Emmys: Gender Non-Binary 'Billions' Star Resolves Category Placement

A letter to the TV Academy from Asia Kate Dillon, whose portrayal of Taylor on the Showtime drama has won raves, prompted Emmys organizers to clarify their eligibility requirements.
Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME
Asia Kate Dillon on 'Billions'

It's that time of year when performers with Emmy hopes are submitting required paperwork identifying the category in which they wish to be listed on the Emmy nomination ballot. For most, this necessitates a choice between the leading and supporting categories. But for one performer this year, it has prompted a request for clarification about the very meaning of the words "actor" and "actress."

Asia Kate Dillon, who identifies as "gender non-binary" (someone who experiences their gender identity as falling outside the boxes of "man" and "woman") and who portrays the gender non-binary character Taylor on Showtime's Billions (winning raves this season), sent a letter to that effect to the TV Academy in late March.

In the letter to John Leverence, senior vice president of awards, with a CC to Maury McIntyre, president and chief operating officer — the full text appears below — Dillon writes: "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? 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?"

Dillon went on to write, "When presented with the choices of 'actor' or 'actress', I use the word 'actor'. Through my research, I learned the word 'actor', in reference to those who performed in plays, came about in the late 1500's [sic] and applied to all people, regardless of anatomical sex or identity."

The TV Academy quickly replied to the letter, Dillon's reps confirm to The Hollywood Reporter. The Academy informed Dillon that, per existing rules, a performer may enter as either an actor or an actress, whichever the performer more closely identifies as. In response, Dillon, for their (Dillon's preferred pronoun) work on Billions, elected to enter as an actor — more specifically, in the supporting actor category — since "actor" has been used as a non-gendered term, whereas "actress" has been used specifically to describe female performers.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presides over the Oscars competition, faced a similar question several months ago when Kelly Mantle, a performer who identifies as "gender fluid," sought clarification about the category options available to him (Mantle prefers masculine pronouns). The Motion Picture Academy leaves it up to its voting members to determine if a performance is a leading or supporting one, but does ask that performers be listed under "male" or "female" — and Mantle was told that he could be submitted under either or both, but nominated in only one, should he receive enough votes.

What follows is Dillon's letter to the TV Academy. A similar letter also was sent to Adam Moore, SAG-AFTRA's national director of EEO and diversity, in regards to the SAG Awards.

* * *

John Leverence, Senior Vice President of Awards
cc: Maury McIntyre, President and Chief Operating Officer
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences
5220 Lankershim Blvd
North Hollywood CA 91601

Dear Esteemed Leaders and Members of The Television Academy,

I hope this letter finds you well and thank you in advance for your time. My name is Asia Kate Dillon and I am a performer on the Showtime drama series Billions. I am writing because I hope to engage you in a conversation about something that has been on my mind for quite some time regarding awards ceremonies and the nomination categories used therein. I identify as gender non-binary; someone who experiences their gender identity as falling outside the boxes of 'man' and 'woman'.

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? 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?

When presented with the choices of 'actor' or 'actress', I use the word 'actor'. Through my research, I learned the word ‘actor’, in reference to those who performed in plays, came about in the late 1500's and applied to all people, regardless of anatomical sex or identity. Ideally, I would use the word 'performer' in my bio because the word 'actor' stems from the past participle agere; to do. Hence, to perform.

After educating myself further, it seems that the term 'actress' came into being to define anatomically female performers, though that is certainly not its only use today. And, because our culture has been aligning anatomy and gender identity for some time, some people who identify as women started using 'actress' to specifically denote their anatomy. Now, in our modern era, some transgender women use 'actress' to denote their gender identity and/or biological sex.

Moreover, some people who identify as women use the term 'actor' in their everyday life but, because awards ceremonies only offer the two categories, are forced to choose between them when submitting for a nomination.

I would be interested in working with you to develop a more inclusive solution that doesn’t divide talent based on anatomy nor gender identity. 

Thank you so much for your time and consideration of this matter. I eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,

Asia Kate Dillon

 
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