Why Attack Scarlett Johansson? The Real Problem is Media Rewriting Butch Lesbian History (AGAIN)



Scarlett Johansson/Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Scarlett Johansson just landed a new role. And while people are complaining the role should be played by a “trans man,” lesbians have pointed out that the character she’s playing in the new film Rub & Tug, Dante Gill, was a “butch” lesbian, not trans. Even in Dante Gill’s own obituary, Gill is described as an “unabashed lesbian,” because that’s exactly how the notorious butch-les self-identified while alive.

REAL TALK: I’m really getting tired of people in the LGBT community doing this sort of thing. We have legitimate battles to fight right now, but too many people are butt-hurt over Scarlett Johansson’s new film role.

Screenshot: Dante ‘Tex’ Gill’s 2003 obituary

First of all, Johansson is actually playing a butch lesbian, so my own “community” and the media representing it are erasing lesbians just by insisting that Dante Gill was trans in the first place. It’s homophobia, it keeps happening, and I’m so tired of my own community rewriting history.

In the past, pronouns (he, him, she, her) were used interchangeably and affectionately in the gay community. Gay men have addressed each other as “girl,” lesbians have addressed each other as “bro,” “dude,” “papi,” and so on. It didn’t mean the same thing, and sometimes it was a matter of survival. In the South, I asked a girlfriend to stop correcting everyone who misgendered me… because it was safer for both of us that way.

Dante Gill

Scarlett Johansson is an actress who can pull off playing the character of a butch lesbian. Scarlett can do anything! Hillary Swank knocked it out of the park in Boys Don’t Cry (1999). The bigger issue is the revision of our history.

It also seems even well-meaning people don’t understand that filmmaking is a business. Unless you’re shooting an art project, movie making is about making money. That’s the bottom line. No one in the LGBT community thought it was an issue… until my cousin, Jared Leto, played a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club (2013).

I’ve personally pledged to cast trans actors for trans roles on my future projects. I’ll stand by that. However, these roles won’t make or break any of my films. Multi-million dollar projects are another matter. Dallas Buyers Club needed to cast three big names just to get people to go to the cinema to support the movie. Filmmaking is a money making business, and like most films before it, Dallas Buyers Club cast a “name” for the role of Rayon. Jared’s Oscar winning performance opened hearts and changed minds about trans people, but ironically he still has hate coming at him from people in the LGBT community. They still smear his name.

A friend and I, at a gay wedding on the Hudson

Seeing Scarlett Johansson already getting criticized has me triggered. She referenced Jared’s performance to back up that what she’s doing is the norm as an actor, and people in the LGBT community doubled down their attacks after that.

It’s personal for me because I’m a butch lesbian, and I’m tired of butch and masculine lesbians being erased. That’s the problem here. The current LGBT community censors lesbians and seems to hate us. It’s also very much personal because, side note, Scarlett and Jared were romantically involved at some point, and they’re still attacking my cousin for doing his job, as well as a woman who’s just trying to do hers.

A lesbian filmmaker mentor of mine once said that lesbians shouldn’t expect lesbians to be cast for lesbian roles. She argued that the best actors for the parts aren’t always lesbians. Hardly any lesbians have been cast in lesbian roles, and gay people don’t expect gay characters to be played by gay actors. Acting itself is a transformation, and the truth is it’s difficult to get anything funded.

Attacking star actors for doing their jobs isn’t the way to go. Since films are made to make money, you can’t get people to invest in projects that don’t have big names… And mainstream media has created an environment that doesn’t have room for butch lesbians to become big names. The industry needs to make changes and they also need to stop erasing butch lesbians. My community has exhausted people like me, but our LGBT family has dealt with growing pains in the past. I’m optimistic we’ll come together.

Amy Dyess is a Cajun French writer, director, and producer from the Bayou State. These days she lives in the Emerald City.