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Industry Advice

The Future Of Casting For: Nonbinary Actors

Guest Post by Robyn Holdaway

In the acting industry, one of the quickest, simplest – and most common – ways to filter actors for a role is by gender.

Currently on Spotlight, you have two options: male or female. This is absolutely understandable; the first identifying factor of a human being – rightly or wrongly – tends to be their observed gender.

But there are a growing number of individuals who do not fit into these brackets. Me and my nonbinary compatriots face a minefield of awkward interactions, invasive questions and continual compromise throughout our work in the industry.

We may not be the majority of society – but to be fair, neither are magical sprites, murderous barbers and long dead politicians, all of whom feature in the stories we tell in the arts. We do not baulk at a female serial killer, or victimised men, as society may have done several decades ago. In the arts we have a unique opportunity to look beyond society as it stands, and delve into our imaginations to create both reflective and idealistic works. I believe in a future where this imagination extends beyond our writing and into our casting process.

Gender does not need to define our characters. These choices are made at a variety of stages – from a story’s conception, to the casting director’s office, to the mind of a producer. At any one of these stages, it can change. And it does.

Writers: Could your character be a different gender? Does the world you are creating have a binary concept of gender? If you changed a character’s gender, does it change the story?

Casting Directors: What jumps out to you in a character breakdown, beyond their gender? Can these features be prioritised before you clarify the gender?

Producers: Are there different, new ways to see characters that you hadn’t considered? Are you actively pushing to take risks in casting?

In the near future, these are some simple tips that can make the casting process more inclusive:

  • Normalize asking preferred pronouns. This can be done easily via email, before meeting the actor in person. Ask everyone, regardless of gender identity; this creates a more inclusive environment, which will help everybody in the casting process do their best work.
  • Avoid gendered language such as ‘ladies and gentlemen’, where possible. Try gender neutral terms such as ‘everyone’ ‘folks’ or ‘performers’.
  • Consider trans* performers for cisgendered roles.
  • Reach out via non-traditional platforms such as social media if trying to cast a transgender/nonbinary role.
  • Engage with trans/NB communities to ensure accurate and sensitive representation, and reach out to consultants where possible.
  • Tell stories that feature trans/NB characters that do not focus on an individual’s gender. Allow the world to see us as everyday people.

All of this information and more can be found in Equity’s LGBT+ casting guide; check it out on Equity’s website.

Our entire concept of gender is in a glorious state of flux. Until recently, boys wore pink and girls wore blue. Viking women managed the money, and heels were made for men to show off their calves. Our identities are moving away from previous gender constraints and blossoming into celebrations of what makes each of us individuals.

The arts are a vessel for social change, regardless of your role within it: casting is uniquely placed to challenge what we currently consider ‘normal’, reconsidering not only what our heroes and villains look like, but the roles they play in our ever-changing society.

Written by Robyn Holdaway – Nonbinary Actor