It’s unpleasantly ironic that some activists can claim that a role in a show causes enough “genuine distress” to be cancelled, while being seemingly unfazed about the upset caused to those they are throw the transphobic accusation at. Suzy Wrong, a trans actor who signed the letter, justified the move by arguing that “nobody ever intended to cancel Hugh, and clearly he hasn’t been cancelled, as he continues to work in high-profile shows”. The fact that so many of the letter’s signatories seemed ignorant to the fact that their actions caused the sacking of a team of make-up artists, assistants, camera crew and technicians – as well as Sheridan – says something about their understanding of “privilege”.
The real question is: why does this keep happening? Despite the wealth of artistic history of gender-bending and role reversal, with ground-breaking roles like Helen Mirren’s Prospero or James Howson’s Heathcliffe, donning another identity on stage is now deemed “offensive”. Eddie Redmayne was forced to admit to the Sunday Times this weekend that his role as trans woman Lili Ilse Elvenes in The Danish Girl was “a mistake”.
Scarlett Johansson dropped out of the film Rub and Tug in 2018 after being criticised for agreeing to play a trans man and JK Rowling has been all but wiped from the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter franchise for her views on gender and sex. Czepanski and others argued that the problem was an industry that failed to be “a more diverse space for gender diverse folks”.