Thursday Trends: Recognizing Actors for Portraying Transpeople

Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman in 'Transparent' (Business Insider)

Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman in ‘Transparent’ (Business Insider)

Last week at the Golden Globe Awards, actor Jeffrey Tambor received the award for Best Actor in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy. Tambor plays Maura in Amazon Studios’ “Transparent,” a transgender woman who’s always identified as a woman, and how it affects her three adult children. (The series also won the Golden Globe for Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy.)

Tambor, who dedicated his award to the trans community, is the latest actor to be recognized for his work in playing a transperson. Though some actors before him have achieved recognition in portraying trans characters, the awards and nominations have come few and far between. But Tambor’s award comes less than a year since Jared Leto won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing a transwoman in “Dallas Buyers Club.” This suggests that the trans community is rapidly gaining in visibility, and portrayals of the community members’ nuances are beginning to be normalized onscreen.

The first film actor to be nominated for portraying a trans person was Chris Sarandon for “Dog Day Afternoon” back in 1975. Sarandon played Leon Shermer, the pre-operative trans wife of bank robber Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino). The character was based on the real-life Elizabeth Eden, initially born Ernest Aron. Sarandon received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for his work.

The first film actor to win an award for playing a trans person was Hilary Swank, portraying Brandon Teena in 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” Swank won the Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama Golden Globe and the Best Actress Oscar.

Last year, the Emmys made history when it nominated its first transgender acting nominee. Laverne Cox, who plays hairdresser/inmate Sophia Burset in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” was nominated for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series. (Though she didn’t win, Cox later scored another first as the first openly trans person to grace the cover of “Time” in June.)

It’s important to note that previous to Cox, all the actors nominated were cisgender, and this has occasionally become a point of contention. After Leto won the Oscar in 2014, discussions arose around transgender actors portraying trans characters.

With actors receiving recent recognition in portraying trans characters, the trans community’s visibility is rapidly rising. As more audiences watch trans stories, mainstream acceptance should spread.


Sex & Stats’ 2014 Year in Review

Beyonce's 'Flawless' performance at the 2014 MTV Video Music Award

Beyoncé’s ‘Flawless’ performance at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards

We’re almost done with 2014, so let’s take a look back at some important movements in the world of sexuality.

Trans Issues:

After a long time, the trans community has come into the spotlight.

It started back in early March, when Jared Leto took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing trans woman Rayon in “Dallas Buyers Club.” This was the first time an actor won an Oscar for a trans role, and the second time an actor playing a trans character had been nominated for an Academy Award. (The first time was when Felicity Huffman played a trans woman in 2005’s “Transamerica,” and garnered a Best Actress nomination.) The film also sparked a dialogue about cisgendered actors playing trans roles.

The community has been making strides on a local level as well. This fall, a Texas high school elected its first trans homecoming king.


Anal Play:

“We’ve been experimenting with the butt,” a good friend of mine said recently. Though she was referring to what she and her partner were getting up to, this statement also applies to our culture’s newfound fascination with anal play.

Ever since a stripper alleged that Drake enjoyed having his salad tossed, it seems like anal play and rappers  are having a major intersectionality moment. Nicki Minaj has proven this most frequently with her singles “Anaconda” and “Only,” positing herself in the power position of receiving, and greatly enjoying, having her asshole eaten out.

Anal sex also appeared on our broadcast TV screens in mainstream American homes this fall. The “How To Get Away With Murder” pilot and an episode of “The Mindy Project” both featured the formerly taboo act (the former more explicitly than the latter). Bonus points for both featuring interracial couples as well.



This is technically a holdover from 2013, but feminism continued to stake its claim in culture this year.

“Harry Potter” actress Emma Watson gave an inspiring speech to the United Nations launching the HeForShe campaign, mobilizing men to do their part for feminism. Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld ended his spring 2015 runway show with models holding up signs painted with feminist slogans. Singer John Legend declared that society would be better if all men were be feminists.

Of course, Beyoncé also had a hand in this. (No surprise there, as her 2013 self-titled album sampled Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie’s now-famous TED talk on feminism.) She started it off strong in January authoring an essay on workplace inequality for “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink.”

But that was small compared to what was to come: During the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, Beyoncé performed “***Flawless” in front of a giant lit marquee, branding herself as a FEMINIST. IN ALL CAPS. It certainly raised consciousness for many people, because Google searches for “feminist” and “beyonce feminist” majorly spiked that week.


2014 has been very eventful, and let’s hope society keeps making sex-positive strides forward in 2015. See you next year!