Equity, the actors’ union of the UK, has issued a guidance directed toward entertainment industry professionals that work with LGBTQ+ performers, that calls for casting directors to cast more trans actors in cis roles. The guidance states that some trans actors are better suited to playing cis characters than trans characters.
In the guidance issued Monday, Equity states, “The fact that [a performer] is trans may be completely invisible in the role or production, but it powerfully represents diversity in the industry. This ‘invisible’ diversity is just as important as more physically recognisable forms of diversity.”
The guidance goes on to say, “It is hard for trans actors to build a career out of the very small amount of trans-specific roles if these are the only roles for which they are actively sought.”
Even with the very small amount of trans-specific roles available, these roles are also often played by cisgender actors. Some of these roles have included Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl, and Felicity Huffman in Transamerica. The casting of Scarlett Johansson as a trans man in the film Rub & Tug received a flood of outrage, and resulted in her quitting the role.
Tigger Blaize, the vice-chair of Equity’s LGBT+ committee, stated at a National Theatre launch event for the Equity guidance that it was designed to “help you to help us”.
“We don’t want to bash anyone,” he said. “This is a new area to many and it’s OK to make mistakes.”
Equity’s guidance declares that it should be standard practice in the entertainment industry for people to introduce themselves with both their name and pronouns. It also advises asking performers what their pronouns are rather than assuming.
“If you make a mistake, apologise, correct and move on. No dramas,” the guidance reads.
One trans actor, Harrison Knights, has stated that he sometimes struggled to get parts playing trans characters because he has a beard and a low voice, “which they’re not expecting”.
Knights also added that all roles are assumed to be cis by default: “An unnamed drug addict on Casualty, we assume he’s cis. A trainee barrister on Silk, we assume she’s cis. In fact, we assume everyone is cis unless told otherwise.”
“It is not until [trans actors] are being cast in major cis roles because we are the best actors for the role, rather than because we tick a box, that we will have truly arrived,” he said.
Blaize, who has played both male and female roles in a career that spans over 15 years, said he hoped the guidance would be useful.
“We are in the middle of a really horrible media storm of misinformation about us,” he said.
“There are horrible stories coming out from hate groups and we need some positive representation.”