Alright, so I seem to arrive pretty late to trends. This blog post is no exception.
At the Oscars this year, the Dallas Buyers Club swept like crazy. I didn’t see it for really only one reason, I’m not a Matthew McConaughey fan, and honestly, an addiction to 30 Seconds to Mars as a teenager had me ashamed I’d ever liked Jared Leto. Seriously, that’s it. I tend to have petty tastes and not let things go. I honestly had no idea what the plot was about, but I assumed it had something to do with cowboys, and I assumed Leto would be blonde. As news about the movie started coming out, I found myself thinking that the movie was about being someone that is trans.
The Time magazine article that focused and managed to condense most of the debate can be found here: http://time.com/10650/dont-applaud-jared-letos-transgender-mammy/
Many different opinions were stated, threats were thrown, and everyone generally wanted to get in on talking about Jared Leto portraying a “trans” woman in a movie. Some people applauded him, some people said it was too risque. Well, I’m here to tell you it was neither of those things because the definition of transgender is never given in the movie.
Someone who identifies as transgender knows that the definition is constantly changing. This is something that needs to be respected. As someone who has identified with the gender that they were assigned at birth I am in a constant tizzy over whether or not I may offend one of my amazing friends who are trans. What if I use the wrong word? What if I say the wrong thing? Here’s the great thing about it – you can just ask someone who is trans and they are more than likely willing to talk about it!
The problem with Dallas Buyers Club is not that it features a trans woman, it’s that the trans woman is never given any depth. We meet the character of Rayon when our protagonist, Ron Woodruff, is in the hospital because he’s nearly killed himself by overdosing on AZT. The character is presented in a robe, makeup, and with a southern drawl that is predominately female. There is no mention in the movie of how this character feels about who they are other than one scene where Ron threatens to shoot of Rayon’s dick to “speed up that sex change operation you’ve been wanting.” while the two are arguing. The other scene is when Rayon is admiring a woman’s breasts in a bar, saying how great they would look if Rayon had them. She tips the waitress extra and says, “Keep it honey, you deserve it.” What? Instead of showing us someone who may have anxieties regarding gender-identity, or someone who has made the choice to transition we are presented with a man in a dress admiring a woman’s tits at a bar. This is not where we want to be.
One of the biggest questions asked in the Rayon debate is: why not have a trans actor portray Rayon? This would have brought a lot of power to the role, showing someone who knows what it’s like to be outside of the normal “male or female” check-boxes and how it feels to want to be one different than what you may have been at birth. Some have commented on the lack of trans actors in Hollywood. Uh, what? I refuse to believe that is an option considering the current cover of Time magazine is the beautiful Laverne Cox, transgender actress and an extremely prominent LGBT activist. (If you don’t know who she is… look her up. She’ll make you proud of humans.) This just takes the point that there is not enough talk in Hollywood, movies, or any kind of media about what it means to be trans. Dallas Buyers Club, in no way, can serve as an example of what it means to be trans.
In addition, the whole debate over Jared Leto took away from what the movie was actually about – the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. This movie should have given us more insight into how we’ve come to know more about the virus and give information onto how it’s currently being worked with to find a cure. The issue is dwarfed by the fact that everyone only wants to talk about if Jared Leto was appropriate for a role. The AIDS epidemic is something that needs to be talks about. We need to remember where we are coming from to get where we’re going. By allowing the movie to only become something that is talked abut because of a character and not the message behind it, we are doing a disservice to representing that character accurately AND not promoting the knowledge of where we’ve come from regarding the HIV/AIDS virus in just a few decades.
I think we should be glad that Leto exposes parts of cinema we may not have thought about before, namely the fact that there are transgender actors and actresses. That people are constantly changing and can change, which is a beautiful thing. Leto is not out to be some trans activist, in fact I imagine he’s sitting in his dark eyeliner and giggling as he looks at his Oscar. That doesn’t mean we should shun him for taking the role, or be so willing to jump to arms about it. How about, instead, we focus on the movie, what we can take from it and, in addition, how we can better serve trans actors or actresses, as well as represent the trans community in film.