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The Industry
Closed eye with trans pride flag coloured make up on it

Image credit: Kyle / Unsplash

Gendered Intelligence shares their insight into trans performer rights and what language is appropriate to use in breakdowns and the casting room

Trans people and the creative arts are natural allies. As such, Spotlight has been working with Gendered Intelligence to improve their understanding of diverse gender expressions within the arts. It was important for Spotlight to move forward with and be educated by a trans organisation to ensure that everyone feels included and welcome. 

In this spirit, we’ve created this guide with the wider community in mind. What are the key things to consider to make interactions in the arts more inclusive for trans and non-binary actors?

Language in Casting

Gendered Intelligence describes the term ‘trans’ to mean, ‘Someone who feels that the sex (and therefore gender) assigned to them at birth does not align with the person’s sense of self’. 

Language around gender identity and sexual orientation can be easily confused, so it’s recommended that anyone who’s new to this information should check out the resources on Gendered Intelligence’s website, which clarifies foundational knowledge.

Language in Breakdowns

The fear of saying the wrong thing can cause some people to avoid conversations with or about trans people altogether, but if you want to appeal to trans performers in particular, then it’s best to use direct and specific language. For example, in the casting details area you might say:

  • ‘We are particularly interested in receiving applications from trans actors, especially those who are trans men themselves.’

Whether you’re open to receiving applications from non-trans (cisgender) actors too is another consideration, but the section below on representation will cover this in more detail. If you are casting a non-binary character, then again, it’s best to be specific:

  • ‘We are particularly interested in hearing from trans actors, especially those who are non-binary themselves.’

Classic works have been reimagined with interpretations from all-trans casts. If you wished to do the same you could appeal to trans actors like this:

  • ‘We are looking for a cast of actors who present as trans/non-binary. We want to create a piece that is ‘gender euphoric’ and actively utilises the knowledge and lived experience of trans people within the work. If you are comfortable to bring your life experience to the production, whatever trans identity you have, then we’d love to hear from you.’

Using Pronouns

This really doesn’t have to be the big deal some folk fear it is. If an actor has shared their trans identity with you in the application, then it may well be clear whether they go by ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ or something else. It doesn’t hurt to ask by email, or indeed ask people to declare their preferred pronouns as part of the application. If in doubt, ask. Be specific.

  • ‘Hello (name), may I ask what pronouns you go by?’
  • ‘Hello, may I double check what pronouns you use?’
  • ‘Hello (name), what are your pronouns?’

If you don’t make it a big deal, it shouldn’t be one. If you make a mistake, simply apologise, correct yourself, move on. The longer you linger on a mistake, the worse it gets. Don’t overreact and there’s no need to feel attacked.

Previous Names

In our industry, a person’s name is of particular importance. If someone worked under a previous name (referred to in trans circles as their ‘dead name’) then it’s for them to communicate that as and when they feel comfortable, if it’s even desired by the trans person at all. 

This may happen in any applications, or be referred to on their Spotlight profile. Tact and sensitivity is called for, and the general rule to remember is to always use the current name and pronouns. 

A trans person can refer to their past names and pronouns at will, but it’s not appropriate for anyone else to do so. Respect who they are now. To ‘out’ anyone without their consent could be deemed discriminatory practice, and ‘dead naming’ someone is outing them.

Trans Representation in the Industry

It’s true that we all want ‘the best person for the job’, but why is it that so many trans actors who would be the best person for the job aren’t being seen in the first place?

Many trans people could feel unsafe going to drama school in the first place. My own training was blighted by deeply ingrained, persistent transphobia. Yes, there is a comparative lack of trained and experienced trans actors, and that is a separate issue that deserves real attention (Gendered Intelligence have collaborated with Royal Central School of Speech and Drama to create a TransActing course), but in the meantime, there are occasions where adequately trained trans actors are not being sought out or appealed to when they should be.

The blunt truth is that we live in a world where trans people know far more about non-trans (cisgender) people than the other way round. A trans actor is far better placed and informed to play a cisgender character than vice versa. How exciting it would be to see that happen on screen! 

Rebecca Root, known for playing a trans woman character (as a trans woman herself) in the BBC sitcom Boy Meets Girl, portrayed a cisgender woman in the film The Sisters Brothers. This kind of casting is sure to get people talking, and when people talk, they start to understand a little bit more.

Having a cisgender man playing a trans woman however, is problematic. When he turns up to awards events in a tux with a beard looking like the man he is, many people internalise the myth that being trans is a performance, a deception, that trans women are ‘really men’. This does a lot of damage to trans women in particular, and trans people in general.

Trans people exist everywhere in real life without ever referencing the fact that they’re trans. Teachers, plumbers, parents, or lovers. It would be inspiring to see trans people ‘usualised’ like this in any and all creative mediums. There are talented trans actors and performers out there, and it would be great to see more of them playing all sorts of roles and being visible across the industries.

Information for Trans Actors

If you’re a trans actor, you may have had transphobic experiences before now, which may make you feel unwelcome and apprehensive about auditioning. At Spotlight, the aim is to ensure that you really are welcome. 

They’ve worked on a solution to make life easier when submitting an application to join, updating your profile, or making any facts you wish to disclose known to casting directors, which should aid trans actors in being found for trans roles (if you choose to go for them). Casting directors are also able to search specifically for trans and non-binary actors should they wish to do so.

You may have some specific queries rattling around your head, so here is some information about your rights:

  • You don’t have to disclose your trans identity in an audition – that’s entirely up to you! 
  • You’re protected from discrimination and harassment by the Equality Act 2010
  • If you’re treated in an unacceptable manner, such as being asked inappropriate questions or persistent refusal to treat you in your gender identity, you have a right to do something about it – talk to people, get help, use the systems that are there to protect you.
  • The Gender Recognition Act 2004 increases the penalty for breaking confidentiality. In many situations, if someone acting in a professional capacity ‘outs’ a trans person who has legally changed their gender (‘outing’ is sharing information without the person’s consent) they have committed a crime and can be prosecuted.
  • Data Protection regulations exist to ensure everyone’s personal information is handled with proper confidentiality. Data about people’s health and sexual orientation, which are considered important and particularly sensitive, are called ‘Special Category’ data, and a higher level of protection applies to them. Being a trans person or having a trans history isn’t explicitly listed, but it’s clearly of a similar sensitivity. Gendered Intelligence therefore recommends that this information is treated as Special Category and given the higher level of protection, and Spotlight are treating it in this way.

Trans, non-binary and gender diverse actors are creating more work than ever before, and it heralds an exciting phase in the arts where these stories are becoming more visible, prominent and representative. Spotlight is a powerful ally in this advance, and everyone reading this can be too.

Gendered Intelligence’s website has lots of information to help increase your understanding of gender diversity and improving trans peoples’ quality of life.

Find out more about acting opportunities and workshops for trans and non-binary actors.

Gendered Intelligence is a not-for-profit, trans-led, community organisation. They work directly with some 500 young trans and gender questioning people from diverse backgrounds across the course of a year, primarily through youth groups and one-to-one mentoring services. 

They deliver training and consultancy, working with schools, colleges, universities, international commercial organisations, arts, charities, foster care/children’s homes, CAMHS and secure mental health, residential clinics, as well as across the wider statutory, not-for-profit and commercial sectors.