A ‘Billions’ star’s fight against award show status quo

Asia Kate Dillon doesn’t mind being the first person at a party. Similarly, the “Billions” star doesn’t mind being the first performer to question why some of Hollywood’s most recognized award shows feel the need denote gender in their categories.

It’s a subject Dillon had given some thought to before, but prior to last month, Dillon had only considered it as a viewer of award shows.

The issue became a little more personal when Showtime asked Dillon’s category preference for an Emmy submission.

Like the character Dillon plays on “Billions” — financial genius Taylor Mason — Dillon identifies as gender non-binary.

As Dillon explained in a letter to the Television Academy late last month, that means Dillon is “someone who experiences their gender identity as falling outside the boxes of ‘man’ and ‘woman’.”

Dillon prefers to be referred to using the pronouns they, theirs and them.

With a question at hand, Dillon reached out directly to the source for clarification, and sent a letter to executives at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

“For whatever reason, I was full of confidence and hope and excitement,” Dillon told CNN of sending the letter. “If they come back and said, ‘You have to pick a gender. And we want to see your birth certificate,’ that would have been the direction the conversation would have gone. I was ready to really engage in the conversation.”

That’s not what happened.

Instead, the Academy responded swiftly and with understanding, telling Dillon that “any performer can submit in any category for any reason,” according to Dillon.

The answer was music to Dillon’s ears. But the question they raised has spurred a discussion that goes beyond a single category or a single hopeful nominee.

The reveal of Dillon’s exchange with the Academy, first seen in Variety, came the day before MTV announced they were doing away with gendered categories for its upcoming MTV Movie and TV Awards.

The Grammys did away with gender-based categories back in 2011, as part of a large-scale overhaul.

Dillon called MTV’s approach “amazing” and gives the network credit for ” really listening to the people they’re representing.”

“I think MTV is in a unique position also because the MTV awards have categories that are already non traditional — best villain, best kiss,” Dillon said. ” They’re in a more natural position to make that change, as opposed to the Emmys or Academy Awards, which have been around longer.”

For the time being, Dillon is proud of having helped clarify for some that “anatomical sex and gender identity are two different things,” and start a discussion about ways to have award show categories that are not based on assigned sex.

“It’s nobody’s business what’s in your pants,” Dillon said. “I think starting the conversation can help us figure out how to create categories for awards that are based on other aspects of the performance involved.”

Dillon ended up submitting for best supporting actor, after their research revealed the term had been used as a non-gender, non-sex word starting in the late 1500s.

Nominations for the 2017 Emmy Awards will be announced July 13.

Whether they’re on the shortlist or not, Dillon said, “it is more important to me to be having this conversation, so I can hopefully keep the world a little more inclusive than when I came into it.”

“As I always like to say, I don’t mind being the first person at the party. You know, and being the first person at the dance floor and getting it started and then inviting people to come join me,” Dillon said. “I’m very comfortable being that person.”

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