Here’s my thing with the whole mess of Eddie Redmayne being cast as Lilli Elbe and other cis men being cast to play trans women … no one knows how to portray a person of a particular gender better than someone who spent their childhood pretending to be a person of the wrong gender.
Speaking very generally here, trans people study, dissect and consciously examine all the ways that society tells us a person of a particular gender is expected to behave because so much of our closeted life is spent pretending to be the gender we were assigned instead of the gender we are.
Again, speaking very broadly, cis boys internalize the expected behavior of boys and men, while internalizing the behavior of girls and women only in relation to themselves - that is, how they should expect girls and women to behave toward them.
Cis girls internalize the expected behavior of girls and women, while internalizing the behavior of boys and men in relation to themselves - that is, how they should expect boys and men to behave toward them - which in patriarchy also means being aware of those boys’ and men’s expectations of girls’ and women’s behavior, if only as a matter of safely navigating a society and culture that claims ownership over their bodies.
Again, speaking very broadly and recognizing that there isn’t one true trans narrative, trans kids, meanwhile, consciously or subconsciously register the difference between their actual gender and the gender that’s expected of them, and learn everything they need to code-switch into expected gender behavior, while also absorbing and internalizing the messages meant for their real gender. I think we’re savvy in ways that cis people aren’t because cis people are just never forced to examine their gender in the same way.
So to say, ever, that the best person to portray a trans woman is a cis man is outright foolishness. Cis actors are accustomed to portraying people who are different from themselves, yes, but a male actor is usually portraying a man who is a spy, or a man who is a construction worker, or a man who is a suburban dad angsting his way through a life that does not fulfill him and is mourning his lost dreams. A cis male actor is NEVER portraying a woman in any of those roles.
If cis male actors were routinely cast as the femme fatale, or the manic pixie dream girl, or one of the gals in a “chick flick” or a suburban mom who is angsting her way through a life that does not fulfill her and is mourning her lost dreams, THEN we could talk about the best actor being chosen for the role. But cis men do not get roles as cis women.
Cis women occasionally will have a part that was originally written with the assumption of the character being a man, but they are never given the part of the lone action hero who gets the girl at the end. More and more, women are getting action leads, but those parts were written for women.
I can think of TWO trans women (and I’m being generous here) characters who were actually played by women. Cis women, but still women. One was in 1998 on episode 11 of Welcome to Paradox “Options” - a “changer” named Nora, played by Jill Teed - and Mia, played by Chloë Sevigny, on Hit & Miss. Then there are the handful of trans women played by actual trans women. But Hollywood seems to believe that, far and away, the person best suited to portray a trans woman is a cis man.
But then, Hollywood also seems to believe that all trans women are either late-transitioning middle- to upper-class white women, or else dead, or tragically dying sex workers and/or drug addicts of all races. Sophia Bursett is the sole exception that comes to me, and she’s in jail for credit card fraud, so …
I’m just sick of seeing this bullshit flying around that time after time, the best actor was chosen for the role when, in even the most charitable cases, the actor is chosen because he or she is an established name and their selection is a concession to the business side of filmmaking. It’s not an artistic choice, and stop believing the lie that it is anything other than the machinations of a soulless, transmisogynist and cissexist business.
And for christ’s sake, stop acting as if cis men are noble and true auteurs for (badly) portraying trans women.