J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell made history this week as the first nonbinary actors ever to be nominated for Tony Awards.
Nominees for the 2023 awards, which honor the best in Broadway theater, were announced Tuesday. Ghee is nominated in the category of Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for their role in the Broadway musical adaptation of Some Like It Hot. Newell got a nod for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for the new musical Shucked. Both shows are up for multiple awards, including Best Musical.
Ghee and Newell’s groundbreaking nominations come as the discourse around gendered performance categories in awards shows continues.
In recent years, high-profile entertainment awards shows — like the Grammys, the MTV Movie Awards, and the Independent Spirit Awards — have switched to gender-neutral performance categories. Others — like the Tonys, Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes — continue to divide performance nominations by gender, resulting in some out nonbinary actors being nominated in categories that don’t reflect their identities.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Newell submitted themself for consideration in the Best Actor category — which traditionally goes to male-identified performers — because they viewed the term “actor” as more gender-neutral. Newell noted that, unlike acting, there are no gendered terms for other professions like doctor or director.
Ghee said they refused to let the Tonys’ gendered categories define them.
“I’m always going to show up in the fullness of the human that I am and somebody else’s compartmentalization of that of me, doesn’t affect me,” they said. “So I’m just walking in my truth and standing tall in that. I was confident that wherever you put me I will rise to the occasion.”
Of their nomination, Newell said, “It’s a step in the right direction, because there are so many gender non-conforming and nonbinary performers that might not ever get to shine because of these gendered categories.”
Ghee agreed that their nomination is an honor. “I’m just honored that the work is speaking for itself and I’m so proud of the special show we’ve got going on at the Shubert,” they said.
But other performers feel differently.
Earlier this year, nonbinary actor Justin David Sullivan, a principal performer in the Tony-nominated jukebox musical & Juliet, announced that they were taking themself out of the running for this year’s Tony nominations, due to the awards’ gendered categories.
“I felt I had no choice but to abstain from being considered for a nomination this season,” Sullivan said in a February statement. “I hope that award shows across the industry will expand their reach to be able to honor and award people of all gender identities.”
The New York Times also reported that non-binary performer Asia Kate Dillon previously asked not to be considered in the gendered performance categories for their role in the 2022 Broadway production of Macbeth. And more recently, nonbinary Yellowjackets star Liv Hewson told Variety that they would not be submitting themself for Emmys consideration this year.
“There’s not a place for me in the acting categories,” Hewson said. “It would be inaccurate for me to submit myself as an actress. It neither makes sense for me to be lumped in with the boys. It’s quite straightforward and not that loaded. I can’t submit myself for this because there’s no space for me.”