The controversy surrounding Scarlett Johansson playing a ‘transman’ demonstrates the incoherence of trans identity

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Last week, actor Scarlett Johansson was subjected to backlash online after news emerged that she planned to play a “transman” in an upcoming film called Rub & Tug. A comedian named Faith Choyce tweeted, “Scarlett Johansson is playing a trans man in her next movie because her ultimate career goal is to take an acting job from a member of each and every marginalized group.”

Ironically, many of Johansson’s detractors accused her of appropriation.

It’s interesting to witness comparisons being made between a woman playing another woman, albeit one who has been rebranded in our modern times as a “transman,” and a white woman playing an Asian person or a seven-year-old boy.

Trans identity, according to gender identity ideology, is entirely based on self-identification, rather than on anything material, meaning that, theoretically, Johansson could identify as Asian, a seven-year-old boy, or simply a man, and no one could contest it. How does one know how Johansson feels on the inside about her femaleness, age, or whiteness? Perhaps she doesn’t identify with any of it?

Beyond that, the question of the identity of the character Johansson plans to play in the film is unconfirmed, considering Gill did not live in a time when gender identity politics were entrenched, as they are today.

In her obituary, Dante “Tex” Gill is not described as a man, but as both an out lesbian who wore men’s clothing and as a “woman who prefers to be known as a man.” Though she liked to be referred to as “Mr. Gill,” she was not viewed as a literal male. The notion that a female actor should not play a female character who perhaps desired to be viewed as and treated as a man is nonsensical. It posits that only actors who have had the exact experiences of the characters they play be allowed to play said characters. Ironic, considering that a number of Johansson’s critics argued that trans-identified males should be permitted to play females on film.

Trans-identified actor, Trace Lysette, complained, “So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all… I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case.” Another trans-identified actor, Jayme Clayton, demanded trans people be cast in the roles of “non-trans characters.”

Clayton later complained about being referred to as “trans” at all, when them published an article listing “13 Trans Actors to Follow Instead of Scarlett Johansson.”

So. To be clear: only trans-identified actors may play characters who are said to be “trans,” but they should also be cast in roles as “non-trans” people, and, in fact, we shouldn’t acknowledge them as “trans” at all.

This is beyond incomprehensible. We cannot simultaneously argue that only those who identify as “trans” may play trans-identified characters, also claim that trans identity is based on nothing more than a personal feeling (because, in that case, who is to say which actors feel or do not feel “trans” on the inside), and insist trans actors not be referred to as “trans” at all, all the while demanding that men who identify as women be permitted to play characters who were born female. Considering that the argument against men or women playing trans-identified characters is based on lack of shared experience, trans activists must then acknowledge that those who were born and socialized as male under patriarchy have not had the same experience as those born and socialized as female.

The hypocrisy and irrationality of it all is astounding — all the more so considering how many media outlets jumped on this story, and participated in the condemnation of Johansson, including Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, and The Verge.

We are on one hand told, “Transwomen are women” (that is to say, literally female), and on the other, that those who identify as transgender are different, special, and particularly marginalized. We are told we may not question the identities of those who claim to be women, but who were born male, but that it is perfectly acceptable to impose the identity of “trans” on those who did not use the term themselves during their lives, and also that we may impose the label “cis” (a term we are told describes a person who “identifies” with the gender imposed on them) onto those who do not publicly identify as “trans.”

The incoherence of trans activism and gender identity ideology demands allegiance to ideas that contradict one another and have no basis upon which to measure or define the various “identities” presented as inarguable truths. The only way, therefore, to participate in a politically correct way and to avoid being branded a heretic, is to ask no questions and to refuse critical thought. A perfect way to build a population of cultists, if indeed this is what we aspire to, as a culture. I, personally, recommend we choose another path.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.