The problem with cisgender people playing transgender roles is that it encourages dialogue like “he looks really good as a woman” or “he’s pulling off that dress well” (all quotes I just heard) which, while they might be intended as compliments, continue to perpetuate the idea that a transwoman is nothing more than a man playing dress up. Viewers don’t see a woman but a man pretending to be a woman, and while shows like Transparent may have done some good things for the trans community in raising awareness and starting dialogue, when the rhetoric revolves around “ Jeffrey Tambor is a great actor dressing up like a woman like that” or “Eddie Redmayne, he makes a pretty woman” or whoever is playing a transwoman now or next and getting credit for being “brave enough” to dare dress up as a gender that is “not their own” we’re still removing agency from transwomen as women: not playing a role, not playing dress up, but being their authentic selves as women.
And the same can be said for cisgender women playing trans-men, continuing the idea that they’re “just tomboys” and suddenly the narrative gets dismissed as a Shakespeare-esque “woman dresses up as a man to engage with male society”. While stories of women defying the patriarchy are great and needed, it that is not this story, and transmen should not continuously have their narratives erased and turned into the story of “a girl being one of the boys” or the story of a woman proving she can do anything men can do because this means removing transmen from the story as men. Too often, transmen’s identity is erased entirely because it is a cisgender female playing the role and viewer reaction goes straight to women’s beauty standards, interpreting the story as a woman’s right to wear pants or cut their hair short or play boy’s sports (all of which are great and true but not this story!)