Emmy Awards organisers have told a non-binary actor they can choose their own gender category after an impassioned letter from the performer.
Asia Kate Dillon joined the second series of financial drama Billions this year as Taylor Mason, widely considered to be the first non-binary character on TV.
Their impressive performances as a financial genius who helps Damian Lewis’ Bobby Axelrod make even more money have led Billion’s network, Showtime, to submit them for an Emmy.
But when Dillon, who has also acted in Orange Is The New Black, was asked whether they wanted to be considered for the award for best supporting actress or actor, they had no idea.
So they hit the books.
“What I learned through my research is that the word ‘actor,’ specifically in reference to those who performed in plays, came about in the late 1500s as a non-gendered word,” Dillon told Variety.
“It applied to all people, regardless of anatomical sex or gender identity.”
In contrast, ‘actress’ was created as a specifically female term, they learned.
This was not wholly satisfying for Dillon, who said they cried when they first read the Billions script, as “Taylor really inspired me to feel finally like: ‘Yeah, this is who I am and I don’t feel any shame or need to hide it.’”
They wrote to the organisers of the Emmy Awards with the concern that as it stood, there seemed to be “no room for my identity”.
“I’d like to know if in your eyes ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ denote anatomy or identity and why it is necessary to denote either in the first place?” Dillon asked.
“The reason I’m hoping to engage you in a conversation about this is because if the categories of ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ are in fact supposed to represent ‘best performance by a person who identifies as a woman’ and ‘best performance by a person who identifies as a man’ then there is no room for my identity within that award system binary.
“Furthermore, if the categories of ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ are meant to denote assigned sex I ask, respectfully, why is that necessary?”
A response came quickly and, by Dillon’s account, organisers were “100% supportive. I really couldn’t have been happier.”
They were surprised to learn that the Emmys’ rules state that “anyone can submit under either category for any reason.
“The Academy supports anyone’s choice to do that, and the Academy is not going to do any sort of check,” Dillon added.
There is no gender qualification needed – in fact, the only requirement for a nomination in either category is “a continuing performance in a regular series.”
— Asia Kate Dillon (@AsiaKateDillon) April 6, 2017
A spokesperson for the TV Academy told Variety that they were “happy with our productive dialogue with Asia based on their very thoughtful letter.
“The Television Academy celebrates inclusiveness, and as we discussed with Asia, there is no gender requirement for the various performer categories.
“Asia is free to choose the category they wish to enter.”
Dillon decided to enter as a supporting actor, because “given the choice between actor and actress, actor is a non-gendered word that I use.”
They hoped their actions would get people talking about gendered award categories, saying: “I can only speak to the world in which I wish to live.
“I think this is a really good place to start a larger conversation about the categories themselves, and what changes are possible,” they continued.
“I’m excited to see what other people think, and what they want to say once they become aware of this.”