Transface vs Blackface and how they are the same and different.

Transface

Screen Grab from Anything – Exclusive First-Look Clip via Deadline Hollywood

Hollywood still doesn’t seem to understand a man playing a transwoman (transface) is no better than blackface. (I want to be clear that this is for different reasons but still just as bad.) I get that there is a smaller pool of trans actresses to choose from. That’s not to say they couldn’t find one if they tried but at least they could cast a woman to play the role of a WOMAN and lessen the narrative of trans = “man in a dress” a little as a compromise. This also lets them drive the movie with “starpower”. Though if trans women never get the roles when will we have a trans actress with “starpower”?

That IMHO is the worst and most invalidating part of it all.

 Transface

An example of a cisgender male actor in Transface vs a white actor in Blackface.

An example of a male actor in Transface vs. a white actor in Blackface.

In many ways transface is a problem that shares the same core issues and criticisms with it’s cousin. One of the reasons blackface is universally despised is because it was historically used to make caricatures of black people that were insulting, demeaning and even dehumanizing of black people. Historical blackface was not even an attempt to actually look or portray a character as black. It was a wink and a nod to the audience to let them know this was a white man pretending to be black and then he would play a racially stereotyped, and insultingly biased mockery of black people.

Using a man to play a transgender actress is the same kind of wink and nod to the audience that this is not “really” a woman. They want the audience to look at the character and not think of her as a woman. By continuing to cast men as MtF they perpetuate the myth that transwomen are not women. And for that matter FtM should similarly be played by Transmen or men not women. All the better if they could cast a transwoman or transman 100%.

The fact that a character is pretransition at any point in the story is not a defense to using a male actor in transface. Male actors playing trans women as I said perpetuates the very hurtful biases. The real reason that directors choose male actors is because they want the transgender character to not look female.

Deadline Hollywood First clip “Anything” with Matt Bomer

See also: Matt Bomer Playing A Trans Woman Is More Than Problematic—It’s Dangerous

As the actress above stated she and other transgender actresses have been denied roles because they were told they “don’t look trans enough”. Which is just another way of saying they don’t look like men in dresses. The stereotype I have tried to explain that is so hurtful.

Just as blackface is not appropriate and a white actor should not be trying to portray black, asian or native american culture and racial experience is because they neither looked nor have lived the part. A man that is not transgender nor can pass as one does not have the difficult life experience of transition and pretransition. A man that has not been on HRT cannot easily pass as a woman nor understand the experience. In the case of blackface, yellowface, redface and transface it ends up coming out as a caricature (no matter how well meaning) not as an accurate representation. I actually cannot think of a movie with a cisgender actor that portrayed being transgender as accurately as the ones staring transgender actresses. Maybe one comes close and it was made by a team of transgender persons. In most cases it is not just bad representation it is a directly hurtful and insulting mockery that results.

A story that involves a pretransition period does not exclude using a trans actress nor a woman. Both the woman and the transgender actress can be made to look male far easier than a male could be made to look female so he can play a trans character.

You might as well ask if it would be okay for a white actor to play the role of a black man just because in part of the story the black man tries to pass himself off as white. Perhaps to save his own life from discrimination. The character is still not white and never will be even if he was putting on a show as one for some reason in the movie.

A transwoman is a woman. She was a woman even before transition. She was just forced to blend in with the men for a time. I knew I was a woman since I was very young. At roughly 11 years old I had a name for it but I knew all my life from 6 on that I didn’t fit in as a guy. I never was a guy. It never was who I am.


Lastly and most importantly there is the very important issue of agency and representation. As a transwoman I can tell you that the movies I have seen that portray trans lives through trans actors and actresses are not just more authentic but they touch on things at a much deeper level that a cisgender actress of either sex just could never do.

It is time we be allowed to tell our own stories not have people that have never experienced the incredibly difficult struggles of transition tell them for us. With dozens of trans actresses with long resumes of experience there just are no more excuses not to let us do it.

Ariel Williams

Ariel Williams is a dreamer, artist and writer. She has been published on numerous sites including; Gizmodo, BBC, Forbes, Slate, The Huffington Post, Nerdist, and Thought Catalog as well as Planet Transgender.
Ariel is also a nerd, geek, tabletop roleplayer and can write about herself in the third person when the need arises. She tends to write about pop culture, and nerdy things and is a frequent contributor to and Top Writer on Quora.

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One Response to Transface vs Blackface and how they are the same and different.

  1. Summer June 20, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    This article is very well written and points well made.
    Hollywood and really society at large still cant grasp that we are not our body but rather the person in the body. Nor can they serm to grasp how the two can be incongruent with each other
    It is mindblowing though that in 2017 it still persists in Hollywood.
    There is no excuse for it. End of story.