‘History?’ Trans Performers Nominated for Tonys as ‘Actors’

View of the stage at the 72nd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 10, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Michael Zorn/Invision/AP)

It ain’t your father’s Broadway. Or even his husband’s.

No, live theater is having its very own Jackie Robinson moment. But weirder. NBC News’s “Out” site broke the news: “Two performers made history Tuesday when they became the first gender-nonconforming actors nominated for Tony Awards.”


Finally! (You know how stuffy and conservative theatrical types can be.) J. Harrison Ghee is, appropriately enough, in “Some Like It Hot” and Alex Newell is in a musical called “Shucked.”

“Ghee is nonbinary and Newell is gender-nonconforming, and both of them use the pronouns he, she and they.” Huh? That’s not very helpful. Does that mean these two individuals don’t care about pronouns? (If only.) While NBC wasn’t taking any chances and stuck with “they,” it did include a useful explanation:

Gender-nonconforming is an umbrella term that includes people who don’t follow traditional ideas about how they should look or act based on their assigned sex at birth. Nonbinary people, who are neither exclusively male nor female, can be gender-nonconforming.

“So tis as clear as is the summer sun.”

What’s really fascinating is that this hugely super-important breakthrough for nonbinding gender nonconfrontational representation in the performing arts is that it’s largely semantic. The big deal is that both are up for separate categories of “Best Actor.”

Newell told Variety last week that they chose which category they wanted to be considered in “based off the English language.” 

“Everyone who does acting is an actor. That is genderless,” they said.


Got that, folks? They are sticklers for terminological exactitude. Satire is pounding on its coffin lid screaming, “Get your own act!”

But they’re deadly serious about these word games. Apparently, there have been people who opted out of consideration for the Tonys over its insistence on having “gendered actor categories.” 

Someone named Justin David Sullivan, “who also identifies as nonbinary,” removed his/her/themself from consideration, saying, “I could not in good faith move forward with denying any part of my identity to conform to a system and structure that does not hold space for people like me.” 

The Tony Awards are a “system.” Broadway is the Gulag Archipelago of labor camps stretching through midtown Manhattan. 

And it isn’t just The Great White Way. (Has any nickname been so indicative of the oppression and bigotry underlying it?) The TV industry is just as reactionary, according to NBC.

Nonbinary actor Liv Hewson, who stars in the Showtime series “Yellowjackets,” told Variety recently that they chose not to submit themselves for consideration in this year’s Emmy Awards due to the gendered categories.

“There’s not a place for me in the acting categories,” Hewson said. “It would be inaccurate for me to submit myself as an actress. It neither makes sense for me to be lumped in with the boys. It’s quite straightforward and not that loaded. I can’t submit myself for this because there’s no space for me.”


In other words, I just made up my very own category for myself (which I reserve the right to change whenever I fancy), and I resent the fact that you neither anticipated my whims nor scrambled to accommodate them. 

Stay strong, trans board-treaders. The struggle is real. 

Newell told Variety: “Change is inevitable and it will happen, but we need to move a little faster.” Newell said this from behind the wheel of a bus doing 110mph through Herald Square with bloody bits of Western Civilization splattered all over the fender.

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