The joys and challenges of being a Black transgender man during the 1940s are on full display in the hit queer remake of “A League of Their Own,” which debuted on Amazon this month.
Lea Robinson (pronounced Lee), a Black transgender and nonbinary actor, plays Bertie Hart, the uncle of Maxine “Max” Chapman (Chante Adams). Hart is estranged from his family and lives with his wife, Gracie (Patrice Covington). The show, which was co-created and executive produced by Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson, is a queer adaptation of the 1992 Penny Marshall-directed sports comedy-drama about the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The series is set in a time when many baseball teams in the U.S. were racially segregated and women faced sexist barriers to playing on professional teams.
Robinson, who uses “they” and “he” pronouns, said that the remake highlights important narratives of that time, and that he hopes the show can encourage more conversations about race, gender and sexuality.
“What’s so powerful about this series is we get to see some of the other stories that were not told,” said Robinson, who lives in California, adding that the remake not only highlights the struggles, but “also, a lot of joy that these characters were creating for each other, for themselves and for their communities.”
Throughout the series Robinson’s Hart provides support to his niece Max, a queer Black woman, who dreams of playing on a professional baseball team. Max is grappling with her sexuality and gender-non-conforming identity all while facing discrimination as she plays the sport she loves. Meanwhile, Hart faces his own challenges, including being rejected by his sister for being trans and called a “freak,” among other derogatory names, by others.
Yet, throughout the series, Hart manages to find ways to embrace his gender identity. Aside from people affirming his gender by calling him “sir,” Hart wears an extensive wardrobe of tailored, dark-colored suits, and finds joy in throwing parties where Black queer people can meet and dance.
Robinson called playing Hart the “opportunity of a lifetime” because he gets to show what he thinks it meant to be Black and trans in the 1940s.
“It’s really powerful and important,” Robinson said. “What people will recognize and relate to is this challenge of being yourself … walking in your own shoes and being who you are in the world, navigating the ups and downs and everything. ”
‘Visibility is everything’
Robinson’s role in “A League of Their Own” comes after a robust year in trans representation in TV and film, according to a 2021-22 report from the LGBTQ media monitoring and advocacy group GLAAD. Other Black transmasculine actors like Marquise Vilsón also appear in the series. Still, compared to their cisgender counterparts, transgender men, particularly those of color, continue to be underrepresented on screen.
The data shows that out of 26 trans characters on streaming platforms, six were trans men, 14 were trans women and six were nonbinary. The report also found that 14% were Black, 21% Latinx and 10% Asian American or Pacific Islander, compared to 43% who were white.
Robinson says more diverse trans voices and experiences are needed across the industry.
“Get as many trans writers and actors and artists in the room as possible and be authentic,” he said. “Visibility is everything. Visibility creates opportunities to talk, opportunities to address bias and discrimination.”
Robinson said the TV and film industry are making efforts to become trans-inclusive. He says that on several sets, including staff at “A League of Their Own,” the staff are respectful and ask about using the correct pronouns.
“I’ve honestly been on sets where I felt really safe and comfortable and felt seen,” Robinson said, adding that it makes him feel affirmed in his gender. “But, not all sets are like that. So, again, I think that we’re getting better, but there’s a long way to go.”
At prior gigs Robinson says he has been misgendered, which he admits takes a toll.
“If i’m misgendered … or someone doesn’t use the pronoun I’ve communicated it’s really hard. It’s hard to stay in scene,” he said. Although it’s challenging, Robinson says “We get to build those muscles to be able to walk on those sets and still do our job.”
As the series gains widespread attention, the actor wants audiences to embrace the light and happiness that the characters bring to their lives.
“There are many different ways that we can experience this lifetime, and we get to remember to experience the joy where we can find it as well,” he said.