Again with the transface, Hollywood? Matt Bomer booed for ‘playing’ trans

Again with the transface, Hollywood? Matt Bomer booed for ‘playing’ trans
Hollywood’s bible, Variety, broke the news this week of a new “transgender drama” that’s just wrapped production, a film starring award-winning out actor Matt Bomer. He will appear alongside John Carroll Lynch, Mark Ruffalo and Maura Tierney, among others, in Anything. The movie is based on the play of the same name, written by and starring Timothy McNeil, who is making his feature film directorial debut. RELATED: Mark Ruffalo responds to transgender community complaints. Click here. Bomer plays Freda Von Rhenberg, the trans prostitute next door. And that detail triggered an eruption on Twitter and in the LGBTQ media.
Yes, once again, a trans woman in a Hollywood production will be played by a cisgender (which means, not transgender) actor. The all-too common industry practice has been dubbed “transface,” following award-winning performances by Jared Leto, Jeffrey Tambor, Hillary Swank, John Lithgow and so many more. What makes it especially hurtful, in the words of Jen Richards, one of the stars of the Emmy-nominated web series, Her Story, is the kind of trans woman he’s playing.
Richards, the out trans writer, actress, producer and activist who cofounded the Trans100, revealed she had tried out for a part in the film.
While agreeing with the Hollywood concept that “anyone can play anyone,” Richards tweeted what she believes a trans actor would bring to the role that a cis actor cannot fake.

For his part, Bomer — or whoever manages his Twitter account — apparently decided enough was enough, according to Sense8 actress Jamie Clayton, who is herself trans.

You’ve seen Bomer, who came out in 2012, in the Magic Mike movies, and TV’s The Normal Heart, for which he won a Golden Globe and co-starred with Ruffalo. Bomer turned activist last fall, joining Michael Sam in recording videos for the Human Rights Campaign to support antidiscrimination laws. So he’s gay, but… well, you do realize, Hollywood, that being gay is not the same thing as being trans, right? And what does he know about sex workers who are transgender (not “transgendered,” Variety)?

For that matter, what does the director who wrote the play this movie is based on know about being trans or prostitution, having to sell your body to survive? We don’t know.

McNeil is the straight cisgender actor and writer who you may have seen (if you didn’t blink) in Contact, Starship Troopers and Forrest Gump — McNeil played the “Have a Nice Day” tee-shirt designer as well as in episodes of popular television shows from House (“patient #2) to Star Trek: Voyager (miner #2). Neither he nor Bomer appear to have any credits on IMDB that might suggest experience with trans roles, except Anything. 

When the play opened in 2007 in Los Angeles community theater, one reviewer repeatedly referred to the character Bomer will play as a “transvestite.” One can only hope that this was the critic’s own, dated and skewed misunderstanding. There’s a huge difference between a man who seeks a sexual thrill and the men and women who yearn to live authentically, and set right a mismatch between their bodies and their brains.

That’s a difference a transgender actor knows better than anyone, a feeling that truly is unlike… anything.

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