My Journey Growing Apart from Transparent as a Transwoman
I binge watched Transparent Season 1 at the tail end of 2014. In that moment, I was a pre-everything transgirl who had finally passed the point of no return, a person who identified so strongly in her heart with being trans that coming out had become a Doomsday Clock. I was a girl struggling to grow her hair out, hair that would make the Peter Parker from Spider-Man 3 proud. And I was a girl ready to open up the floodgates.
Every night for a week, I would curl up on the couch, laptop directly in front of my face, and watch the show. I had never felt so seen before in my life. Even though the show was obviously engineered to appeal to as many people as possible, it felt like the show was in direct communication with me. Like it wanted me to stand up and change my life.
When I watched Season 2, I was a transgirl who was used to changing behind dumpsters to avoid outing myself to friends I wasn’t ready to tell yet. It was at this time that I realized that this show wasn’t about me; it was about an incredibly wealthy white Jewish woman who doesn’t have a care in the world.
When I watched Season 3, I had been out of the closet for a year, and had recently started hormone replacement therapy. I left it on when I was cooking, and sat down whenever Judith Light was on screen.
I did not watch Season 4. But I do have one more Transparent experience.
When I read the news regarding Jeffrey Tambor’s assault against the strong women within my community, I felt incredibly tired and worn out.
I was so moved by his speech at the Golden Globes where he admitted that he should not be playing Maura Pfefferman, that we need to hire transwomen. I believed the strain he forced into his voice. I felt the power he was giving us. When I volunteered at the LGBT Center, I wanted to cry when people would tell me how kind Jeffrey Tambor was to teach free acting classes for transfolk.
Yet, at the end of Season 3, when Maura stands at the edge of a cruise ship, blankly staring out at the foreboding waters, finally accepting that due to her age and health, she will not be able to undergo feminization surgery, I felt nothing.
Yet I cried when Maura’s remarkably heteronormative ex-wife put on her one woman show that was about herself.
It is difficult to be trans and to also enjoy media. Largely due to the fact that most media would rather pretend that we do not exist. But in the off chance that someone does dare to create something about us, I will likely be bored by it, because chances are I already know what they are going to discuss.
One of my favorite podcasts is Beautiful Stories with Anonymous People. It’s a one hour show where comedian Chris Gerhard takes calls from strangers that usually end up being incredibly emotional and moving, Episode #54: What Not To Ask a Transperson is a dialog between Chris and a transman. I was really excited to finally hear someone who was trans appear on the show, but it ended up being a Understanding Trans People for Dummies sort of guide.
And let me tell you, it’s already painful to live a harsh reality where you work a gig where you are misgendered constantly. It is incredibly frustrating to listen to some other trans person voice their trauma out loud, only for some slack-jawed cis-idiot to go “Oh yeah, that must be rough.”
I would like to pause for a moment to tell you that my Word Processor keeps auto-correcting “misgendered” to “cisgendered.” Can someone please out me as trans to them? I don’t have the heart.
While I am grateful that Chris Gethard opened his mind and truly listened to the caller, I left feeling agitated.
I am twenty four years old and have engaged in a boat load of media, yet so few things have been able to really touch me specifically as a transwoman. Only Transparent in its first season was really able to, but that is likely because I was a wide eyed idealist whose only history with transition was in her dreams.
This is not to knock the actual trans voices behind Transparent. Jill Solloway, the show runner, has come out as non binary since beginning the project, and I think that’s wonderful, and they have done an incredible job incorporating real trans voices into the show.
To me, the standout moment of the 75% of the show I have seen comes from Alexandra Billings. She plays Maura’s first trans-friend, Davina, and guides her throughout her transition. In Season 2, it becomes apparent that her ex-con boyfriend has some trans-misogynistic tendencies, but for unknown reasons that we as an audience have no business learning, she loves him.
Maura, ever on her high horse, tells Davina to dump him, without even making eye contact with her.
Davina, sick of Maura’s privileged bullshit, looks Maura directly in the eye, and says “We all don’t have your money. I’m a fifty three year old ex-prostitute HIV-positive woman with a dick. And I know what I want and I know what I need.”
It doesn’t matter how we as an audience feel about Davina’s decisions. She has lived long enough and experienced enough hardship to know what she is doing. She is empowered and that scene represents the strength that we in the trans community need.
But Davina is not in the show as much as she should be. Nor are the other trans-performers. But when they are present, they crush it and it really is something else. But for every one of those moments, we get twenty more of Jeffrey Tambor staring into a mirror, pretending to feel the dysphoria that thousands of us have to endure every day.
Here is my pitch as to how Season 5 Episode 1 of Transparent should begin.
The Pfefferman family will be sitting together on a boat in their typical awkward silence, when all of a sudden, Maura awakes with a start.
“Wait! I get it now! Transparent! Like not only my feelings are transparent but — I am a trans parent to you guys!”
Yet alas, at the peak of her realization, a cane wraps around her belly, and drags her off camera and she is never seen again. We whip pan to the left to reveal some of the actual trans-performers of the show: Alexandra Billings, Sophia Grace Gianna, Alexandra Grey, Hari Nef, and Trace Lysette.
They step forward and say:
“Can we hang out more with you guys?”
And from there on, the show becomes much better. Our Lady J said it best, “You are right — we cannot let trans content be taken down by a single cis man.