sometimes you just have to push it. When I was in high school I refused to let my teacher put me in female roles. I was usually an androgenous or male role. My teacher and I were both very stubborn, but I got my way quite a bit.
    Although, I really dont know how to deal with it when it comes to acting for the camera (since that’s what I want to do) since those characters are even more binary than stage.


  4. Barley

    I agree, it’s so frustrating.

    At my school the girls try out and the boys try out in two separate groups, but our theater director has a lot of fun.

    Girls play boy parts and boys play girls quite frequently. It’s only awkward if they’re not committed. If you’re good for the part, you deserve it, regardless of gender.

    Unfortunately, it takes effort to get people to let you cross the line.


  5. James

    A few years ago I went to a production (UK) of Chicago which was AWESOME, and the character of Mama Morton was played by a non-gender specific person – in the biography they were only referred to by name and not a third person pronoun. Of course, this part was played by Queen Latifah in the movie, and currently is being played by a female in the UK version. I think it doesn’t matter about the sex of the actor – just the ability to embody the character’s spirit. The whole point of drama is to reinterpret someone else’s vision – don’t be afraid and keep going. Drama is art and art is your interpretation.


  6. Gene

    I haven’t ‘made it’ exactly. Most of the work I’ve done has been amateur stuff, but I’ve played male and female characters, and nobody seems to mind. I was even in the Vagina Monologues. Which was kind of weird, but hey, I have a vagina.


  7. Mercury Mars

    watch Butch Jamie.


  8. Mak

    You should read some Eddie Izzard interviews. He’s not trans identified or even genderqueer, but he’s a transvestite who has found that it’s easy for him to do his comedy routines in drag, but that he has to show up in “boy mode” to acting auditions or they’ll assume that he can’t play anything but drag queens. That said, he’s had a fair bit of success in films- you might find his thoughts on how to balance alternative gender presentation with an acting career helpful.


  9. Rin

    I’m bigendered, and I have a lot of trouble in my theatre department when I try to present as a guy. The department head really doesn’t believe in cross-gender casting. On the other hand, my brother is trans, and they only let him play male roles. So while they’re not so understanding of genderbending yet, they’ll at least let people decide what gender they are to start with.

    This is college theatre, though. The graduate program at my school does cross-gender casting sometimes, and so does the professional theatre they work with. I’m also in a smallish town; I imagine it’s better in bigger cities. (And if all else fails, I’m starting my own company, where I -know- we’ll have gender-blind casting.)

    So what I mean is, go for it. You’ll have to gauge your presentation depending on who and what you’re auditioning for, but hey, you have to do that for auditions anyway.


  10. Cazzie

    I know what you mean. I love acting because it let’s me be someone else for awhile and forget my problems, but I often wonder if being genderqueer may prohibit me from fully exploring an acting career. I’m afraid people would think I was a freak or a snob or make me the butt of their jokes because of my gender identity and because I wouldn’t be able to say if I’m a boy or a girl. But, if you have talent as an actor and can ind a group that is accepting of you playing all kinds of roles, you can probably make it. I dunno, I don’t have very good advice, but I hope it helps a little at least.


  11. Shaan

    Some of these people have been in theatre, some in movies, and some on internationally broadcast television series.

    Don’t let being you stop you from doing what you want to do.


  12. Kassie

    I am a theatre major at the University of North Texas currently. We did a production of “The Misanthrope” last fall and many of the roles were played very androgynous, the male characters dressed as women, etc. We don’t do much gender-blind casting but the directors won’t, not put you in a role if you are physical different than the character. I am a more boy-type female and I am currently cast in a musical called “Ghetto” which is about the Holocaust and World War two. I will be playing a prostitute, and later on in the show I will be getting my head shaved on-stage. I am open to all roles, female or male, and that helps because acting is acting, and my personal belief is that you are portraying someone else and telling their story. Of course only go as far as you are comfortable but as stated previously directors love versatility. I also played Dr. Sure, who is male, in my High School’s production of Auntie Mame. I loved it. It is always possible and there is always hope. There is a part for you out there you just have to keep looking and trying! Theatre can be brutal but if you have the passion, it’s always worth it! Don’t let set-backs or being the person you love being stop you from doing what you love!


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