dallas_buyers_clubThe criticisms of Jared Leto and Dallas Buyers Club aren’t new, but very much a topic of conversation following his Oscar win. I’ll refrain from either agreeing or disagreeing with the specific criticisms- I didn’t see the film, and feel it wrong to talk about that which I haven’t any experience. Logically, I understand and support the trans community’s concerns about accolades for Leto. Still I can’t stop wondering if there is a side of all of this which is missing from the discourse. The movie was a movie: a story about some characters. No matter who played the character, was the character of Rayon plausible and real? Did Rayon give voice to trans persons and how well? I’d love to hear some dialogue surrounding that question. Because I think that is far more important than any discussion of Leto.

Movies are money making ventures. Sure, they can promote and propel cultural change, but they usually don’t. Maybe in hindsight. They tell stories, rather than create something new. Part of the criticism of Leto is that- he didn’t promote progress on transgender issues and equality. Those who want to claim that Leto’s win was good for the trans community (I’m not one f them), will suggest the movie was good because it provided mainstream America with an image of a trans person as an important supporting character. It brought a trans person, Rayon, into the spotlight. That argument reality doesn’t hold up to scrutiny however. It isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t the gloriously positive thing some might pretend.

dallas_buyers_club2Actually, it may be a bad thing, but I won’t say this with certainty since I didn’t see the film. A while back, I wrote a blog post about heteronomativity and sexual imagery. In that piece I said that straight guys acting in ways that might seem gatt were a way for straights to maintain some power over the meaning of masculinity. In a similar way, having a straight man birth the character of Rayon into life allows heterosexism to dictate the perception of trans.  That’s an idea worth exploring, and if someone already has, I hope you leave a link as a comment to this post. But even here, Rayon has to be the basis of the dialogue. How was the character affected, and how was it wrong? What did Rayon need to be a more accurate portrayal of a real person?

I used the phrase transgender voice in the title intentionally. The general public has few opportunities t hear trans persons speak and give voice to their own experiences and lives, and without that, there will be little change in the general public’s understanding and support for trans persons.  Some will say Leto’s performance silence further  a trans voice? Did Rayon add a transgender voice?

In some regards, Leto’s in a no win situation. He could have done the most amazing job possible and been phenomenal, and he would still have been criticized. The producers could have cast a trans person in the role of Rayon, ad they would have been criticized for type casting and pigeon-hole a trans actor/actress. What is the gender neutral term for a person who acts anyway?

I also wonder how a 1985 trans person is alike or different than a 2013 transgender woman?

madrigalThe issue with this can not be that Leto is straight. Other trans characters have been played by straight persons without this level of criticism. It has to be that Leto is a guy, and it isn’t clear to me if that is a warranted reason or not. Leto has called himself “gay as a goose,” so he is far from a conservative image of masculinity. It still comes bad to Rayon for me. Was that character realized?

How do we bring more trans voices, real trans voices to the general public? How do we allow trans persons the power to present themselves? That is the real question which can do more to move culture forward than worrying about Leto and an award. Movies are about making money, and career building , neither of which are natural ways to promote cultural change. The trans community needs and deserves full equality, respect and support and that will come only when trans persons and their voices ring loud and true.

I’m sure many of my readers saw this movie. What did you think of the character of Rayon? Forget who played the role- tell me about Rayon. OK? Leave a comment!

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