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Transgender Community Tears Into Jared Leto's Portrayal

March 03, 2014 6 min read

So the Oscars happened. Most of us sat and watched Ellen be awesome and funny as hell, Gravity won pretty much everything, and 12 Years A Slave won all the awards you were pretty much expecting it to win. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto even won best actor and best supporting actor respectively, for their roles in Dallas Buyers Club. Everyone was impressed, nodded to each other in agreement murmering that both performances were stellar and worthy of accolade. Well, everyone except the community that Jared Leto was portraying, as Rayon the transgender individual afflicted by AIDS. dallas_buyers_club A large quantity of transgender communities have spoken out against Leto's performance, essentially critiquing his role to have little authenticity and respect for the people he was representing. The tumblr, Trans Hollywood, does a good job outlining what has ground their gears the most about it, which you can read at the end of this blog. The biggest problem that the community has had, is that they feel the role should have  been played by a transgender person in the first place. With actors like Lavern Cox (Orange Is The New Black) becoming more prominent in media, its not an unreasonable idea that a trans person play a trans role. Trans Hollywood also points out that Leto did not even try to research the role by speaking to actual transgender women. He has also been criticized by how he has publicly address playing the role, and how he virtually ignored the trans community in almost all his acceptance speeches. Even when he did at the screen actors guild, he referred to them as his fellow Raynons, which didn't sit well with them either.
There is learning happening but it seems more as a response to backlash than actual learning or community. What is next? We do not identify as “Rayons.” Say the word “TRANSGENDER.” We appreciate the attempt at recognizing a marginalized group but Leto is avoiding our self identity, making up his own point of view on what we are and should be called.
Feeling that Leto really just grabbed this role to exploit the struggle of a trans woman, for a strong performance worthy of being the talk of the town, many transgender social media outlets have been spreading the message of awareness of how his portrayal effects them all. Leto has had little response to these claims, spending most of his interview time talking about how weird it was to wax his entire body and engage in the extreme weight loss. Maybe after he sees the movie he will have an idea of what he is being criticized for. Yup. On Ellen, the day after the Oscars, Leto admitted to still not having seen Dallas Buyers Club, while still urging us to see it. You really think if you were up for an oscar, let alone winning one, you'd probably want to check out how your efforts were finalized. Whether your liked his performance or not, it is certainly worth thinking about how the big screen represents the diverse world we live in.       Trans Hollywood - A Step By Step Guide Through Jared Leto's Trans Ignorance     

A Step By Step Guide through Jared Leto’s Trans Ignorance.

Jared Leto has been winning multiple awards for playing the transgender character of Rayon in the film “Dallas Buyers Club.” The transgender community has then watched him throw them under the bus. 1. LETO"It was the role of a lifetime," he said. "It was an incredible thing to represent this group of people who largely are ignored."  Ignored. Leto ignored criticism from the trans community and allies who don’t want him representing this group of people in the way he has been."wouldn’t it have been better if the starring role had gone to an actual trans person" - La Times.  Despite complaints and Leto having one of the most powerful publicists in Hollywood, Leto claimed in December that he had never heard criticisms that trans roles should go to trans actors. When asked what research he did for the role he said “a lot” but he did not formally engage, pay, or study under any trans people. Transgender roles should go to transgender actors and if that is not possible (for whatever reason) productions should hire transgender consultants to “get it right” instead of perpetuating negative stereotypes. Jared ignores this: 2. LETO"you wouldn’t want to stick a transgender person with only transgender roles, so it goes both ways." Transgender people DO NOT GET cisgender roles. It does not go both ways due to systemic oppression. Cisgender people take transgender roles then do what Leto is doing instead of the advocating and “possibility modeling” of Laverne Cox in “Orange is the New Black.” She represents trans people beyond the screen role in the media in positive ways never experienced before. This creates “teachable moments” as Katie Couric put it after her problematic questioning.  When a cis person takes a trans role, trans stories are exploitation, not representation. Meanwhile, Trans Hollywood’s experience is that trans people are often told they do not have enough experience for key roles. It’s a systemic problem, cis people take trans roles, trans actors are left with nothing. 3.  "I thought I’d look pretty good in a skirt."  No Jared, the character of Rayon is fictional in this film “based on a true story.” She was ahistorically written in order to be the “most gay” and visually problematic for Matthew McConaughey’s character Ron Woodroof. You removed your eyebrows (?) and played her with intense makeup, hair, and clothing to make Ron uncomfortable and a very unlikely ally. image You weren’t there to look good, you were there to look bad. You are perpetuating the “man in a dress” stereotype of transgender women. image What if the role had gone to these transgender women?  Would the theater laughed as hard at Ron ripping down Rayon’s photo while masturbating? How would the supermarket scene have played out if Ron was just seen walking around with a beautiful woman vs. a straight cis male playing….what….. 4.LETO: ”This wonderful creature who was unfortunately addicted to drugs and dying of AIDS and fighting for her life.” and “beautiful creature….” While you’ve made it clear in interviews that Rayon was living life as a woman and wanted trans related medial care but you don’t talk about playing a woman or trans woman. You talk about playing a “creature.” USE THE WORDS “TRANSGENDER WOMAN.” Again, how do you feel you are representing “this group of people” if you never use the terminology? If you call one of us a creature. We don’t want you up there Jared if you are just going to be a bro about it. 5. LETO: ”It’s wild, even putting on lipstick is a very shocking thing, [and] putting on heels is a very shocking thing, putting on tights is a shocking thing” “. One of the things I did was wax my entire body including my eyebrows,’ 'I'm just fortunate that it wasn't a period piece so I didn't have to do a full Brazilian [wax].  'Ladies, you know what I'm talking about though…and so do some of you men, I think.' All superficial gendering. People are not giving the award to rockstar Jared Leto who talks about how weird it is to do things femme cis women and femme trans women do every day. They gave it to what seemed like a serious actor in a demanding role. Jared did not use the role as a learning moment to be forever changed by trans struggle. Instead he jokes about it like a cis man does, it’s trans misogyny. When asked about leaving the role behind…. 6. LETO “I tucked those balls firmly away… I’m still coughing them out.” Come on, is he our drunk uncle making fun of us? And on criticism for his Golden Globe’s speech… 7. LETO “obviously I didn’t prepare a speech.” But he did! He gave nearly the identical speech at the Hollywood Film Awards. Hollywood Film Awards Speech:   Golden Globes Speech:   This led to proper criticism over the transphobia and exploitation: Jared Leto and Michael Douglas’ Homophobic Acceptance Speeches The Golden Globes gave Jared Leto an award for playing a trans woman because Hollywood is terrible. C’mon Hollywood So is anything changing? YES!. Leto’s SAG AWARD Speech dispensed with the cheap jokes and had some class, dedicating the award to the groups he borrowed emotional equity from instead of being about himself, his waxing, and his return to film after six years, and the great parties: 8. LETO: " I’d like to share it with the Rayons of the world. To the people who have made a choice to live their lives … as they have chosen to dream it. I’m so proud that i’ve been able to glimpse the world through your eyes." There is learning happening but it seems more as a response to backlash than actual learning or community. What is next? We do not identify as “Rayons.” Say the word “TRANSGENDER.” We appreciate the attempt at recognizing a marginalized group but Leto is avoiding our self identity, making up his own point of view on what we are and should be called. We are organizing so this learning curve never happens again. We need trans actors in trans roles for visibility, representation, and positive models instead of wanting to vomit listening to a cis man make fun of us. We don’t want to be writing Tumblr posts and articles defending ourself from a person who thinks they are representing us. While in this period of civil rights, we want to see ourselves truly represented and moving forward.

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