Nonbinary and Gender-Fluid Actors Have to Make a Tough Choice When Submitting For Awards
When the 2023 Tony nominations were released on May 2, two nominees made history. "Shucked" star Alex Newell and "Some Like It Hot" star J. Harrison Ghee became the first openly nonbinary people to receive a nomination in the acting categories. But, the news comes with a little sting: the Tonys don't have gender neutral acting categories, so both Newell and Ghee are nominated in the "actor" category.
The call for gender neutral acting categories at major award shows has grown in recent years, thanks in large part to the increased visibility of nonbinary actors. "Yellowjackets" star Liv Hewson, who plays Teen Van on the show, told Variety in April that they wouldn't be submitting for the Emmys at all because of the show's gender-segregated categories.
"I don't want the limitations in terms of the language in the categories to be a reason that nonbinary actors like me can't be celebrated."
"There's not a place for me in the acting categories," Hewson told the outlet. "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."
Earlier this year, another nonbinary Broadway performer, Justin David Sullivan, also revealed that they would not be submitting for the Tonys this year. Sullivan, who stars in "& Juliet," said in a February statement, "I felt I had no choice but to abstain from being considered for a nomination this season," per Entertainment Weekly. "I hope that award shows across the industry will expand their reach to be able to honor and award people of all gender identities."
Sullivan wasn't the first actor to remove themselves from Tony consideration, either. The New York Times reported in February that Asia Kate Dillon asked not to be considered in the actor or actress categories for their role in "Macbeth," which was eligible for the 2022 awards.
"Actor is a genderless word," Newell told Rolling Stone of their decision to submit on the actor side. "It truly is. And the last time I checked, we didn't say plumb-ess for a plumber. We didn't say I'm going to see my doctor-ress."
Newell added that they "respect" their acting colleagues who chose to not submit themselves. "I think it's very admirable. And I think that it's their truth. And that is something that is a part of the conversation. These talented people shouldn't have to recuse themselves," they said. Newell also said that while Broadway is changing, it's "slow but steady."
But as nonbinary actors continue to make their mark in the industry, awards categories seem out of date. "House of the Dragon" star Emma D'Arcy, who is nonbinary, has been submitted as best actress at the upcoming Emmys, and in January they were nominated in that category at the Golden Globes. D'Arcy told E! on the red carpet before those awards, "When I was starting out, I really felt that I had to present as a woman in order to find success in this industry. It wasn't sustainable, and I stopped pretending. And weirdly at that point I got nominated for best actress for the Golden Globes, which is like beautifully ironic." "The Crown" star Emma Corrin, who is also nonbinary, told the BBC in November 2022, "It's difficult for me at the moment trying to justify in my head being non-binary and being nominated in female categories."
HBO's "The Last of Us" star Bella Ramsey, who's been open about being gender fluid and using all pronouns, told Vanity Fair in May about their decision to submit in the best actress category at the Emmys, "I don't want the limitations in terms of the language in the categories to be a reason that nonbinary actors like me can't be celebrated. And it can open up a conversation about how it feels — as long as I'm aware of the fact that it's not ideal, but also that finding alternatives is really complex."
Many fear that if categories are merged, cis-men will dominate the list of winners, though Hewson had a response to that while speaking with Variety in April. "There is an implied fatalism there, which suggests that we've all agreed that equality is impossible," they said. "And that's sad." Of course, all non-acting categories at major award shows are and always have been gender neutral.
Per Vanity Fair's May report, the Tonys is "more seriously considering imminent gender-neutral adjustments. A spokesperson for the Television Academy said to POPSUGAR in a statement, "None of the Emmy performer categories titled 'actor' or 'actress' has ever had a gender requirement for submissions. Emmy nominees and winners can opt to forego 'actor" and "actress' titles and request their personalized nomination certificates and Emmy statuettes to use the gender-neutral term 'performer' instead." The Academy, which runs the Oscars, is conducting research and having conversations to inform what decision they make. The Tonys did not respond to POPSUGAR's request for comment.
Which Award Shows Do Have Gender Neutral Acting Categories?
Some award shows have made the switch. The Independent's Spirit Awards moved to using gender neutral acting categories for the 2023 ceremony. The MTV Movie and TV Awards use gender neutral categories, as does the Gotham Awards, the Berlin Film Festival, and the Canadian Screen Awards. In the theater world, the Outer Critics Circle Awards and off-Broadway's Lucille Lortel Awards use gender neutral categories as well.