How Mark Ruffalo’s New Film Is Endangering The Lives Of Transgender Women

September 1, 2016

Ruffalo’s latest flick is one film I’ll be sitting out on.

I’m a huge Mark Ruffalo fan. He’s proven himself time and time again an incredibly gifted actor with an ability to truly inhabit a diverse range of characters in a way that both honors and respects their stories.

But Ruffalo’s latest film, Anything, which he produced, is disappointingly anything but respectful.

The flick, which follows a man who befriends a transgender sex worker while struggling to come to grips with the death of his wife, perpetuates one of the most persistent and damaging stereotypes of transgender women; it puts a cisgender man in the role of a trans woman.

Ruffalo made the move to cast former co-star Matt Bomer in the role after “the profound experience I had with him while making Normal Heart“, feeling he was a perfect fit. Granted, Bomer is an exceptional actor, but like so many of the men that have come before him in the roles of transgender women, he should never have been cast in this role.

Matt Bomer is set to play a transgender woman in the upcoming film, Anything.
Matt Bomer is set to play a transgender woman in the upcoming film, Anything.

Despite ongoing outcry from the LGBT community for transgender female actors to be cast in the parts of transgender women, Hollywood has continued to feed us a steady stream of white male actors donning wigs and makeup. From Eddie Redmayne as Elbe – one of the first known recipients of sex change surgery – in The Danish Girl, to Jared Leto as Rayon, a trans woman struggling with HIV in Dallas Buyers Club – both of whom received awards for their performances – we’ve been conditioned to view trans women as men in women’s clothing. And it’s causing increasing outrage among the trans community for good reason; it’s putting trans women’s lives at risk.

Ruffalo responded to the furore today, taking to Twitter to declare, ‘To the Trans community. I hear you. It’s wrenching to you see you in this pain. I am glad we are having this conversation. It’s time,’ before attempting to shut down the discussion shortly after, saying, ‘The movie is already shot and Matt poured his heart and soul into this part. Please have a little compassion. We are all learning.’

But as trans actor and writer Jen Richards articulately pointed out on Twitter earlier this week, our learning curve window has well and truly closed when it comes to approaching trans characters in popular media.

‘Eddie Redmayne, Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, etc., are great actors, but we, and those who know us, see the difference between them & us,’ Richards tweeted.

‘Cis audiences reward them because they see being trans itself as a performance. Trans actors rather perform THE STORY, not our gender.’

Richards went on to highlight the most neglected and important part of the debate; the very real danger the perpetuation of the stereotype of trans women as men, puts trans women in.

‘Straight men are attracted to trans women. They always have been, always will be. We are some of the most popular sex workers. It’s a fact … They have sex with us, worry that makes them gay, then reassert their masculinity through violence aimed at us … WHY do men, who aren’t attracted to men, who only date women, think being with trans women makes them gay/less masculine? … Because culture as a whole still thinks trans women are “really” men. Decades of showing us that way in shows. It’s been internalized.’

And herein lies the problem. We no longer find it acceptable to cast white actors in black roles donning blackface makeup, but have somehow missed the memo that trans women are worthy of the same respect.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from the trans women we’ve had the privilege of speaking with when covering their stories over the past few months, it’s that they’ve been through an incredible, often unimaginable, ordeal to become their true, authentic selves. To have that journey so thoughtlessly ignored is a slap in the face to how hard they’ve had to fight to be accepted as women.

Gender is something we so often take for granted. The majority of us are lucky enough to never have had to worry that our outsides are in direct opposition to our insides; we’re born into bodies that reflect the sex we see ourselves as. But stop and think for a second what it’d be like if you were to look in the mirror and discover your body didn’t correlate with the gender you knew you were inside. Would you be happy to be treated as anything other than the person you knew you were?

Perhaps this is something Ruffalo should have considered before casting Bomer in the representation of a trans woman. Perhaps he should have also reviewed the alarming stats that show homicide rates against transgender people have reached a historic high; a trans woman is murdered roughly every 29 hours, despite the fact the trans female population makes up just one per cent of the world’s population. So frequent are they, many go unreported by the media. Even more tragically, a shocking number of young trans girls take their own lives every year, unable to withstand the hatefulness and struggle to be understood any longer.

Is this really the kind of world we want to be raising young people in? One that tells them if they don’t fit into a pigeonhole they can expect to be treated as outcasts unworthy of having their voices heard? As someone with three young children, who’s proven his humility and intelligence in both his film and philanthropic work, I would have expected Ruffalo to know better, to do better.

Regardless of the justifications given to casting male actors in roles meant for trans women, I won’t support another film that so flagrantly disregards trans women’s lives; so I guess it looks like this is one Ruffalo film I’ll be sitting out.

Comment: Do you think Ruffalo should have cast a trans woman in his film?



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