In the grand Hollywood tradition of “brave” white actors taking on “daring” roles as people of color (we’re looking at you Natalie Wood and Mickey Rooney) comes a new phenomenon: transface. The latest example of this shameless practice of having a cisgender man play the role of a trans woman is gay actor Matt Bomer in Mark Ruffalo’s upcoming film Anything. Bomer follows in the recent footsteps of Jared Leto, Eddie Redmayne, and Jeffrey Tambor, all of whom have been lauded or awarded for their acting bravery. Not that the shoe is any better on the other foot, with Felicity Huffman and Hillary Swank in their daring roles as trans men.
Bomer plays a transgender sex worker (of course she’s a sex worker, right?) in the film adaptation of a play by Timothy McNeil being produced by Ruffalo. That Anything was also written by a cisgender man shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. For his part, Ruffalo claims that stories such as these surpass their injustice against the trans community.
“I’m very happy to be part of this daring project,” said Ruffalo. “Love is at the essence of great storytelling and transcends all discrimination and politicization.”
While it certainly is a step in the right direction for Hollywood to feature more trans protagonists in the stories they tell, Sense8 actress Jamie Clayton was having none of Bomer’s casting being called daring.
“I really hope you both choose to do some actual good for the trans community one day,” said Clayton via Twitter.
Clayton is a well know trans actress playing the role of a trans person in a television show being produced by a pair of trans sisters, so she should know or thing or two about transcending discrimination.
Trans Hollywood, a professional group working to change entertainment culture with trans representation in comedy, performance, film, and TV, also took to Twitter to chide Bomer and Ruffalo, saying they “should be ashamed of mining trans cultural stories, bodies, and voices without us.”
Bomer, thus far, has not commented on the controversy, other than to block, and then unblock Clayton on Twitter. For Bomer, a member of the LGBTQ community himself, to take on a role such as this, shows a surprising lack of sensitivity when it comes to discrimination. In a Hollywood that is still struggling to come to terms with out gay and lesbian actors, taking the role of a tran woman is essential robbing a trans actress of an opportunity for work when such opportunities are few and far between.