After learning about the different communities that exist in the queer community, I was interested in the film/TV portrayal of the people who identify as such. When talking about the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community that has emerged today, I was interested in the “T”– transgender characters of film. Dallas Buyer’s Club is a recent film to include a transgender character, and it has also received high acclamation for its story and acting, which has been very recognized at awards shows in the past few months. While the transgender character in this film is not the main focus, they are still used to point to an important quality in the plot of this complicated story. I would like to touch on the definition of transgender, the evolution of the word, and the representation of transgender people in the media by specifically looking at another pivotal performance in the film Boys Don’t Cry.
First off, it is important to know what it physically and mentally means to be a person who identifies as transgender. According to our textbook, to be trans or gender queer means rejecting the binary categories of male and female (Wood, 2013, p. 23). She goes on to describe transgendered as people who feel biologically assigned sex is inconsistent with their true sex identity (p. 27). So, in this case, from Dallas Buyer’s Club, Rayon is a woman despite having a male body. From the Huffington Post, Jared Leto described his character of Rayon as someone who lived “as a woman, not as someone who just enjoyed putting on women’s clothing.” Another actor might have played Rayon “as a drag queen or a transvestite,” but he saw the character differently (Signorile, 2013).
Dallas Buyer’s Club is a film set in the mid-1980s that is based on the true story of Ron Woodruff, played by Matthew McConaughey. He’s a heterosexual Texas electrician who learns he has HIV and battles not just the disease but his own rancid homophobia and transphobia. In the film, that’s particularly evident after he first meets Rayon, when they share a hospital room (Signorile, 2013). Taking place at a time where HIV/AIDS was a newly discovered epidemic, both Ron and Rayon were not rendered as important figures in their community of rural Texas.
However, concentrating on Rayon, it was her identity as a transgender character that made her and Ron clash and placed her as even less of a person in her community. In many interviews, Jared Leto comments on his character’s role in the film and the feelings he had while playing her. In an interview conducted by the Los Angeles Times, writer Melissa Wallack and Leto (2014) say, “We wanted a character that put everything that Ron was afraid of, in his face. So we thought if it was a gay man you could look away, but if it was Rayon you really can’t look away.” Ron starts off as a closed off “cowboy” who cares about himself and pleasuring his personal needs. By the time he meets Rayon though, she challenges everything we had understood as his opposite.
Rayon was not only used as a prime character in order to foil the characteristics of Ron, but she was also described as this fictional woman who acted as a “beacon of hope”. Many people from the cast and crew saw her as a character that really held the foundation of the film together. Jared Leto had such a big heart for his character, so much that he was careful in the way he would choose to portray her and very dedicated in making an accurate depiction. For a better idea of the passion that Leto put into Rayon’s portrayal, please take a look at the attached video (if you have not already). From watching this behind-the-scenes interview, we are able to gain a perspective from the actor’s view and accompanying thoughts from audiences who have had the chance to see this film. Continuously growing in recognition, Rayon is one of few gender queer characters that can be regarded as having a somewhat accurate depiction. Julianne Pidduck (2001) wrote an article on the portrayal of gender queer characters in the media. She specifically concentrated on the film Boys Don’t Cry where she suggests masculinity is encoded into film language through multiple components, such as control of the gaze (p. 101). This is similar to Rayon’s presence on screen for many reasons including the non-existent state of the trans identity at that time.
Because of Rayon’s identity, she may appear different to many people who are ignorant to a changing perspective of normality. Leto recalls a day when he went to the grocery store in character and he got three distinct reactions from other shoppers. One was, “Who is that?” The second was, “What is that?” And the third was, “I don’t know what that is, but I don’t like it” (Signorile, 2013). People are not used to this different lifestyle, and it is very reflective through the media that we are exposed to. The L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community and issues revolving around their mediated coverage have seemed to be nonexistent or existing with little reality put into it. “Discussion of transgender issues in serious media (as opposed to daytime talk shows) is relatively new– and like most fledglings, it is floundering on its way to maturity” (Kalter, 2008, p. 10). In the past, these issues have never had any kind of serious tone to them.
Dallas Buyer’s Club creates an accurate depiction in this respect, making clear that Rayon was a part of a minority in Texas. In the most recent years there has been an increase in the way we talk about the queer community and how we have chosen to depict these characters. This film marks a step in the big climb to acceptance and clarity. A representation like Rayon in Dallas Buyer’s Club is a big start in understanding and breaking down the wall. Leto comments on this change by mentioning a conversation he had with an elderly woman who said, “‘you know I don’t know these kinds of people, but I’m really glad I do now.’ She was talking about the Rayons of the world” (Leto, 2013).
Well, this post has gone on a little longer than I anticipated, but I do hope that I have been able to paint a clear picture of this lifestyle. I hope through the example of Dallas Buyer’s Club, you are able to gain the same appreciation and amazement I have gained from the portrayal of Rayon. It amazes me that Leto was able to cover a socially different character, and make her a person that others want to know– a common “Rayon of the world”. On that note, I would like to end by quoting from Hilary Swank’s Oscar acceptance speech for the portrayal of transgendered Brandon Teena in the film version of his life, Boy’s Don’t Cry (1999).
“I pray for the day where we not only accept our differences but we celebrate our diversity.”
Kalter, L. (2008). Catching up. American Journalism Review, 30(5), 10-11.
Leto, J. (2013, December). Interviewed by Focus Features. Dallas buyers club: Making rayon real- jared leto. Retrieved from http://www.focusfeatures.com/video/dallas_buyers_club_making_rayon_real_jared_leto
Leto, J., & Wallack, M. (2014, January). Interview by John Horn. Dallas buyers club: How jared leto became rayon. Retrieved from http://graphics.latimes.com/vignette-dallas-buyers-club-watch-cast-crew-discuss/
Pidduck, J. (2001). The boy’s don’t cry debate: Risk and queer spectatorship. Screen, 42(1), 97-102. doi: 10.1093/screen/42.1.97
Signorile, M. (2013, October 28). Jared leto on transgender ‘dallas buyers club’ role, russia’s gay law and more. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/28/jared-leto-transgender-dallas-buyers-club_n_4167655.html
Wood, J. (2013). Gendered lives: Communication, gender, & culture. (10 ed., pp. 23-27). Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Please watch this video to go along with the above video on the representation of transgendered people in film (looking at the part of Rayon, played by Jared Leto).
While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.”
In this blog, I will strive to considerately post my opinion in response to topics we learn in class, articles I find online, and videos that seem applicable to the class’ discussions. My hope is to be cautious with my words, but defensive for my beliefs, and to, in the end, continue fighting for what is right in the communication of gender (ALL gender identities).
As an introduction to my blog, I wanted to use the picture on the top of this page and the quote from above to explain the purpose of this blog and my general views of the gender identities we hold in societies today. First, I would like to reference the beautiful picture of the flowers in the foreground with the sun setting behind. I wanted to use a picture of flowers to really paint this poetic image that says no one person is the same, just like no one flower in this sunset is the same. One flower may have more shadow, another could still be exposed to the sunlight, there could be one that has more petals than another, or there is one that is a darker shade of purple and another that is much lighter. Like these flowers, there is no one person that is the same. People are darker and lighter, larger and thinner, taller and shorter, funny and smart, serious and loving, or L.G.B.T.Q.I.A (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) and straight.
No one flower looks the same and no one flower will be exposed the same way in the sunset. As I hope my metaphor has been clear, just like a field of flowers, no one person in a crowd of faces will look the same and no one person will act the same. However, we are all different for the one same reason. And that brings me to the quote that pretty much says, GOD CREATED EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING! Like Maya Angelou so brilliantly quotes, I am a creation of God and may as well realize that everyone else is also His creation. He created us to be different, and loves every part of us as his creations. As long as we are able to realize the differences God has bestowed in each individual and know to LOVE because of it, it’s probably safe to say that we’re fighting for what is right.