Nonbinary Performers Say Gendered Award Categories Ignore Their Identity There's a growing call for entertainment award categories to no longer be split by gender. Some nonbinary performers say these gendered divisions erase their identity.

Best Actor Or Actress? Gender-Expansive Performers Are Forced To Choose

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This week's Emmy nominations include a first. Mj Rodriguez becomes the first openly transgender performer to be nominated in a lead acting category for her role in the drama series "Pose." But why are entertainment awards divided by gender in the first place? NPR's Melissa Block reports on the growing call for gender-neutral awards.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Presenting the 2017 MTV Award for best actor in a movie, the nonbinary actor Asia Kate Dillon hailed it as a milestone.


ASIA KATE DILLON: It's so cool to be here presenting the first acting award ever that celebrates performance free of any gender distinctions.


BLOCK: Dillon currently stars in the series "Billions" on Showtime, and they're arguably the most vocal performer calling for an end to gendered award categories.

DILLON: It's erasure (laughter). It's exclusionary, and it continues to uphold a binary that is, ultimately, really dangerous.

BLOCK: So in 2017, when Showtime asked Dillon which Emmy category they wanted to be submitted for - supporting actor or actress - they balked.

DILLON: When pitted against each other in the context of an awards show, they only mean male or female or man or woman. When presented with those options, I am neither of those things.

BLOCK: Dillon challenged the television academy about this binary and was told, go ahead and enter whichever Emmy category you prefer, actor or actress. There's no gender requirement, which made Dillon wonder...

DILLON: So you mean Denzel Washington could submit as an actress and Viola Davis could submit as an actor, and that would be fine? And what does that mean, then, for why the categories exist?

BLOCK: It means they're arbitrary and absurd, Dillon argues. This year, the Emmys did announce a slight change. Nominees and winners can choose the word performer for their certificate or a statuette instead of actor or actress. But the Emmy acting categories themselves - unchanged. Same for the Oscars.


RENEE ZELLWEGER: And the Oscar for best actress goes to...


JOAQUIN PHOENIX: And the Academy Award for actor goes to...

BLOCK: And same for the Tonys. Some argue that preserving award categories for women ensures a bit of gender parity in entertainment industries that have long been dominated by men. After all, having separate acting categories guarantees that a woman will win. If they were to switch to mixed categories, who knows?

MELISSA SILVERSTEIN: I'm still not convinced that we won't be inundated with men. But I could be wrong.

BLOCK: Melissa Silverstein is the founder of Women and Hollywood, which advocates for gender diversity in the film industry. To make the process truly fair, she says, you have to build a bigger pipeline and create an industry that isn't, as she puts it, a dude fest.

SILVERSTEIN: It is just a piece of the conversation about inclusion that needs to happen.

BLOCK: As for music, it's been a decade since the Grammy Awards went completely gender-neutral. Bill Freimuth, chief awards officer for the Recording Academy, recalls the discussion at the time.

BILL FREIMUTH: The question came up. Why do we have these categories? What's the difference between a male country singer and a female country singer? And, no, that's not the lead into a joke. I have no punchline. It's just a matter of fact. They're both singing, so why do we need to separate that out? And the answer was, we don't know why.

BLOCK: In the years since the switch, male and female performers have come out pretty much even in winning those non-gendered Grammy categories. Actor Asia Kate Dillon predicts that widespread scrapping of gendered award divisions is just a matter of time.

DILLON: I don't think it will be too many more years before we'll look back and go, that was - why did we - what was that? Wasn't that strange, that we separated people like that historically? And then, aren't we glad that we did something about that?

BLOCK: Melissa Block, NPR News.


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