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Billions performer challenges the Emmys’ actor/actress binary

Billions (Photo: Showtime)
Billions (Photo: Showtime)

Ever since Billions second season kicked off, performer Asia Kate Dillon has been drawing strong reviews for their performance as Taylor, the latest recruit into Bobby Axelrod’s cult of financial worship. Identifying as gender non-binary, Dillon (and Taylor) is a knowing antidote to the show’s hyper-masculine pissing matches, defusing situations with calm logic instead of bellowing speeches. It’s the kind of work that can secure a young performer a coveted supporting performer nod when the next Emmy Awards roll around. But that consideration also forced Dillon—whose assigned sex is female—into an awkward position: Whether to submit as a supporting actor, or actress.

Per Variety, that answer apparently involved a healthy amount of research, plus a letter to the Television Academy itself. Noting that the word “actor” was originally gender-neutral, with actress invented several years later to denote a female actor, Dillon wrote,

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?

The Academy’s response was quick and apparently thoughtful, noting that there are no actual rules in place to say who can submit for which categories. (Apparently, the Academy rules say nothing about gender or sex at all, even in the actor/actress distinctions.) Dillon, who expressed their happiness at the response, ultimately decided to submit as an actor, owing to its less explicitly gendered roots. “I can only speak to the world in which I wish to live,” they said. “I think this is a really good place to start a larger conversation about the categories themselves, and what changes are possible and what may or may not be coming. I’m excited to see what other people think, and what they want to say once they become aware of this.”

Billions is currently in the middle of airing its second season, on Showtime.

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