The question of "trans" is at the heart of a new culture war. But if we look at the box office history...by Andrew Dickson / November 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
If William Shakespeare were alive today and picked up a copy of Time Out, he might find himself pausing over the theatre listings. At a pop-up space in King’s Cross, the Donmar Warehouse is currently hosting a season of his plays Julius Caesar, both parts of Henry IV and The Tempest. No doubt he’d have been thrilled to see that he remains in fashion, albeit a little thrown that in these all-female productions not one male actor appears on stage. In November, at the Old Vic, former Labour MP Glenda Jackson will make her long-awaited return to the stage as King Lear. She will definitely not be Queen Lear: the production is billed as “gender-blind.”
It’s not just on stage that gender roles appear to be more fluid than they used to be. Jill Soloway’s Amazon Prime sitcom Transparent follows a retired professor named Mort Pfeffermen as he ponders gender-reassignment surgery and tries to find a new life as Maura. Two years ago, Laverne Cox, who plays a fireman-cum-hairdresser in Netflix’s prison drama Orange is the New Black, became the first transgender woman to be nominated for an acting Emmy. Even more strikingly, mainstream British television has started to explore trans issues. Rebecca Root’s turn in the BBC’s Boy Meets Girl was the first starring role for a transgender actor in a prime-time series. There is also Annie Wallace in Hollyoaks, and Riley Carter Millington’s ongoing role in EastEnders, the latter a rare example of a female-to-male transgender actor.
Even the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is loosening up. In September, its editors added the phrase “gender-fluid,” alongside other recent entries including “cisgender,” “genderqueer,” “gender identity,” “trans” and “Mx” (a form of address that leaves gender unspecified). The OED defined “gender-fluid” as either “not clearly or wholly male or female; androgynous,” or “designating a person who does not identify with a single fixed gender.” They point out that the first, faintly negative, usage dates back to 1987.