LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The decision of several global sporting bodies to ban transgender women from elite contests stems from “fearmongering” about gender minorities, said Marvel Studios’ first openly trans actor, Zach Barack.
Barack, who made Marvel history by appearing in the studio’s 2019 film “Spider-Man: Far from Home”, was speaking after world bodies governing rugby league and swimming clamped down on trans participation in top-level events.
“It’s fearmongering,” Barack, 26, said in a video call from his home in Los Angeles. “(The) push against trans people in sports further villainises them”.
Transgender rights have become a major talking point as sporting institutions seek to foster inclusivity while also ensuring that competitors do not have an unfair advantage.
The International Rugby League last week barred trans players from women’s international competition, days after swimming body FINA said trans athletes cannot compete in elite women’s contests if they went through male puberty.
Several sports also have policies restricting trans athletes in top women’s competition, including rugby union, cycling and Australian Rules football, and others are reviewing their rules.
“(The issue of) policy bodies is really complex,” said Barack, citing double Olympic 800-metres champion Caster Semenya, who said she had offered to show her body to athletics officials when she was 18 to prove she was female.
“I don’t know what the solution is (but) I know it’s not checking people’s genitals,” Barack told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Barack, who is also a singer and stand-up comedian, said he was pushing to ensure trans representation in the media was not limited to secondary or gimmicky roles.
“If I’m gonna be a character, where being trans is part of it, then I don’t want it to be used as a plot device for another character’s … development,” Barack said.
“I don’t want it to be one feelgood episode or one ‘diversity afterschool special’.”
Barack also said the way he had seen trans characters handled in the past had convinced him to take a stand on representation in the profession.
“It’s made me as an actor be like, ‘Yeah, I’m not gonna do stuff like that anymore.’”
In 2019, he had a small part in Amazon Studios’ drama series “Transparent”, which featured actor Jeffrey Tambor in the lead role as a father who transitions to a woman.
The series drew critical acclaim and awards, but also criticism for having Tambor, who is not trans, take the role.
Barack said trans roles should be played by trans actors – but they should not be limited by their gender.
“As much as I want to say, ‘Yeah, trans people should really play trans people’ – and I do think that’s true – I also really want to say that trans people can play lots of things,” he said.
Barack is currently starring in Netflix’s new animated series “Dead End: Paranormal Park”, where he voices the main character Barney.
Though Barney is also trans, Barack said it was critical that the show treats that as an incidental detail, rather than using it as a plot device.
He said he hoped “Dead End” would drive forward a push for greater LGBTQ+ representation onscreen in future.
“I wish I had this as a kid,” Barack said of the series.
“We’ve all been starving for this kind of thing … It’s always meant something for people to see themselves on screen.”