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Casting for Transgender Characters

This resource highlights guidance and best practices from GLAAD to inform the casting process for transgender characters.

Still from 'Pose', cast stands in a night club
"As more transgender people participate in creating media, trans storytelling will become more authentic and real and rewarded."
Nick Adams
Director of Transgender Media, GLAAD

GLAAD has access to a national network of transgender actors, acting coaches, and experienced transgender talent, who can be connected to casting agents for opportunities and matched with media projects.

To start a conversation with GLAAD about your project, contact

Leo Sheng wearing a t-shirt that reads "Phenomenally Trans"
Why is it so important that trans roles be cast with trans actors? Isn’t acting what actors do?

This is a complicated issue that isn’t easily reduced to a soundbite. We urge you to talk to trans content creators about your specific project so the casting conversation can happen in context.

The crux of the issue is this: we live in a culture that refuses to believe trans people are who they say they are.

Given that reality, when cis actors play trans characters it perpetuates this belief that trans people aren’t real. When a gay man plays a straight character, it doesn’t cause audiences to assume that all straight men are secretly gay men. But when a cis man playing a trans woman takes off the wig and the dress, it sends the message that underneath it all trans women are wearing costumes and still “really men.” This toxic belief, that trans women are just men playing dress-up, contributes to a U.S. culture in which a trans woman is murdered every two weeks. And when cis women play trans men, who are largely invisible in the media, it reinforces the mistaken idea that trans men don’t exist at all.

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In a perfect world — and we’re not there yet — trans actors would be cast regularly for both trans roles and cis roles. We would also live in a world where trans people’s gender identities are understood and believed to be real and valid. When that day comes, and we know Hollywood can play a key role in getting us there, it may be less important if a cis actor plays a trans role.

The conversation about casting trans roles makes headlines, but remember, a script written by someone who does not understand the trans experience isn’t fixed by casting a trans person to play the part. Problematic casting decisions are often a consequence of a script that isn’t fully informed by the trans experience. If you start collaborating with trans content creators early in your process, you probably won’t even need to worry about casting.

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Jesse James Keital as 'angel' in "Star Trek"
Cast of 'Veneno'
What if my project portrays someone before and after their transition? Won’t having a trans person in the role inhibit my ability to do that?

Talented, trained trans actors can be found who have medically transitioned and who have not medically transitioned; who transitioned in grade school or in retirement; who are perceived as trans by others quite quickly or who are assumed to be cis based on their appearance. You just have to search. Trans actors may be willing to play the character pre-transition, depending on the content. And transition narratives are not the only stories to tell about trans people. Films and TV have told that story many times already, and transition narratives make casting much more difficult. Talk to trans creators about the other stories which have been largely untold by Hollywood – you might find those narratives fresh, new, and inspiring.

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I don’t think I can find money if the lead character, who is trans, isn’t played by a person with an international financing reputation. Can I cast a cisgender person in that situation?

The world is evolving, and today it is a mistake, especially if you are cross-sex casting (a cis man to play a trans woman, or a cis woman to play a trans man.) It simply isn’t cost effective to take this risk; recent projects which cast cis actors to play trans roles have felt the tide of public opinion turn against them and have taken a hit at the box office.

As we continue to support and amplify trans talent, more trans actors will develop greenlight power.

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Maya Rudolph and Michaela Jae Rodriguez at the "loot" premiere

For a deeper look into the history of trans representation on screen, and why authentic casting for transgender characters is so important, we suggest watching Sam Feder’s ‘Disclosure,’ streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer below.

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