Potential unpopular opinion, but it needs to be said.
All of the Gleeks on Tumblr will probably be really excited about this, but I’m not. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t dislike the show by any means. What I dislike is cissexism.
I would prefer to get the derailing out of the way ahead of time, since people are going to do is anyway:
Ira, it’s better than nothing.
Because a blade of grass is better than no food at all! Except, wait, it’s not really food, not for me at least. I’ll explain more later.
It’s called acting. You don’t have to be the same person as the character. That’s the whole point.
Yes, because cisgender people are primarily played by folks of other genders in drag.
You’re too sensitive.
This is has nothing to do with hurt feelings.
What about Boys Don’t Cry and Transamerica? They were good movies.
A movie can be moving and entertaining while simultaneously perpetuating cissexism.
I’m trans*, and I love Glee. I am single-handedly the voice of trans* people and give Glee the stamp of trans* approval!
That’s cute. You’re an individual, not an ambassador, and your internalized cissexism is sincerely sad.
When was the last time you saw a cisgender person in modern, mainstream media being played by a trans* person? Never? Me neither. How many trans* people do you see in mainstream media anyway? Practically none. The only time we really are in mainstream media is for the purpose of being publicly interrogated to educate the masses of cisgender people who will continue on using the wrong pronouns thanks to all of the narrators and talk show hosts who refuse to properly gender people. Trans women are objectified in the porn industry and made out to be predators by the news, emasculating cisgender male rapists everywhere. Trans men are portrayed as lesbians with penis envy. Again, we’re predators taking advantage of straight women and coercing them into lesbian relationships.
Then, opportunities for good, positive scripts focusing on trans* people arise, and we take away any positivity that a real trans* person may garner from the experience publicly and replace them with a cis person in drag just in case. We then make sure that the character goes through a terribly tragic experience or set of experiences. We focus on the violence committed against trans* people without questioning why it occurs, because the narrative still portrays us as predators in disguise. So when we do get raped, murdered, assaulted, etc., no one stops to think about how this is institutional. They stop and say, “Well, they were asking for it.” On top of all that, let’s not forget that non-binary folks don’t even exist apparently.
So, no, I’m not happy about this news. I’m incredibly frustrated to be honest as if I hadn’t conveyed that by this point. This blog is called Deconstructing Glee, and this posts deconstructs nothing and reinforces cissexist norms in the television and film industries.
Furthermore, as for Alex Newell himself, there is something disturbing to me about being excited to be able to put on the mask of oppression. You lose no privilege. You experience zero marginalization, and cisgender and heterosexual assimilationists who claim to represent me and my people (not that I own or represent trans* people, but I hope you know what I mean) applaud the appropriation of the struggles of trans* folks, specifically trans women as if it’s some form of progress. It’s not. It’s a slap in the face.
So yeah, I get told off a bit (it isn’t the first time) and that’s cool. One of the things I love about the internet is getting to hear from people I wouldn’t have a chance to otherwise. I don’t learn when you all agree with me. (that’s not true; I learn every time you smart people say anything). I have asked and received permission to discuss his response over here.
I disagree with a lot in this — for instance, I’d agree that actors simply have to be actors, and not the character they are playing. There are appearance related complications to this, obviously. (Perceived) Race, gender, etc all play into casting. I strongly believe straight people can play gay and, likewise, gay people can play straight. I also know that shows who have gay people on the cast do seem to “get it” better than those who do not. In that way, I recognise that it would certainly be helpful to have a few trans people around any production that features a trans character.
I would love to see more trans people on television, but the whole idea that we have to know an actor is trans strikes me as super problematic. Isn’t it still relatively uncommon to be “out” as trans (long term)?
And really, my money is on Glee never, ever having anything like a trans or genderqueer character (for so, so many reasons). I would love to be wrong and I like that we’re finally hearing from someone on the cast who finds that a meaningful avenue to explore.
PS: Might be worth popping over to Ira’s very interesting blog and having a read. He’s also looking for donations so go have a look.