“We are in a transition together,” Scott Turner Schofield says about the treatment and understanding of trans people in Hollywood. The TV show, Pose, and the recent controversy over Scarlett Johansson’s casting as a trans character (which she subsequently withdrew from after backlash), has brought a sudden increase in awareness around the discrimination that trans people face in the industry.
Speaking on this week’s episode of the podcast, LGBTQ&A, Scott talks about being told he can’t play romantic scenes because he’ll throw the actress’s sexuality into question, the downsides of visibility, and why he describes his male privilege as “superficial.”
Read highlights from the interview here, or listen to the full podcast interview on the audio player below.
Jeffrey Masters: We’ve had this debate about casting trans people in trans roles before. This time it feels different to me.
Schofield: Well, something changed, you know? That's what really happened.
There are people who say you should be happy that anyone's telling trans stories at all and we need these stars in order to make it, but we can't compare today to 20 years ago. The fact is we've moved on. There are now dozens and dozens of professionally trained, really good trans actors.
When I walk into a casting room, someone's thinking about how nervous they are that they might use the wrong pronoun or which bathroom I should be in, not how good of an actor I am. We've got to move past that. We're all in it together and we've just got to take steps together
I’d argue that when most people think about trans people, they envision trans women and not trans men. I know it's not cut and dry, but why do you think trans women are so much more visible?
I have many theories about this. One big reason is the double-sided sword of being a woman, that it all comes down to sex. Sex in the way that sex is power, and sex as in sexist victimization.
For some trans women, their femininity makes them a target. Some trans women are able to have more power because they’re gorgeous and sexy and are the beneficiaries of something which can also very quickly turn on them. Laverne Cox or Janet mock are super heroines, but they’re not totally bulletproof, not the least to say that they're women of color.
I wonder if when a trans woman comes out, she opens herself up to being sexualized and with that comes lots of attention, whereas trans men access male privilege and we know to just respect that.
Well, okay. I really take exception to the idea that we access male privilege. We access male privilege in that we are able to walk down the street without being assaulted. However, there is no person who trades in male privilege who looks at a trans man and thinks that that dude is equal to me. People think, “That dude is a girl,” and we have to fight against that.
That’s the response every time you step outside?
People say, “Wow. You really look like a dude.” That's because I am a dude. It’s “Wow, you're really pulling that off.” You wouldn't believe the stuff I've heard. What they’re communicating is, “I do not believe that you are a man.”
With you saying that and the recent Scarlett Johansson casting controversy, it reminds me of how far the public still has to go in terms of beginning to understand trans people.
I should tell you that a very powerful gay man told me “Well, we can't send you out for romantic roles because then you'll put the sexuality of the actress into question.” Meaning if I kiss a woman, that's a lesbian kiss. In Hollywood, liberal Hollywood. Nobody knows what they're doing. And I'm trying to find a better way to say that because I have compassion for it. People don't know what they're doing because we’re not ever taught this stuff. I have rage because I have lost family members. I've gone through some of the deepest hurt that I can go through and to anybody who's mad at me for being mad, I'd say to have a little compassion for me.
We are in a transition together, right? I say this to myself, “Stop being mad” and “Let's all take these steps together.” We will work it out. We can work this out.
Going back to you a rejecting the idea that you have male privilege, how has your experience of privileged evolved?
I do recognize that I have privilege. Also, I'm white. I can walk down any street and be safe, but if you Google me or know that this “Trans Speaker” is coming to your place of work to talk, you immediately see me with different eyes. That’s where I take issue with the idea. As soon as anybody finds out that I'm trans, which is very easy to do, suddenly any male privilege I had goes away. So I have superficial male privilege.
I have to wonder if the trans community has centered trans women, specifically trans women of color, because there’s this massive issue with their safety and we’ve done that to literally save their lives.
You’d think that, but in some ways the massive rise in visibility that we've all experienced since 2015 has been met directly with things like bathroom bills. There's a serial killer on the loose in Florida right now. Visibility is wonderful and life saving and it also makes you a target.
It also can make people's lives more difficult to know what you are and to realize that you're in the midst of a culture that does not support you and that you have to escape. While I hope it leads to better outcomes on the behalf of the people who do escape, I sure wish that we could just be loved for who we are from the beginning.
Are you saying that given the option of knowing that you were trans while growing up and having language for that, you don’t know if you would have chosen that?
It’s just that I wonder if there aren't kids…at least for me, I went into this world of imagination about why I was made this way and what happened. My world was populated with fairies and creatures and it turned imaginary for me. I'm just seeing both sides of it. All of this knowledge I think is so wonderful and really helpful, and I envy kids these days who get to grow up knowing who they are and that they're a part of something.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Click here to subscribe and listen to the full podcast interview on LGBTQ&A.