Transgender representation has made rapid leaps and bounds in the past decade. According to GLAAD’s annual Where We Are On TV report, the number of trans characters on TV jumped from 26 to 38 from 2018 to 2019 alone. But Hollywood still has a long way to go, according to Equal star Jamie Clayton.
Clayton, who portrays Christine Jorgenson in the new HBO Max series, offered her own observations on the evolution of LGBTQ+ representation as a transgender woman who has been acting for over a decade.
“The only difference between a trans character and a cis character is that cis characters aren’t bogged down in language and dialogue about their gender identity,” Clayton told the U.K. LGBTQ+ magazine Gay Times. “So in actuality, on any show that you love, any character could be trans if you want them to be.”
Clayton cited Monica Gellar from Friends, played by Courteney Cox, as an example of a character who could easily be transgender with almost no necessary changes to the script. She added that Monica is her “favorite and I love her.” (Funnily enough, Friends has been repeatedly criticized for its transphobia, so perhaps such a headcanon can be seen as a reclamatory act?)
Clayton also discussed the limits of depicting LGBTQ+ history, shading 2015’s Stonewall (which has a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, honestly too high) in the process.
“There’s all this revisionist history, where there was a movie made where a white guy threw the brick,” she said, a nod to the fact that the 1969 riots were led by trans women of color. “We don’t even know how to tell our own stories correctly! Give me a break.”
The actress, who has also appeared in Sense8 and The L Word: Generations pointed out that pre-Stonewall queer history is rarely told, and that “hardly anyone” she knows had even heard of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, a pivotal moment in LGBTQ+ history that occurred in San Francisco in 1966, three years before Stonewall.
“We didn’t just start fighting at Stonewall,” she said. “We’ve been fighting for a really, really, really long time, just for the rights to walk down the street and hold the hand of the person that we love and go to the doctor and not be discriminated against.”
Equal, a four-part docuseries, focuses primarily on pre-Stonewall history, from the early gay and lesbian groups like the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis to the aforementioned Compton’s Cafeteria riots. It was produced by Jim Parsons, an out gay man who recently appeared in Netflix’s Boys in the Band remake, and directed by Kimberly Reed, a trans woman and producer of the documentary Transhood.
Clayton stated that she “loved” working with the predominantly queer production team and thought they were “doing this right” when they reached out to her to offer her the role of Jorgensen, who became famous in the 1950s for being one of the first known women in the United States to have gender confirmation surgery.
But Clayton said that the real challenge in trans representation is to expand opportunities for trans actors, stating that “every actor should be able to play any kind of role.”
Clayton has been vocal about this particular issue for years now, slamming Scarlett Johansson in 2018 for accepting a role as trans man Dante “Tex” Gill in Rub & Tug, which chronicles the little-known story of his rise as a crime boss in 1970s Pittsburgh. After Johansson pulled out following backlash, it was announced earlier this year that the project is being reimagined as a TV series, for which trans TV writer Our Lady J has been tapped to write.
“Actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS,” Clayton tweeted at the time. “THATS THE REAL ISSUE. WE CANT EVEN GET IN THE ROOM. Cast actors WHO ARE TRANS as NON TRANS CHARACTERS. I DARE YOU.”
But as Clayton told Gay Times, Hollywood still hasn’t learned to the see the possibility and potential in trans actors. “Trans people don’t have to just play trans, but that’s been the hard and fast rule for so long,” she said. “Like, ‘Oh, we have a trans character now. Now we have to reach out and do like a big casting. We need a trans person.’ But why can’t we audition for everything?”
While there’s still a lot of progress to be made in the industry, the state of trans representation is still the brightest it has ever been and will only get better with stars like Clayton, Indya Moore, Ian Alexander, and more blazing the trail.
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