Calpernia Addams on Acting, Trans, and Representation

Calpernia Addams – the “Callie Adams” Jared Leto thanked from the stage at the Oscars – wrote a piece about trans people, representation, and Hollywood that I think is worth reading.

Jared Leto was kind enough to mention me in his 2014 Independent Spirit Awards acceptance speech (as part of a typically “Jared” list of people involved in the film alongside random notable people) and next he really surprised me by thanking me in his Oscar acceptance speech.

As I’ve said before, my job was to sit down with him and answer lots of questions about what it’s like to be trans, and to make a recording of me reading his lines from the script. From there, Jared did Jared’s thing: a brilliant, eccentric artist created his own performance of a movie character. A movie character who happens to be some form of trans, in this case. Some of his follow up speeches left something to be desired when it came to speaking well on the issues facing his movie character, especially against the backdrops of current politics and social movements. I suppose it’s doubly rare to be a gifted artist AND a great political speaker. But personally, I thought Rayon seemed like a nice person and a real human being. I’ve known people like Rayon.

Anyone who’s followed my 11 years in Hollywood knows that I’ve always advocated for trans people to play trans roles. But I also refuse to shoot down powerful people who take steps to bring human trans portrayals to the screen, even if they are played by a non-trans female (Felicity Huffman in Transamerica, Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry) or a non-trans male (Lee Pace in Soldier’s Girl, Jared in Dallas Buyers Club). To all indications, Georges du Fresne was not a trans child when he played “Ludovic” in Ma Vie En Rose, but that incredible film continues to resonate with trans people and families of trans children. Good and important portrayals can come from non-trans actors. That may be an inconvenient truth, but there you have it.

Sure, I’d love to get these roles as an actress with a history of transition, or see them go to other trans actors. Heck, I’d love to play non-trans roles! But I’m not so short-sighted that I’ll destroy allies and advocates. Even less than perfect allies, if I think the overall contribution is beneficial. This is a view that comes from long actual experience and familiarity with the business. Some small but vocal groups will disagree; that’s just the nature of contentious issues. You can do your thing and I’ll do mine. There are many ways to contribute.

But beware: the same logic that leaves zero room for a non-trans actor to try a trans role will then be used to mandate that trans actors should not be able to play non-trans roles. And that would piss me off.

Leto’s “Rayon” is not the rock upon which I’d make my last stand concerning this issue. His performance is just an inspiration for this discussion. I advocate for positive portrayals and opportunities for trans people in the media. Some people are displeased that this particular portrayal, “Rayon”, is another trans sex worker role. Another trans addict role. Another trans “mystical advisor/comic relief” role. Another “trans person punished in the end” role. Those are indeed over represented portrayals, and I do want more balance… Soon! But I have known people like Rayon. She is not a made-up grab bag of random hateful attributes. She’s a portrayal of an uncomfortable segment of the trans experience that a few TLGB folks would rather be erased and not discussed. I think many of the haters hate Rayon because she isn’t beautiful, she isn’t passable, she isn’t gender binary, she isn’t 2014-political. And when I see that elitist hypocrisy, I’m inclined to push back and write essays like this.

It’s hard being trans, more so in the era and circumstances of Dallas Buyers Club. I’ve known plenty of trans sex workers, self-medicators, wise teachers, hilarious weirdos and people taken before their time due to violence and lack of healthcare. I’ve known trans people very much like Rayon, and maybe if some people got up from their remote-activism-devices (computer screens and smartphones) and left their ivory towers and privilege-bubbles, they’d meet a few people like Rayon face-to-face, too.

Then they could see that a human portrayal of this real segment of the trans community is a good thing. Even if it’s by a non-trans person.

Please do hire trans actors for ANY role, especially trans roles. But please don’t shoot trans people in the foot by attacking allies willing to open the door for us as we approach equality.

Sevigny’s Killer Role

So there’s a new series with a trans woman as killer heroine.

Expected criticisms?

  • they should have found a trans woman to play her
  • ugh, trans as killer is way overdone and so 80s

amongst others.

That said, to me it looks like she’s portrayed sympathetically, not demonized, which would be a vast improvement. Second, she looks like she could be a really interesting character.

Continue reading “Sevigny’s Killer Role”

The Bechdel Test

This article on women characters in movies – skip to the end – is very funny. I think her Ethereal Weirdo is my favorite, although I will admit to having women like her. They’re usually stoners. I’ve always thought of her as the Cortazar Hopscotch fantasy woman, because I dated a guy who actually admitted, out loud, that he fell in love with the woman in that novel when he read it.

This girl can’t be pinned down and may or may not show up when you make concrete plans with her. She wears gauzy blouses and braids. She likes to dance in the rain and she weeps uncontrollably if she sees a sign for a missing dog or cat. She might spin a globe, place her finger on a random spot, and decide to move there. The Ethereal Weirdo appears a lot in movies, but nowhere else. If she were from real life, people would think she was a homeless woman and would cross the street to avoid her. But she is essential to the male fantasy that even if a guy is boring he deserves a woman who will find him fascinating and perk up his dreary life by forcing him to go skinny-dipping in a stranger’s pool.

But no post about women in film is complete without Bechdel’s Test for Women in Movies:

Some days it’s hard to come up with any that do pass the test. Help me out, readers?

Incipito Inception

Inception is a cool, cool movie – meaty enough for someone who prefers novels – there are moments you actually feel lost in its world(s) – and yet has all sorts of chase scenes, gun battles, & explosions.

Six Degrees of Buster Keaton: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a fan, and there are moments that’s very apparent.

Fans of Twilight Zone, or District 9, or the now-mostly-forgotten Zentropa will like it, if not love it. & Honestly, it’s the only movie I’ve seen where everyone is attractive or talented or both.

& Six Degrees of Trans: Cillian Murphy played Kitten Braden in Breakfast on Pluto.

Aeneas Keaton

He’s got a Buster Keaton thing going on, doesn’t he? I think so, but then I’m a big fan of Buster and of Aeneas. He is not so slothful that all he does is rest himself on the slope – he does, also, sharpen his claws on it.

Ashley Altadonna

When we were in Milwaukee, we were interviewed for a documentary called Making the Cut. I’m told Julia Serano was, too, when she was there recently as well. The film is being made by a young woman who is trying various ways to raise funds for her own genital surgery, and is in the process raising awareness about the financial issues behind changing genders legally.

Worthy project, no? On top of that, she’s made some other cool films. To help her out, you can make a donation via PayPal via her website, or you can buy another cool short film of hers, or you can pass this message on via Facebook or other social networking sites.

Trans Couples Talk

This is the text of the talk I gave at the Liberty Conference on May 2nd, 2009:

How We Love You: Let Us Count the Ways

There are partners who are male, female, and trans; there are partners who met their trans person before the trans person knew what was going on; there are partners who married crossdressers who had sworn off crossdressing who purged and then dressed and then purged and then dressed again; there are partners who met their husbands crossdressed; there are partners who met their trans person during transition; there are partners who met their trans person long after transition; there are partners who didn’t know their trans person was trans when they met.

You, the individuals who are in love, were in love, who are seeking companionship and partnership and occasionally a good spanking, are said to be like snowflakes. Flawless Mother Sabrina told me that one night at the now defunct Ina’s Silver Swan, and she was right. Each of your stories is unique, even when there are similarities; each of you realizes your transness, as I like to call it, in a different way: some crossdress, others do drag, others transition. Some do all three, and others – none of these, but you express your genders in some other way. But you have your stories, your characters in movies, even if and when they are comically or tragically or unfairly drawn, but those you love have – well, we’ve got a machete and a spot on the edge of the wood we mean to get through.

Continue reading “Trans Couples Talk”