5050by2020 & GLAAD
inspired by the outcry from the community at yet another casting of a cisgender star to play a transgender role in the upcoming film ‘Rub + Tug,’ put together this guide on how Hollywood can be more inclusive of transgender + gender non-conforming people. To begin, cisgender (or cis) means someone identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. Someone who is transgender (or trans) has a gender identity or expression that differs from the sex assigned to them at birth. And someone who identifies as non-binary – or gender non-conforming – embodies a gender identity not exclusively masculine or feminine; they fall outside of the traditional "gender binary." (ICYWW, yes! People who identify as non-binary can also be trans!)
Whether you’re a producer, writer, actor or ally, this guide promotes tactical ways to ensure that the material you’re creating includes the community you’re depicting. Are you ready? Let’s get started!
I have a movie/play/tv show/book etc that has characters who are transgender, non-binary and/or gender non-conforming. How do I start?
WHO ARE YOU? If you’re cis, you need to bring some trans folk RIGHT AWAY, before you even get started. Trans people have been so poorly represented in media and culture over the past 100 years that you may not even understand the bias you are bringing that will affect the way you enter the work. Your opinions about trans people have been formed by these distorted media portrayals. It’s difficult to avoid the cliches and tropes of trans storytelling when you don’t even know what they are. Are you an Executive Producer? Find someone trans to partner with who understands good trans storytelling, and offer them the same title you have.
DID YOU FIND A BOOK? If you’re adapting a book by a trans writer into a screenplay, and you are not trans, give that writer the chance to adapt the book. The closer you can keep to the POV of the person who created the work, the less likely you are to cross into inappropriate territory. If the original writer of the IP isn’t available, be sure you find someone as close as possible. For example, if a trans lesbian of color generated the IP you are working with, use a trans lesbian of color to adapt it into the play or screenplay. If the book isn’t written by a trans person - ask an experienced trans content creator if it’s worthy of adaptation. The bias cis people bring to TV and films can also affect the quality of books written about the trans experience.
IS THIS STORY ABOUT A REAL TRANS PERSON WHO LIVED IN THE PAST? Trans people have always existed in every community, culture, and country in the world. Some of them are known to us, although their stories have often been distorted by reports written about them while they were alive or immediately following their death. Trans people in history have been dismissed as “women living as men to get a job” or “lesbians who wanted to be with women so they lived as men” or “drag queens” or “men who passed as women.” The history of trans people is complicated by the fact that modern terminology wasn’t used in the past, and the ability to medically transition didn’t begin until the early 20th century. That doesn’t mean people in history weren’t trans. It just means you need to know a tremendous amount of information about the history of the trans community before you even think of telling a historical narrative. Find an expert on this topic.
DOES YOUR PROJECT CONTAIN OR INVOLVE MUSIC?If you are creating original songs or an original score, consider hiring trans-identified songwriters/composers. If you are already committed to a cisgender composer, find ways to bring trans artists into your music department. Hire trans copyists, music supervisors, and musicians. If you're building a soundtrack of licensed material, seek out trans musical artists to feature in your project. If you are working with Trans actors who are singing in your project, keep in mind that traditional (i.e. cisnormative) vocal ranges and musical terminology are often exclusive of trans talent. Songs written for transfemme or transmasc characters will likely need to be set in different keys than songs written for cisgender voices. You should be prepared to build in additional rehearsal time and vocal coaching into your budget. Understand that for many trans people their voices may have subjected them to shame and violence. Holistic vocal health and support to modify musical material to match the voice of the actor should be a primary concerns of the creative team.
YOU’RE CONCERNED ABOUT HOW TO FINANCE YOUR PROJECT IF YOU DON’T INCLUDE BIG STARS? That makes perfect sense. Surround the trans people in your project with big stars to build the budget. But do not replace trans talent with cis talent. Trans people have not been afforded even a fraction of the level of opportunity that cis people have had. Equity takes work. Be intentional in making room for trained, talented trans people who have been systematically excluded from creating stories in Hollywood - even stories about their own lives. It takes lived experience to tell a trans-related story, so these hiring practices won’t just benefit the trans people getting hired – it also benefits the work!
ONCE YOU START EXECUTING, HIRE TRANS PEOPLE: Include trans and non-binary people in every area of your project. This will also help you connect to the trans experience at a human level, so that you can become a better advocate and ally to this community. Many trans and non-binary people have significant barriers in meeting basic income needs due to blatant and entrenched systemic exclusion. Hire trans and non-binary actors, writers, directors, and crew.
EDUCATE YOURSELF AND YOUR CREW. Be an ally and combat bias by actively learning about this community. Most trans and nonbinary people face harsh levels of violence, discrimination, and lack of opportunity. Understand how cis centrism and cis privilege are embedded in the entertainment industry and in our society at large. Include a Transgender 101 training on set for your entire team, especially when you are doing material about characters who don’t align with the gender binary.
I’m an artist/writer/director/producer who is interested in making my work more trans-inclusive.
WRITING. Centering cis perspective is like centering a male perspective or a white perspective. Cisness creates a lens that affects and shapes how people see the world. Imagine breaking the gender binary and embracing the full spectrum of gender experience! Trans and non-binary people are evolving our perceptions of gender and breaking new ground. Understand the difference between gender identity and gender expression, know the difference between trans masculine, and trans feminine, understand that some non-binary people “look non-binary” and others don’t. Stay curious and step outside of cis ignorance by hiring trans folks into writers’ rooms and empowering them.
CASTING. The gender binary is powerful because most people allow themselves to be constrained by it, and because our society ferociously polices it. Step outside the silos that have been enforced by the gender binary and change your language and perception. Instead of Male and Female, consider Male Presenting, Female Presenting, and Non-Binary. Questions standards of beauty. Perceptions and outdated standards of “feminine” and “masculine” have been set by cis white men. Start questioning this shit.
“Already, any trans actor who goes into an audition is at a significant disadvantage over other actors when being cast for any role. The definition of attractiveness, so valued in an industry like Hollywood, is set by a cisgender society.“ -Meredith Talusan of them.
PRODUCTION. Build infrastructure to support trans and non-binary people through internships, mentorships, guidance and access to job networks. Build in opportunities to break in new talent with lived experience. Try setting a goal of interviewing at least one out trans person per department. Help groom, train, and teach them. Keep in mind you might already have trans people working on your project but they may choose to keep their gender history private - which is perfectly fine.
DISTRIBUTION. Reach out! When dealing with content about a trans or non-binary character, it’s vital to incorporate a community benefits strategy to educate viewers about trans issues. Build relationships with trans non-profit organizations who can assist you with community engagement when a film or television series is released. There are many out there, spanning from trans legal advocacy, to trans youth empowerment. Consider how far your film or show can help in changing lives and changing perceptions.
I’m not working on an expressly trans project, but I want to be less cis-centric in my work. What can I do?
HIRE TRANS FOLKS! Even if your project isn’t expressly ABOUT trans people, hire experienced trans talent - they don’t only work on trans projects. And empower and train new trans people and bring them into the community. Trans people are disproportionately underemployed and discriminated against in job interviews. The status quo is powerful because it takes real work to push against it. When it comes to inclusion and equity for all people who are not cis white men, we must develop programs to address access, power, and to make room for marginalized people. Make an effort to be trans inclusive in your workplace by hiring trans folks, and offering trans 101 trainings for cis folks.
USE and CREATE TRANS-INCLUSIVE CONSIDERATION LISTS. More voices at the table creates richer and more authentic storytelling. There are resources in Hollywood such as 5050by2020 and GLAAD who can connect you to trans and non-binary talent. Set a goal to include trans and non-binary people in your consideration lists.
SUPPORT A CULTURE OF BELONGING. Create welcoming and safe spaces for trans and non-binary people. This includes Transgender 101 trainings for all team members, gender neutral bathrooms, and the use of gender pronouns. Many people harass transgender and non-binary people with invasive, inappropriate and personal questions, such as “when did you choose to change your gender.” Don’t pressure or expect trans people to educate you or to share their personal stories for your own benefit. For some people, retelling their experiences can be traumatic. Compensate trans and non-binary people for their expertise and conduct trainings in a professional manner.