Hold on, should we actors really be speaking for trans people?

We know about insecurity and fluid identity, it's true. That doesn't mean we should bang on about it on the BBC

12 December 2015

9:00 AM

12 December 2015

9:00 AM

Poor Eddie Redmayne. Just because he looks quite like a girl, he finds himself a spokesperson for the burgeoning trans movement. Recently, he was forced to explain to those of us watching BBC News that ‘the notion of gender being binary’ is now considered ‘antiquated’.

People are very excited about being trans at the moment. Countless TV shows and films depict it, Mark Zuckerberg has just called his daughter Max, and a man called Hilary has just talked us into another war. Being trans is clearly catching: hermaphrodite whelks on the undersides of fishing boats are growing penises, and vast swaths of young people, unable to buy a home or get a job, now realise they are trapped in the wrong body. Well, great. Previously you only noticed trans people when you used a phone booth on the Tottenham Court Road — now they’re on the cover of Time magazine.

It’s appropriate that it took an actor to explain to everyone that gender identity is not binary but on a spectrum. Actors, who have no real sense of who they are or what they want, have long known that not just their gender but every aspect of their identity is on a spectrum. They can be anything they are asked to be. They aspire to a protean state, shape-shifting like high summer clouds.

In reality, they sell their bodies and emotional lives for money. They don’t need to use phone booths; they get their pictures in magazines. And they learn early that in order to make their way in the world, it’s best to leave questions of identity to others. If that’s what you think I am, then I’m happy to oblige. (Would you like me in the doublet and hose or the french maid’s outfit?) I like to consider myself a blank cheque on which people are free to ascribe whatever value they feel appropriate.

In some cases, given a degree of success, the previously noncommittal actor can get attached to the identity that has been ascribed to them, and this can lead to political activism. Eddie has made a seamless transition from actor who looks like a woman to being cast as the transgender Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, to becoming spokes-woman on behalf of all trans people (may their tribe increase). Like Brigitte Bardot: adored sex bomb, to formerly adored sex bomb, to saviour of a formerly adored pets. Or most famously Ronald Reagan. Looks like a good guy, gets cast as an ordinary good guy, becomes President of the United States of Good Guys. Normally, there’s a few years of career-fade before the previously beautiful become politically active, but Eddie has magnificently leapfrogged that process.

I’ll have you know that as a young man I spent an entire year as a woman in a world tour of As You Like It. I played Celia. As a lesbian. I didn’t feel that much like a woman at first, but with makeup and a dress on I looked like one, and I was told it would be good for my career, so I had to get on with it. And it wasn’t a cheap drag act — no, no, we won awards. And that’s because we took it very seriously, and in our extensive rehearsal period we discussed at length what it be like to menstruate, how to fake orgasms, and the tricky business of getting out of a sports car in a miniskirt. And eventually, after a few weeks’ practice and some encouraging reviews, I was to all intents and purposes a woman — in my work life at least.

For years, I was similarly accommodating when it came to my sexuality. I didn’t feel particularly gay, but I was half-pretty and boyish, and a lot of gay people seemed to have very influential positions in the theatre. So I went along with it, up to a point. And I liked the attention. Any port in a storm, as they say. Quite soon this affected the parts I got. I graduated from restoration fops to actual gay people. To date, I have pretended to be about 11 different gay men and one gay woman, essentially for financial gain. Some of the men were really straight, but I played them gay, because eventually I couldn’t help it. I could probably have paid for half of a quite modest central London one-bedroom flat on the proceeds of my work as a homosexual impersonator. Well, good for me. It’s been marvellous.

I suppose if there’s a point to any of this, it’s that you can play around with notions of your identity, you can impersonate other people and it can be fun, but the moment you start to suggest that your actual identity is up for grabs — well that’s something else entirely. If it’s simply that the media exposure is allowing previously marginalised people to come out of the shadows and discuss something without shame, then that’s great. Bring it on. The fact that it’s fashionable doesn’t necessarily make it worthless.

But if it’s really true that new legions of people are genuinely saving up to have their genitals converted in the new year, then I suppose I must defer to a something that is clearly more profound, and actually beyond my understanding. The whelks previously mentioned were apparently affected by the anti-barnacle paint on the undersides of fishing boats. Perhaps, for the humans, it’s the plastic wrapping on cheese. Or the effect of the contraceptive pill in our water.

Who knows? Maybe Eddie does. I’m all for grey zones and liminality, and the truth at least is always in transition. We’ll see. In the meantime, make sure you have a non-binary, properly nuanced, happy-as-it-can-be Christmas.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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Show comments
  • jack

    The BBC is the single greatest danger to long held British values and to the idea of morality. It is infested with all sorts of luvvies, gooks and geeks that try to promote self interested, extremely minority issues rather than cater for the majority. Issues the majority find distasteful and privately morally repugnant.

    I would liken the BBC to a lump of dead meat with all sorts of creatures crawling out of it, yet it would view it self as a piece of a fine Serrano ham.

    • jeffersonian

      ..Prosciutto di Parma….

  • IainRMuir

    This is one of several right-on issues that I am thoroughly sick of hearing about and, in particular, being lectured on.

    • vieuxceps2

      Me too.I’m fearful that soon we’ll have to worry about transgender pets.And why tranny women are not allowed to “breastfeed” in the Cafe Royale or the House of Lords……

      • Mr B J Mann

        If an orphaned duckling fixates on the farmyard cat and thinks it’s a kitten:

        Is it entitled to species reassignment surgery?!

    • Zanderz

      I’m tri-sexual.

      I’ll try anything sexual.

      (Ali G)

  • Arthur Thistlewood

    Of course it doesn’t mean he can speak for them. People become actors, presumably, because they lack the power of abstract thought and are happier repeating stuff written by others. It is a technical task.

    • fundamentallyflawed

      I find it strange when actors/singers etc are wheeled out for their “opinion” on a wide range of matters- Terrorism, climate change etc etc.
      Simply possessing the ability to repeat other peoples clever lines or to sing is enough these days it seems to be an opinion leader

  • rationality

    When they start talking about transgender Muslins then I’ll take it seriously and if they dont I will see them as cowards. Until then I’ll just take it as part of the cultural Marxist offensive to destroy the definition of what gender is, as a means to destroy the very heart of European culture and tradition, the family.

    • Sue Smith

      Or, for that matter, Muslims who are willing to marry people from the new country rather than their own cousins. This smacks of xenophobia and racism directed towards white Europeans. And yet we are the accused.

      I don’t think so.

      • jeffersonian

        ‘This smacks of xenophobia and racism…’

        I’d say it’s got a whiff of incest…

        • Sue Smith

          That too, and it occurs generationally. And the completely dubious response from geneticists on that same TV program to the notion of a shrinking gene pool because of repeated tendencies to marry cousins was to completely skirt around and avoid answering the question altogether.

          What a whacky world of authoritarianism and censorship we now inhabit.

    • Todd Unctious

      Good point Muslims are cowards . Fearful backward people. They fear modernity and change.

  • Sue Smith

    Many decades ago I worked at our national broadcaster, the ABC, in Sydney. There was a young fellow there – can’t have been more than 21 and he used to say to me, “I can’t work out whether I’m gay or straight”. He took delight in these comments, as though he had the chance to decide for himself and that this was an exciting prospect.

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

  • edithgrove

    “I suppose if there’s a point to any of this” and I’m not sure there is, I’d rather look at Eddie Redmayne in a dress or in male attire, either way he’s a doll, than the Turner prizewinner with the scary eye makeup and freaky dresses. Actors at least are way ahead of the art world in imitating life.

  • JEK68

    Did anyone else think ‘awww how cute, he’s virtue signalling and trying to win an oscar’ I bet when he read the script he couldn’t believe his luck, ‘dress up as woman and talk about an ‘oppressed minority’ yes please, my fellow actors and elites will love me for this’?

  • Miss Floribunda Rose

    There’s been a big push to normalise transsexualism and to blur gender during the past six months. Has anyone else noticed this? It is unrelenting. Having said this, personally I feel that my mind, though not my body, is genderless. How strange!

    • Patrick Roy

      I know what you’re saying. Very odd. Soon I’ll be wearing a burka.

      • jeffersonian

        I’ll don the niquab

  • Patrick Roy

    Are there that many trannies out there? I mean, I’m an urban person and always have been, in several liberal cities, etc., but I think it’s maybe being over-worked here. Yes there are some, but not enough for all this jibber jabber.

  • LoneStar

    I think Eddie Redmayne is a no good, shameless prat willing to stoop to any low. First he impersonated a disabled man and now a transgender. he’s spinelessly pimping his career out for the cultural Marxist left to win accolades, which in my opinion says a lot about the man.

    • vieuxceps2

      Who is Eddie Redmayne?

    • jeffersonian

      What an asinine comment.

      • WarriorPrincess111111

        It is! Why did you make it?

  • samton909

    But what about all the transgender bacteria? No one is speaking up for them.

  • King Kibbutz

    The transgender campaign is merely that latest leftist ‘movement’ by which people throughout the developed western nations – those states in which no-one has an empty belly, and most are living lives that most people in the rest in the rest of the world aspire to – are subjected to that familiar drip-feed that something is wrong, has to be wrong, and has to be struggled against to be put right.

    It is the current version of dripping woe, versed by an always attended project, aimed towards the erosion of western society.

    Actors, musicians etc tend to take up these various causes, due to the fact that they are not satisfied with recognising their own immense good fortune; they are inwardly guilty that this is the case; and they see such campaigns as their penance: their passport through the eye of the needle. Cui bono, Bono?

  • Now that is a proper piece of writing. Very good!

    The parallel between acting and ‘gender identity’ is powerful because it is accurate (not that a man-who-thinks-he-is-a-‘woman’ is pretending to think he is a ‘woman’). In effect, gender is an ideology whereby law becomes a kind of video game and allows each of us to choose his or her character. Gender says all the world’s a legal stage, and all the men and women merely players.

  • edithgrove

    It may be an NHS-intiated problem, surgeons are too quick to reach for the knife or the needle, if that’s how they re-attach. Decades ago Britain was known as a place of eccentrics, but now it’s homogenised and sliced up into a complacent banality. Perhaps people are happier that way, I myself preferred the world’s oddity.

  • Cyril Sneer

    I’ve got a tranny in my family apparently, each to their own and all that nevertheless the thought makes me puke my guts out.

    Sick of hearing about weirdos who dress up as women or do strange things to their genitalia because they’re so screwed in the head.

    Meanwhile in the real world ISIS are now executing disabled children…

    What a wonderful world…

  • jim

    Making the world fit for misfits makes it unfit for everyone else.This is not the tail wagging the dog.It’s a hair on the end of the tail trying to wag the whole dog.

    • vieuxceps2

      Yes. We cannot make the world to suit every sodding minority .and in any case they grow in numbers every day. Let’all be minorities of one and demand special treatment

      • freddiethegreat

        Who will speak out for left-handed redheads with outie belly buttons?

  • Marian Hunter

    +-So very deadly boring. Disappointed in Redmayne.+

  • Roger Hudson

    Actors shouldn’t be speaking at all…except their lines of course. They’re people who pretend to be somebody else for a living. Their grasp on reality is tenuous but their vainglorious posing and strutting is impeccable.

  • Caractacus

    Should Robert Hardy be speaking for Winston Churchill, or Danny Glover be speaking for Nelson Mandela? We’re actors. It’s what we sodding do. Turn the question around and you’re saying that a transgender actor cannot play anyone but transgender characters. I can’t even believe this is up for debate.

    And no, I don’t have a problem with blackface (when done appropriately, such as the Indian born, Hindi fluent Michael Bates in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum) either.

    • Terry Field

      Acting is the work of a mindless cipher; that precludes the actor from pretending to have a brain. But that attribute is something you make no claim o.

      • Caractacus

        Acting is interpreting. It requires a brain. The commentator is the writer.

        • Terry Field

          Not a whole lot. The Director does the real stuff. You are talking to one; I know. The point is that well known people should not pimp ideas they barely comprehend, to con the gullible.

          • Caractacus

            You’re also talking to one. The Director is simply a higher up interpreter and you’re rather denigrating the work of the actor and the writer by saying that you do the real stuff. No, you didn’t write the words and you’re not the one on stage. The Director is the least important person in the room and you should never get above your own importance. Your job is to frame. Put on Hamlet, the writer cannot be replaced. The actor playing Hamlet is the one who is remembered, the Director is easily replaced.

          • Terry Field


          • Caractacus

            Whereas you’re reducing actors to the equivalency of puppets. Actors have agency and if you ignore that, you’ve given up the greatest strength of any production. Moreover an actor is as entitled to their opinion as anyone else and if someone puts them on camera and asks them a question, they have a right to answer as they see fit. No matter how much you or I may agree with them. If that p***** you off, find someone to put you on camera.

    • freddiethegreat

      NOBODY should speak for Mandela. After all, nobody spoke up for Martin Bormann, did they?

  • Ed  

    There’s no such thing as a trans person, and there won’t be, until they invent the chromosome transplant.

    It’s sort of weird that those folks believe on the one hand that whether one’s gay or straight is carved in stone, and attempts to “treat” gayness are evil, but on the other hand you can go right ahead and have a surgeon swap out your genitalia willy-nilly. Those two views are contradictory.

    • Jeffrey Vernon

      In the same way, many trans people argue that gender is fluid…but go for reassignment as though genitals and hormones really do matter after all.

    • Louise

      LOL! So true! Logic isn’t their strong suit.

  • Frankie Barlow

    “Trans people”.

    There are two sexes, male and female.

    There are males, females, and a tiny minority of unfortunate freaks.

    The question is, to what extent should we undermine our traditional ideas about the sexes in order to spare the feelings of the tiny minority of unfortunate freaks, and advance the degenerate nation wrecking agenda of the (((cultural Marxists))) ?

    The answer is of course, not one iota.

  • magi83

    The standard argument of the SJW brigade:
    -We can dictate whatever we like to you because social justice and equality.
    -We can do whatever we like because relativism.

  • Terry Field

    If you want to sell a fruitcake or marginal subject – get some credulous luvvies to front up.

    • freddiethegreat

      Even better, if you ARE a fruitcake…..

  • Edward Studor

    Help. I’m male, heterosexual and white. I’m in a majority. What can I do, is there a helpline?

  • Louise

    “Hold on, should we actors really be speaking for trans people?” The real question is should you be speaking for anyone? Maybe just sticking to your scripts would be best.

  • Harryagain

    Most actors seem pretty brain dead.
    Their opinions are worthless.
    A bit like politicians and journalists.
    A bit more narcissic and a bit less duplicious
    Probably best to keep quiet.

  • mothbanquet

    To each his own and all that, but this really seems to be getting out of hand.

  • WarriorPrincess111111

    Divide and conquer! People control!
    Divide Males and Females! Divide Fat and thin! Divide Gays and heterosexuals! Divide Drinkers and Tee totallers! Divide Smoker’s and Non-Smoker’s! Divide Rich and Poor! Divide Freaks and normals! Divide those on benefits and those who are not! Divide house owners and those who are not! Divide Tax payers and those who are not! Etc., etc., continue the punishments and offer a carrot!

  • mickey667

    You can if you want, but you don;t have to. What is the point of this article?