More than a decade ago, the most talented actor I’ve ever known gave up acting. She needed to transition, and her acting career was the hardest thing she had to give up, but she didn’t want to be a pony show, a novelty, gag casting. She had played so many amazing roles – Henry V, Algernon, The Chocolate Cream Soldier, even Larry Foreman – and despite what people think about acting, playing men on stage requires a lot of gender. She couldn’t grow her nails or her hair or go on hormones that would change her face or physique too much. She squeaked by for a few years by starting her own theatre company with friends and colleagues, and without much of a thought, came out as trans in The New York Times while doing so.
(Honestly, I still remember when she came home from doing the photo and interview for the story, because I remember saying, “You did what?” “I came out.” “In The Times?” “Well I figured since your book is in Walmart, how much more out could I get?” Turns out: quite a lot more.)
So when Jeffrey Tambor said this at the Emmys last night, I thought two things: I am glad things are changing so that people like my wife don’t feel that they have to give up their careers in order to be who they are.
Now, listen to me. … I’m not going to say this beautifully. But to you people out there, you producers and network owners, and agents, and you creative sparks, please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story. Do that. And also, one more thing: I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television. We have work to do. I love you.
I also thought: those of us who come to work with you and know your stories almost always become your biggest supporters, and that doesn’t surprise me even a little.
We have been lucky and willing to leap: so much so that she took a part in a film this past year, and finally, after years of not going to see theatre and really trying hard not to think about acting at all, she is back to knowing that she is better at acting than at everything else.
I’ll add another thing: when I first wrote my books, a lot of people thought I should sell the rights, but often that came with my own suspicions about letting anyone else tell our story. We knew what it was like to deal with TV producers who wanted to cast us as tragic, and we were rejected by Oprah for being a little too urban and a little too weird. And we wanted our story told not by people who would see us as foolish or crazy or sex-crazed but only by people who would tell the story itself, not sell us as exotic or exploit us. So of course we didn’t sell the film rights – how could we, in the environment that existed a decade ago? So that other piece that Tambor said, about letting trans people have their stories, is as important a part of what he said as the piece about actors. There is a reason that the best media – print, film, video – has trans people and trans family members involved.
These are good stories, and we are good storytellers, and it’s about fucking time that someone paid some attention to that.