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Why It’s Time All Awards Dropped Binary Actor Categories (guest column) – The Hollywood Reporter




Best actress. Best actor. These are the labels generations of star-eyed artists have dreamed of claiming.

But what if none of these are actually able to describe who you really are? What if both cause an uncomfortable tummy tuck, because they neglect to consider the full scope of who can be an artist? We’re talking, of course, about being non-binary in Hollywood’s long-standing binary.

Other spheres of our culture do not divide their accolades into gender categories: there is no Nobel Prize for Best Woman Peacemaker, nor a James Beard Prize for Best Male Leader. So why are the Oscars male-female? At this point we know the conversations about the need for more diversity on screen when it comes to race, sexuality, disability, etc. What is more uncertain is the dialogue surrounding representations of non-binary people. Obviously, we need to see more trans men and women represented in our media. But even they fit neatly into Hollywood’s awards system, as an actor or actress. What about those who identify as neither?

A quick vocabulary lesson: “non-binary”, according to GLAAD, is a term “used by some people who feel their gender identity and / or gender expression does not fall into the male and female categories.” They can define their gender as somewhere between male and female, or they can define it as totally different from these terms. There are a whole host of other words created to help categorize different lived experiences: genderqueer, agender, gender fluid. Different words work for different people, and each has its own nuance. Personally, I use “non-binary trans”. Just like B. Scott, recently announced as the first from this label to host a show on BET, The twenties after the show, this autumn. They describe their identity as follows: “Someone whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth: that’s the trans part. And also a gender identity that is not characterized as exclusively male or female: it is the non-binary part. “

But the old term “non-binary” has become a prominent term. And basically a bunch of us don’t feel comfortable being defined as strictly male or female. The words and pronouns we identify with can and do change. Comedian and actor Cole Escola (Search group, difficult people) was recently released as non-binary. They describe the identification with the word as “more of a clarification of how I have always felt and acted.” I just looked up and saw that there was this other pronoun that better matched what I’ve always felt.

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it’s awkward to throw out all of these different terms. Using the term “they / them” is confusing for my mother, who cannot get over the implicit plurality of it. I understand the linguistics behind this confusion, even though it always hurts to be misgendered. Escola proposes, “I’m not even sure I really dig my claws into the ‘non-binary’ and ‘they / them’ pronouns, because it seems ironic to me to say, ‘I don’t want labels, so here is that label. . ‘ In an ideal world, pronouns would be irrelevant and everyone could just be an individual person. But the reality is that labels matter, because we live in a cisgender society (someone who doesn’t feel trans or non-binary), and ignoring labels is ignoring who someone basically is. , show that you don’t care enough about respecting how someone wants to be seen.

Looks non-binary at some point in 2021. The last big name to identify is pop superstar Demi Lovato. As they say THR, “When I overdosed in 2018, I was convinced it happened because I didn’t know my truth. I deleted who I really was to match this image of pop star and d sexy, feminine actress assigned to me – be it stylists, crew members, or even fans – that I never really identified with.… Now I realize that it’s so much more important to live your truth than to never hold back because that’s the kind of thing that happens when you do.

Many other notable players use the descriptor. Sara Ramirez will play a non-binary character in the Sex and the city to restart. Other non-binary people in Hollywood include AcuteER Fightmaster, Youngerby Nico Tortorella and Billion‘Asia Kate Dillon. Some play non-binary characters, others play cis characters. And Billy Porter will play a sexless fairy godfather in the new Cinderella, and the keen eyed fans of Loki recently discovered that in the new TV series, his sex is noted as fluid. In a welcome sign, USA today reports that the Biden administration has suggested it consider adding an “X” genre option on federal documents. On another side, according to HRC, in 2021 alone, more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced to state legislatures.

However, the non-binary is far from new. Alok Vaid-Menon, author of Beyond the gender binary (2020), is a gender nonconforming writer, performer, and scholar. “There is a long and prolific history of people who have lived and thrived outside the Western gender binary system, for thousands of years, in indigenous cultures around the world, be they the Muxe people, today from Mexico, or the Fa’afafine people of Samoa. , or the Bakla in the Philippines or the Hijras in India, ”explains Vaid-Menon. “What we are seeing is that with European colonization there is the imposition of cross-dressing laws which have made it illegal for people to exist in public and have banned their cultural art forms, their rituals. and their ceremonies, and forcibly assimilated people into the Western gender binary. ” Knowing that this story is crucial, Vaid-Menon points out, “We see this flawed paradigm that non-binary, gender non-conforming people are new, when in fact we’ve been here for a very long time. What is new is the imposition of Western gender norms.

Non-binary people are not only an ancient culture in other parts of the world, but on our own soil. Beyond erasing the beautiful genderless traditions of Native American peoples, Vaid-Menon says, “At the end of the 19th century, the most visible members of the queer community in America were visibly gender nonconforming. which we would understand as non-binary. today. “This story was erased by the cis colonizers, and Hollywood could not be more complicit in that erasure. The Hays Code, introduced in 1930 and abolished in 1968, required strict moral guidelines for films.” And What if we take away the responsibility of being visible to them who hide us? “Vaid-Menon muses.” It’s a more interesting story for me. “


Is there a cost to an actor’s career if they come out today as non-binary? On the one hand, you make yourself an extremely desirable candidate for, say, the one non-binary role that needs to be chosen at any given time. On the other hand, you potentially categorize yourself, especially if a casting agent is transphobic. For this reason, writing characters for yourself can give birth to some much needed opportunities. “I have always created roles of a different kind for myself. Mainly women, ”says Escola (who writes and plays female roles in comedy videos like“ Mom Commercial ”).

Comedian Mae Martin also writes his own roles. The co-writer and star of the British series Feel good was released as non-binary on April 14. Martin was then nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Female Comedy, although their character does not identify as a woman either. Talk with THR, Martin explains: “I never want my discomfort to eclipse my gratitude, but yes, it seemed inaccurate to me to be in a female category and [as a nonbinary person; “bumped” is British slang for “excluded”]. Maybe I was worried that if I was too blunt about this, I wouldn’t be included at all, which is crazy.

While there have been calls for adding a third genre category to the awards show, this concept is limiting. Says Scott: “The merit of your work, however great, could not really be compared to everyone. I think the only way to solve this problem is to have just one category. “

That’s what the MTV Movie and TV Awards did, switching to gender neutral categories in 2017, and the Grammys, which scrapped genre categories ten years ago. As more and more people shy away from the binary genre in favor of freedom, it is certainly time for other awards bodies to follow suit. Of course, that will mean a shift in the language around identity on a large scale moving forward. But it is okay. We all evolve. And since we all are, it is certainly time for the Academy to do the same.

Want to fight the waves of change? So why not choose another arbitrary division of candidates? And the age categories? Is it really that different from boys and girls? Then non-binary people don’t have to worry about being abused on the biggest night of their acting career, and when I write my primary vehicle I can win for the best actor in the category. 20 years old the same year Glenn Close won for Sunset Boulevard.

Because at the end of the day, to identify as non-binary is to be respected and seen. Says Lovato: “We need to continue having these conversations about the genre with an open heart and an open mind so that together we can figure out how to become a more united species on this planet. “

Hilton Dresden is a writer and performer based in Brooklyn, New York.

A version of this story first appeared in the June 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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