Amazon Greenlights 'Transparent,' A Later Transitioner Narrative

In Depth

Transparent, a TV series written by Jill Soloway and features a later transitioning trans woman named Maura, has been given the green light for production of a full season.

Soloway’s Transparent’s pilot garnered quite a bit of interest from LGBTQ viewers and has been met with acclaim on its excellent writing. The title is a play on words, both in the sense of a transgender parent and in the sense that all the characters are working through issues that they believe they can hide when in fact those issues are exposed.

I’ve often tried to express that while there are trans people, specifically trans women, with narratives similar to my own, I do not and cannot speak for all trans people. I especially cannot speak for later transitioners like the one portrayed in Transparent. They have so many experiences prior to transition that I can’t even really fathom. This is the narrative that Soloway seems interested in exploring.

If I had to describe an example of a hypothetical, even stereotypical, late transitioner narrative, it might seem in many ways like that of Jeffrey Tambor’s character in Transparent. Maura is white, middle-aged, married, then divorced, with children—specifically grown children. She’s most likely in her fifties or sixties, probably closer to the latter than the former. She has had a string of relationships with a variety of women and is described by her son as a “pussy hound.”

It’s not clear what Maura has done professionally or if she is now retired, although that seems very likely. What we do know is that she, and her family, are very affluent and the class privilege of all the characters is quite clear. If one saw any attempts at representation (and specifically positive representation) of trans people fifteen years ago, this is probably the type of representation you would have seen (if negative, it would invariably have been trans women of color engaged in sex work, and that is an entirely different issue).

With the noticeable progress being made on issues of representation of trans people and the ability of trans teens and trans children to find gender variance information online, the definition of an “early transition” is trending younger and younger. I would still, I think, be considered an earlier transitioner compared to the narratives of the 80s and 90s. I was a sophomore in college when I was first diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID isn’t even in the DSM V, it has been replaced with Gender Dysphoria). I was 19 and spent my early twenties in a zig-zag transition pattern. Now, having just recently turned 30, I’m essentially transitioned, many of my documents have been changed, and my relationships with friends and family are predicated on my identity as a woman, and my professional career is as a woman, albeit a fairly out and visible trans woman. I have dated few people to whom I was not out, and those in high school, and I’ve never had an intimate relationship with someone to whom I was not out. Full stop.

I simply can’t imagine waiting that long to take action, nor can I imagine being married to someone who did not know, raising a family with children who do not know, and then breaking the news to them in the way that Tambor’s character plans. It is entirely outside of my own paradigm. I believe I am very much in a place which is closer to cisgender viewers than I am to later transitioners in regards to the narrative explored in Transparent. That I am a trans woman, without further context, doesn’t really help me understand the unique challenges of transitioning in middle age or later.

At the end of the pilot, Moira wonders aloud how she raised three people solely invested in themselves and not much else. And it does appear that her three children are heavily self-absorbed. Josh, Ali, and Sarah are quite the trio.

Josh comes off as a hipster record producer (and possibly a manchild) who cycles through a seemingly unlimited supply of unremarkable and completely exchangeable Los Angeles women (at least to Josh, if not to us as critical viewers). Outside of Maura, it is possibly Sarah’s storyline which most interests me, because while she appears to be a happy soccer mom type, in fact her very queer past doesn’t seem, well… quite so past. Ali (played by Gabby Hoffman, who also play’s Adam’s sister in Girls) was living off of her game show winnings which have long been spent and now is not doing… well… much of anything at all. It’s interesting to see Hoffman in Transparent, for I would compare the quality of writing to Girls in the realistically irreverent and ridiculous way it explores the conditionality of humor.

Transparent takes place in Los Angeles. There are very clear references to culture and geography which are totally lost on me. My understanding is that the world of LA’s ageing hipster characters and their progeny is something of a delight for Transparent’s creator Jill Soloway. And yet, I do have family in LA, and I’ve had the chance to spend time in Santa Monica and Culver City with one of my cousins (a TV screenwriter herself). I have at least some limited basis with which to understand the setting of the show. I actually find the cultural disconnect I have with LA to be much easier to work through than the disconnect I feel with Transparent’s main character.

For earlier transitioners, I think much of the intensity and honesty, while recognisable in an abstract and academic way (we have all studied the narratives of later transitioners who came before us), really won’t have as much impact as it will for later transitioners who will see something of themselves in Tambor’s character. And that’s really important in a world where it is increasingly easier for the everyone to transition, not just children, teens, or twenty-somethings. We should expect many more later transitioner narratives to be explored, not fewer simply because they used to be the only narratives out there.

Outside of my frame of reference or not, Soloway has a vote of confidence from me, and I am looking forward to Amazon financing and producing the full season. I think any quality representation of any of the myriad of trans narratives ultimately paves they way for a greater understanding of trans folks and a better chance of representation for narratives similar to my own.

Images via Amazon.

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