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The Schmooze

Controversy As Scarlett Johansson Cast As A Transgender Man

Scarlett Johansson has been cast in the provocatively titled movie “Rub and Tug,” which tells the extraordinary real-life story of Dante “Tex” Gill, a 70’s-era, mobster-esque impressario of sexual massage parlors.

Tex Gill was a woman…if you ask Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, or Variety.

Tex Gill was a man…if you ask ScreenCrush.

And according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which published Gill’s obituary, Tex Gill was “sexually ambivalent.”

Gill, writes the Post-Gazette, was masculine-presenting and may have gone through some degree of gender-confirming surgery. “She was always ‘the woman who prefers to be known as a man,’” the newspaper reports, continuing to refer to Gill with female pronouns throughout the article. A writer for ScreenCrush lays out a case that Gill “lived as a transmasculine person,” arguing that “while it is often tricky to know the exact language a historical figure used to describe their identity, especially for a trans person who’s no longer living,” descriptions of Gill suggest that the “massage” proprietor was a transgender man.

This is problematic, they argue, because Johansson is a cisgender woman, meaning her gender identity corresponds to the gender she was assigned at birth.

Johansson, no stranger to this type of controversy since playing a cybernetic Japanese woman in 2017’s “Ghost in a Shell,” won’t be the first cis star to portray a trans character — Eddie Redmayne did it in “The Danish Girl” and Jared Leto did it in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

But is it acceptable now? Was it acceptable then?

Scarlett Johansson, as always, gives us a lot to consider. We’re going to have to sip some SodaStream seltzer and think this over.

Jenny Singer is the deputy lifestyle editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

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