Ahsoka Tano Fans Speak Up About Transphobia in Fandom
Transgender fans voice their thoughts on the allegations against Rosario Dawson and transphobia in 'Star Wars' fandom.
Back in February, I wrote about the allegations against Rosario Dawson and her family, the evolution and complex nature of that ongoing case, the pervasive issue of transphobia within online fandom circles, and how we can all become better allies. I offered my thoughts on why transgender fans felt hurt and disenfranchised by this casting decision and started contacting people to see if they would be interested in being interviewed for a follow-up article, i.e. the one you are reading right now.
I was able to get in touch with four Ahsoka Tano fans who were willing to share their thoughts on the Rosario Dawson issue and talk about their experiences as trans fans in online fandom. Please note that some of the names have been changed to protect their identities.
How did you feel when you first heard that Rosario Dawson would be playing Ahsoka Tano on The Mandalorian and that the actress and her family had been accused of harassing and assaulting a trans man?
A: Devastated. Ahsoka is my favourite character and knowing that she’d have the face of someone who didn’t speak up against the transphobic allegations against her broke my heart. I don’t understand the purpose of Rosario’s silence. I know people can’t or shouldn’t speak out during an ongoing investigation, but Rosario should have reassured the public that the allegations were false (at least from her perspective) from the beginning. The investigation and lawsuit should have been concluded prior to her starring in the role.
Bea: I wasn’t particularly aware of Rosario Dawson or her work, so I didn’t feel any kind of way about the announcement. I was certainly interested in her casting because I was interested to see how Lucasfilm would translate the character from animation to live action, and I knew it was going to be odd for me not to hear Ashley Eckstein’s voice. When the accusations arose, I didn’t want to believe them because it was starting to feel like there are very few true trans allies left. As always with such accusations, I made sure to read up on everything before landing on a definitive feeling and, ultimately, I just felt disappointed. Disappointed in her for these actions and disappointed in myself for getting my hopes up.
Blue: I wasn’t super excited about it when I first heard about it. Due to how vague and convoluted the case was, I wasn’t sure how to feel.
Mark: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how I feel about Dawson’s casting. I recall how I felt as far back as 2017, when she expressed an interest in playing Ahsoka in live action. I had been a fan of her previous work and at the time it felt like “A good actor who is progressive, liberal and an active philanthropist, and also a fan of the character and franchise? Great!” I think I only heard about the allegations after the casting had been confirmed. This did sour my opinion, particularly as a trans masculine person, but the complexity of the nature of the charges and how they’ve changed over time make it murky. The allegations seem out of character given her perceived stance on social issues, and from what has been reported, it seems more in line with Dawson’s mother. It’s very easy in the early days of transition to feel like people are out to get you or that they are being purposefully disrespectful when they’ve known you a long time and are struggling to adjust. How much of that influenced the dropping of charges? We may never know.
You often hear people saying that you should separate art from the artist or a fictional character from the actor portraying them but this is easier said than done when it concerns marginalised communities. Did the allegations against Rosario Dawson impact your enjoyment of The Mandalorian season two?
A: It was difficult to appreciate the season as a whole when I felt like trans fans were being ignored by all those involved in the creative process. I liked all of the other episodes but I disliked Ahsoka’s because I have difficulty praising the performance of someone who I couldn’t trust to reassure the public that she isn’t a transphobe.
Bea: I tried not to let the accusations impact my view of the show, but ultimately they ended up being something I was reminded of whenever she was on screen. I understand that Disney was already a month or two into filming season two when the accusations arose and that there was a possibility that this would all just “go away”. There was also a large group of people excited to see her in the role. However, with accusations like this, it’s reached a point where it seems easier to accept that they are guilty unless they are proven innocent. For me, it wasn’t really about how Ahsoka herself would treat people – although obviously it would never be like this – but it was about decent morals and the constant let-down of Hollywood in this area (see Bea’s article about queer representation in Disney properties). However, with episodes that did not feature her, it was almost a moment of bliss because I could just enjoy Star Wars.
Blue: Yeah, the allegations made it hard for me to focus on anything in the episode other than “Hey, that person could be a transphobe… and she’s playing my favourite Star Wars character! Crap.”
Mark: I don’t believe in separating art from the creator. This has been a major issue of late for me in the United Kingdom and seeing how much legislation affecting trans people is being impacted by J.K. Rowling and the media that support her. To some extent, it depends on the specific body of work and whether the person in question is a creator or a “participant”. It feels less forgivable to consume something that’s created by a bigot and is being used to push their views onto others, e.g. Harry Potter has lots of classism, racism, and no legitimate LGBT representation. Rosario Dawson is an actress in The Mandalorian. It isn’t really a vehicle for her personal views, nor does she seem to post anything bigoted on social media platforms. Gina Carano, on the other hand, is actively pushing harmful rhetoric, so I have less of an issue with Dawson.
Ahsoka’s debut on The Mandalorian was met with a lot of praise and excitement from fans of the character. Did you feel like you were being actively pushed out of fandom circles? Did you suffer any abuse for trying to make others aware of the allegations against the Dawson family?
A: I deactivated my Star Wars stan account after being harassed by transphobes for saying I wanted an investigation into the allegations and for voicing my empathy for the victim. I was sent transphobic tweets encouraging me to hurt myself or telling me that trans people deserve to be physically assaulted for their existence. I feel safer now, but I avoid saying anything because I can’t handle direct harassment. So I do what I can to retweet and like tweets from fellow trans people and allies to show my support for them.
Bea: Almost thankfully, I have practically no standing in this fandom. Only a couple of my friends were watching the show and they’ve always been super supportive, so they were as disgusted as I was. I only ever made one or two tweets about it but next to nobody saw them. However, I am active enough in fandom to see the abuse that some people received for speaking up. And for a franchise that focuses on bringing peace to the galaxy, there is very little peace. There seems to be so much hostility in the fandom these days and while that is something faced by anyone who expresses an opinion, it especially hurts for members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community. We face enough backlash for existing as it is and we just want to enjoy the fun space movies without being constantly reminded of that pain.
Blue: I didn’t really express my concerns about the situation since everyone was super happy about her, and tons of “Fandom Menace” people on YouTube were making “SJW TRIGGERED AT DAWSON!!” videos. So I kept to myself.
Mark: I’ve not been hugely active in fandom, mostly due to seeing how toxic it can be, but this issue has encouraged me to try and find an LGBT friendly space within it. Many of my friends had mixed opinions about the Dawson issue.
As you probably know, there is a new Disney+ limited series in the works and Rosario Dawson will be reprising her role for that. What are your thoughts on this? Will you be tuning in or will you be boycotting it?
A: I may be trans but I’m also a huge Star Wars fan. I love Ahsoka’s story and will continue to watch it because I’m too invested in her story. But I completely understand and respect anyone who does decide to boycott it.
Bea: I was extremely excited at the prospect of a solo Ahsoka show. Her character arc in The Clone Wars was fascinating and new for the franchise, and Ashley’s performance was noticeably heartfelt. Had this upcoming series been animated with Ashley reprising the role, I wouldn’t be able to shut up about how amazing it will be. Instead, they have elected to continue with Rosario Dawson and, while she is good in the role, I just can’t get excited for it. I would like to be but the accusations make it super difficult for me. I’d like to say that I won’t tune in but the chances are that I will because I love this franchise too much not to. As great as a boycott might be, I don’t feel like it would make any difference.
Blue: I can’t say if I’ll boycott the series or not. Aside from the transphobia allegations, I have other issues with the show, but those aren’t related to anything transphobic that Dawson may or may not have done. If I end up watching it, there’s always going to be a sour taste in my mouth, I suppose
Mark: I am torn about the Ahsoka series. As a huge fan of Thrawn, it seems the most likely avenue where his story will be continued, and I have longed to see him brought into live action. I don’t think my unease overrides my desire for that series. The boycotting of Harry Potter has had little impact on Rowling, so I am not convinced a boycott would have any impact on Disney.
Even if we ignored the charges against Rosario Dawson, some of which have been dropped for reasons unknown, transphobia is a sad reality for many trans fans. Attempts to educate others on trans rights, gender identity, and the importance of pronouns are often met with abusive behaviour and slurs. What can cisgender fans do to help make the fan community feel more inclusive and welcoming towards transgender fans? And would you like to see Lucasfilm and Disney make more of a visible effort to show solidarity with the trans community?
A: Lucasfilm should respond to serious allegations. For example, I would have been less bitter about this season if I had known that Gina Carano had been suspended from promotional duties shortly after her blatantly transphobic behaviour. Her being fired after her anti-Semitic and other questionable tweets was reassuring, albeit too late. It showed me that Lucasfilm does, at its core, care, but the company should have taken action after the transphobic tweets. I would also appreciate it if Disney and/or Lucasfilm hired more trans staff and showed visible support for trans rights.
Bea: I think it comes down to being vocally supportive. I want to believe that there is more good in this fandom than bad. And I want to believe that if we all stood up for each other, then there would be less hostility. But it starts with calling out hate when you see it and making it clear to everybody that there is zero tolerance for those views. While I would like to see an official statement from both Lucasfilm and Disney, I think actions speak louder than words. To me, those words mean nothing unless you act on them. The two companies are large enough that if they cast trans people in front of and/or behind the camera or donated to trans charities, it would make a big difference.
Blue: There’s a lot that cisgender fans can do to make trans fans feel more comfortable. Things as simple as respecting someone’s pronouns can go a long way. But seeing how many of them “stan” Gina Carano for her transphobic comments, I just can’t see most cis fans doing even the bare minimum.
Mark: It feels hard to say what would make things feel more inclusive and welcoming in fandom, particularly when there is a lack of trans representation within Star Wars itself. Pedro Pascal has been quite supportive thanks to pronoun visibility and supporting his sister, who has come out as transgender. It would be nice to see something tangible from Lucasfilm and Disney in the context of real-world support and within Star Wars itself, by giving us something that felt authentic to both its universe and the trans experience.
I would like to thank my interviewees for taking the time to reply to my questions and for sharing their thoughts with me. All Things Ahsoka isn’t the largest or most influential platform out there but I hope that this article will help others understand why some fans have been unable to feel excited about Ahsoka Tano’s live-action debut or the upcoming Disney+ series.
If you would like to learn more about the allegations against Rosario Dawson or find tips on how to become a better ally, check out my article “Let’s Talk About Rosario Dawson and Trans Rights” or Justice Schiappa’s article “The Dark Rises and the Light to Meet It: Fandom, Fulcrum, and the Transphobe Triumvirate”. Both articles provide links to trans rights organisations, charity fundraisers, and educational resources.
Please remember that this isn’t about “cancel culture” or boycotting a Disney+ series or calling for Rosario Dawson to be replaced; I enjoyed Rosario’s portrayal of the character, in spite of everything, and I still plan to cover the upcoming series on this site. This is about understanding why this whole situation has been so difficult for Ahsoka’s transgender fans and acknowledging that Star Wars fandom has a transphobia problem. And if showing a little empathy is too much to ask of you or you think this is all just “SJW nonsense”, please know that you are, most likely, part of the problem.
Looking for even more Ahsoka Tano fan art, cosplay photos, opinion pieces, memes, and merchandise tips? Then come find me over on Twitter, @AllThingsAhsoka!
You must be logged in to post a comment.