The distinction between male and female acting categories was implemented as a means of combating the chronic and systemic overlooking of cis-women, particulary white cis-women, when it came to acting awards. This was despite the fact that there were no other categories similarly revised (as in directoress, best female or best male director/cinematographer/sound designer, etc.) I say “particularly white cis-women” because it’s important to note how dangerous it has been to defend the separation of male and female acting categories, as well as other awards shows’ use of the actress category, as being motivated by wanting representation for all womxn (cis and trans alike). In fact, Black, POC, indigenous, trans, and disabled womxn are still the most underrepresented groups at any awards show. And yet, if SAG, or the Academy, or the Emmys, or the Critics Choice Awards, decided to combat that underrepresentation by creating Best Black/POC/Indigenous actress in a leading/supporting role, that action would resoundingly read as what it was: racist and discriminatory.
In April 2017, when Showtime wanted to submit my name for Emmy consideration in the supporting category, I engaged in a conversation with the Emmy board that felt encouraging at the time. I asked them to clarify if their actor and actress categories were intended to separate people based on assigned sex and/or gender identity. I was told that Emmy rules state that any performer can enter either category for any reason. Since the word actor (late 14c.) is a gender-neutral word meaning “theatrical player, to do, to perform,” and is the word I’ve always used to refer to myself, I asked to be submitted under supporting actor. When the Critic’s Choice Awards later took it upon themselves to nominate me within the supporting actor category, I felt respected in my identity. I now recognize, however, that being submitted or nominated within categories that reinforce the gender-binary should have been met with my outright rejection of those nominations, alongside calling for change.
Not only is it possible to combine all of your leading and supporting nominees into the same gender-neutral categories, there is precedent: On May 7, 2017, I presented the first gender-neutral acting award, to Emma Watson, at the MTV Movie & TV Awards, noting, “It’s so cool to be here presenting the first acting award ever that celebrates performance free of any gender distinctions. Tonight we celebrate portrayals of the human experience, because the only distinction we should be making when it comes to awards is between each outstanding performance.”
To return, then, to your invitation: I would be thrilled to serve as a judge, provided you take immediate action to combine your acting awards into gender-neutral categories. This courageous and overdue step from my union would send a wide message that SAG not only supports me but supports all its non-binary and gender non-conforming members.
I look forward to your reply. With Love and Solidarity, Asia Kate Dillon — they / them / theirs