The Miseducation of Casting Queer

The Miseducation of Casting Queer
By: Keira DiGaetano
(Promo picture for The Miseducation of Cameron Post featuring, from left to right, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, and Chloe Grace Moretz)

CW: queer slur
Disclaimer: This is entirely the author’s personal opinion and doesn’t necessarily represent the views of Risen.

Do you remember your first celebrity crush? You probably knelt in some dusty corner of your room, filled with the naively persistent hope that you’d meet them someday. Unfortunately, it’s kind of impossible to partake in that specific ritual if you know, deep in your budding queer heart, that you don’t stand a chance. Your onscreen heroes could never be your real-life heroes because they aren’t queer, and up until recently, that’s held true regardless of the sexuality of their character. Queer characters are becoming increasingly common, but the presence of queer actors feels like an irregularity rather than a given. Despite the increased representation of sexualities onscreen, what remains unclear is how much value that representation has for the LGBT+ community without LGBT+ actors actually being involved.

Here’s the thing: personally, I don’t think that casting LGB actors to play LGB characters is nearly the same as casting trans actors to play trans characters. Gayness has no visible identifiers (all flannel jokes aside), whereas physical attributes and dysphoria can play large parts in a trans person’s identity. When major movie studios cast people like Scarlett Johansson to play a trans-man, what they’re really saying is that Dante Gill was a man. To me, (disclaimer: I’m cisgender) that seems like pretty blatant transphobia. Just employ a trans person! As a bi woman, the arts industry is where I’ve found the most supportive and understanding people, and I feel safe in saying that many queer people feel the same way. As a result, there are many queer actors, directors, and crew members pursuing arts careers. If you want to help the LGBT+ community by providing representation, it seems like it would make a lot of sense to employ an actual LGBT+ person.

At the end of the day, I’d rather have more queer characters played by straight actors than fewer queer characters overall. I wish that the first ever gay Disney character was going to be played by a gay actor rather than the very heterosexual Jack Whitehall, but just the fact that there is going to be an actual gay Disney character blows my mind. I want more representation, plain and simple, and I’ll take what I can get. Is that compromising and enabling this behavior to continue? Maybe. I’d be lying if it hadn’t crossed my mind that some of these “straight” actors in queer roles could actually be closeted. After all, it can clearly be difficult to find employment as an LGBT+ actor. Unfortunately, when the casting debate becomes vicious, actors are often caught in the crossfire - in reality, we have no idea what they’re struggling with. For me, that possibility reinforces the idea that representation by straight actors is better than none. Playing a queer role, knowing someone who played that role, or simply watching queer characters could all help someone realize that they are queer. 

For many people, movies like Brokeback Mountain and Blue is the Warmest Color are quintessential LGBT+ content. No actors playing lead queer characters in those movies are (openly) queer in real life, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t positively impacted any LGBT+ person. More recently, The Miseducation of Cameron Post featured up-and-coming queer actress Sasha Lane, who also starred alongside the (also queer) Kiersey Clemons in Hearts Beat Loud earlier this summer. However, Chloe Grace Moretz plays the titular character of Cameron Post, and she doesn’t identify as queer. Should we focus on the positive, or do we have a responsibility to demand accuracy? I’d rather enjoy finally seeing girls kiss girls on the big screen. I personally choose to believe that we’re on the right path, as indie films that control their own budgets often cast queer actors as queer characters, and more major film studios are making progress. For instance, the already racially representative Crazy Rich Asians features a gay actor (Nico Santos) as the singular gay character. Seeing that representation in a major movie theater packed with cheering people is something I’ll never take for granted because, for a long time, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see it.