Transgender actors and characters are more represented in Hollywood than ever before, but that representation isn't exactly translating to reliable work. In a new interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, Trace Lysette and Laverne Cox describe the ongoing struggle to be cast as trans actors in the industry.
Lysette had a small but important role in one of the year's biggest films, Hustlers, but told Yahoo! that in 2018, she didn't make enough money to qualify for the Screen Actors Guild's health insurance. "It's kind of embarrassing, but it's very telling of how hard it is to be a trans woman in this industry," Lysette said. "It's an odd thing when you walk down the street and people come up to you with tears in their eyes regarding your work, and telling you how much your representation means to them. And then you look at your bank account and it's like, 'What the fuck is happening?' It's not adding up, literally."
Cox, who was nominated for her work on Orange Is the New Black at this year's Emmys, echoed Lysette's concerns, explaining that "as blessed as some of us are and have been, a lot of us are still struggling." She described a story of one unnamed trans actress who was misgendered and mocked by the crew of a television show she worked on."That is not something any actress should hear when they're working," Cox said. "Acting is hard enough."
Shameless star Elliot Fletcher was also interviewed for the story and recounted an audition where he tried to give input on a line spoken by the trans male character he was reading for, so that it would sound like...well, something a trans man would actually say. "I went in and I said, 'I don't know if trans people would really refer to their bodies this way, can I phrase it in a different way?'" Following his audition, casting told Fletcher they were taking his insight "into consideration," and later wound up casting a cis female actress to play the trans male role. Thankfully, Fletcher made a similar comment during his audition for Shameless, and he not only got the role, but the script was changed at his suggestion.
Lysette said she wonders "how many shows do I have to reoccur on before I get to be a main cast member with a normal size paycheck, so that I can actually think about financial security and taking care of my mother and maybe even dream about buying a house one day?" It's hard to be hopeful about the future "when the money is not reflecting the fame. It's not adding up."
"As much as there's so much to celebrate, I think that this business is brutal," Cox acknowledged.