Actors should play roles! That’s why they do! Matthew McConaughey didn’t have to have HIV to star in The Dallas Buyers Club. Meryl Streep didn’t need to be a bad singer to appear in Florence Foster Jenkins. She could pretend!

So, ideally, it should be OK that Matt Bomer was cast by producer Mark Ruffalo to play a trans female sex worker in a film called Anything. But there was an uproar—particularly from the trans community—and I can understand the sensitive issues that underlie the anger.

For one thing, all actors don’t get to play all roles, as it turns out. Matt Bomer wouldn’t get cast as a cis woman, so you might conversely ask, “Why should he be cast as a trans woman? Both roles are female.” Furthermore, if you’re going to constantly have cis people like Bomer playing trans—as has happened with Felicity Huffman, Jared Leto, Eddie Redmayne and Jeffrey Tambor on down—the reverse should be the case and trans people should be cast as cis people. But that hardly happens! I don’t see Candis Cayne in The Cyd Charisse Story or Carmen Carrera playing Linda Evangelista. I rejoiced when Chaz Bono was cast as a cis man in a movie two years ago, because it makes sense for a man to play a man—I mean, women are women and men are men, right? And if cis people aren’t limited to cis characters, why should trans people be limited to trans characters? But most of the time, it seems like trans people can’t get to play cis roles and sometimes they can’t even get trans roles!  Various TV shows have shaken all that up, but not everyone’s followed suit in a way that opens up enough opportunity. Generally, trans actors gets shafted every which way but loose. And the familiar argument “Well, there isn’t a really bankable trans actor producers can use” is bull, especially because even if that were true, it would only be due to the same root problem—Hollywood has severely limited the chance for that to happen.

But is there hypocrisy within the hypocrisy? The wonderful Laverne Cox is playing “a sweet transvestite” (and bisexual) in TV’s version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but how come the people who are so angered by Bomer haven’t expressed an avalanche of furor over that? After all, a 2010 movie called Ticked Off Tr**nies with Knives—which was fabulously pro-trans—was protested and banned, partly because some drag queens played the lead roles. So that’s horrible, but a trans female playing a transvestite is OK? Why are some LGBTs playing other LGBTs accepted, but not others? Ideally speaking, I think they’re ALL OK—and even Bomer’s casting could be considered more acceptable—but only if we strive for a show business in which actors are allowed to explore all sorts of options. (Interestingly, some actors of color are appearing in NYC productions of Shakespeare and Chekhov this season. Why the fuck not?)

Faced by the protest, Ruffalo said it’s wrenching to know the pain trans people are going through on this, and he’s glad to open up the debate. Let’s keep talking while greenlighting some real trans acting projects—maybe Tangerine II: This Time They’re Nice?

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