Last week, as Variety reported, the Amazon series Transparent made history when it won two Golden Globe Awards (best TV series, and Jeffery Tambor for best actor). It was the first time an online series won awards of that magnitude. The show itself– pardon the now oft-repeated pun–is transformative. The series, taken from creator Jill Soloway’s own life, is about the experiences of a family in which the 70-year-old family patriarch begins living life as the woman she always knew she was. Dad becomes Moppa.
I watched the show with my 14-year-old son, Warrior Panda. This was not forced upon him, but something he chose. In fact, it became a rule that we only watched together so we could talk about each episode. My friend Jennifer Linden and I had discussed writing about the show once we had both finished it, but WP’s interest surprised us. So we added him to the discussion.
And this is our story.
Faith: So WP and I just finished the series last week, you watched it when it first came out because you aren’t slow like us. Backstory, I was watching it on my laptop and he came in and got interested, so we started watching it together. Queer parental bonding. I was watching it because I thought I should, then ended up really falling in love with it.
Jenn: I didn’t watch it right away. I was REALLY leery about watching it. There is a long tradition in Hollywood of treating trans people, even when they are being “respected,” in REALLY disrespectful ways.
Faith: So what made you break down and watch it? And WP, why did you get interested in it?
WP: Because it’s weird. And it just looked interesting, guys.
Jenn: I started watching it after I heard some halfway decent reviews.
Faith: Guys? Did we just get gender identified? Why weird and how weird, WP?
Jenn: And I had just finished watching “Hit And Miss”, a British drama about a transwoman assassin.
Faith: Where did you see it reviewed? I didn’t see much out there on it, now it’s huge since it won Golden Globes
Jenn: Reddit. A wretched hive of scum and villainy, but if you’re looking for something, SOMEONE is on there talking about it.
WP: Because, Mom, it’s goes with A*, J*, and other people in our family
Faith: So it was like, the first TV show, that you actually thought looked more like our lives than crap on the Disney channel?
WP: And K* and the Fiesta Youth group that supports K*… and of course my butt nugget sister who has not come out of the closet yet, or probably ever.
Faith: I liked, which I think WP was saying, that it isn’t a “trans” story so much as a non-normative story.
Jenn: So, WP. You found the story to be relevant? You could watch it and be like “I know someone who is dealing with this too?!” (Obviously, you just named people, but Im trying to tack it down a little bit)
WP: Well, yeah. We never make sense … no one in our family does. Jenn, I related to it because our family is big. We’re back and forth to each other’s houses all the time, and we always have drama.
Faith: I loved that they talked about things no one is talking about. Like female ejaculation. I’ve encouraged clients to watch that scene.
Jenn: One of the great things about that show is that it DOES talk about RealShit ™
Faith: In this pragmatic, life is dirty and messy and fucked up kind of way. Like WP said, we always have drama. And the show’s creator [Jill Soloway] is very gender queer in the same way I define myself, which I love.
Jenn: But it doesn’t treat it overly precious, which I like. It’s dirty.
WP: So it’s like deal with it and move on. Try to process. Be as easy and non-hurtful as possible.
Jenn: I love that the people are all dealing with their own narcissistic drama. Nobody is goody-two-shoes. Everybody is scummy sometimes. Its people, in a family, and sometimes they suck.
Faith: WP, one of your favorite scenes is in the first episode when Maura gets outed by walking in on her daughter and her daughter’s ex-girlfriend (Sarah and Tammy) making out. Why did you like that scene so much?
WP: Mom, because that part was the most intense part. It was making people say, “What’s going to happen next? Is Maura going to freak out or be fine? I like that they’re not friends, but family. And Sara and Tammy were like, “OK, that’s cool.” I like that Josh and Ali took time to process, but Sarah, she was fine with that as soon as Maura told her that she [Maura] was trans. How come, Jenn and Mom?
Faith: Good question. Why do you think?
WP: I think that she’s older and more mature.
Faith: Sarah also had the most experience with the LGBTQQIAAP community at that point, having had been with Tammy through college. Do you think that helped? Or that her own relationship with Tammy helped? And your thoughts, Jenn?
Jenn: And I don’t think she WAS fine with it. Certainly not right then. I think the fact that she was *just* caught, with her ex-GF, while still being married to her husband, in her father’s bedroom … I don’t think she would have felt like she was really in a place to get outraged.
Faith: I agree, but I think so much of what we allow in others is about recognizing our own fucked-upness. I think if there was ever any main point to a series that might be it. Sex and gender is the vehicle, but that’s the larger message. Like WP said, big messy family, trying to not hurt each other, doing the best we can.
Jenn: Definitely. Tolerance and understanding don’t usually start as a fully-fledged “thing.” It grows from a place of shared struggle. Sometimes you get smacked in the face (like here) or you grow into it…
WP: Like Josh got smacked in the face. Not so much Ali.
Faith: Yeah, Ali seems to get away with everything as the brat baby, fair point. You are also the family brat baby, you know.
WP: Not at the end. She gives money back to Maura and yells at Maura. And Maura stands up for herself, so Ali leaves. But then she returns and she’s trying to get over the fight with Maura, so more like a 50/50 of brat baby/grown person.
Faith: But they brought her back to the table without much discussion of her bratitude.
Faith: Jenn, you said there has been more talk about it since the Golden Globes. You pay better attention to the world around you than I do. What are you hearing?
Jenn: I tend to keep involved with various trans discussion boards. When the show first came out, there was some support for the show. After the Golden Globes, the feeling seemed to have turned.
Faith: It’s too cool for school now?
Jenn: A lot of people felt the casting was awful. That it was set up to promote stereotypes. That hiring a cis actor to play trans was another case of “trans-face.” And I get the criticism, but I don’t agree with it.
Faith: I remember you discussing that early on, what did you think of the casting of Jeffery Tambor. I thought he was brilliant, but my position is privileged.
Jenn: I think Jeffery’s work is gorgeous. Is he the best choice or only choice? I don’t know. But this is one of the only times I would agree that having a cis actor play the role of a trans woman makes sense.
Faith: Elaborate on that. You and I discussed it, but WP hasn’t heard yet.
Jenn: Finding a trans actor who is in the right age demographic would be more than a little challenging. Finding someone who is a) out. b) visibly trans. c) comfortable with acting in both the male and female roles required of this part and d) skilled enough in the art of acting to do justice to the position of being a lead? I don’t see it.
Faith: And being in a healthy place in general, when the actual transition experience is so fraught, even with the best support. As a therapist, I would be thinking, “Don’t screw that actor’s psyche up!”
Jenn: Exactly. Concerns for the actors’ mental and emotional well-being seems like it should be just as important to me. Casting a trans actor would be great, but not at the expense of the person playing the roll.
WP: And the second trans woman [Davina] did a great job as Maura’s girlfriend. I loved the talent show with them singing and dancing, but Maura was so sad when her kids left. Like Ali left with that trans man she was attracted to. And why were Josh and Sarah so surprised that he looked like he was a man at birth, and not a trans man, Jenn and Mom? And why did she dress up special just for him?
Faith: [Davina] was Maura’s friend, not gf. That may change in future seasons, but I saw her more as a mentor to Maura than a love interest. What made you think girlfriend, WP?
WP: Because Maura is still attracted to women. Maura told her ex wife that she was.
Faith: As for Ali and the college professor? To answer the second question, because he had said he liked femme women, so she was trying to look his type. As for the first question, their surprise? I think most people like to categorize others, and he was clearly male presenting/passed so that blew their ideas about gender out of the water. People don’t generally like to be “fooled.”
WP: Some do.
Jenn: The aspect of being “fooled” brings up a lot of baggage.
Faith: Exactly. Because “fooled?” Really? Like it’s your circus and your monkey? But humans have such a proprietary interest in how or what others are.
Jenn: Yes, and it also speaks to the essential nature of the person. “Fooling” someone assumes there is some deception going on. If a trans woman comes up to you and says hi, she isn’t trying to “fool” you into thinking she is a woman. She *IS* a woman. The body means a lot less than the person who lives inside of it.
Faith: WP, question, a mean one maybe. You have hung out with friends of mine who happen to be trans, and other trans youth when you go to Fiesta Youth. But you know their history. If you had a friend that you thought was male assigned at birth and turned out to be trans and didn’t tell you, would that bug you? Like they are chilling at the house, spending the night, and then all of a sudden were like, “Dude, I still have a vag. I was born with one.”
WP: No, because it’s their choice. They get to choose to tell other people how they were born and who they were meant to be.
Faith: For all other mistakes I’ve made, at least you can tell I raised the kid right I mean, if you were hanging out with a male friend that happened to have a vagina and didn’t tell you for a while you would be like “whatevs”? Well played. Because having a dick is fine, acting like one isn’t.
WP: I will trust them, what they say to me.
Jenn: Astute. I mean, I’m not looking to have sex with the dude, so what he has in his pants doesn’t really matter. And even if I WERE, it would be pretty shallow to focus on something like that. Whether fuck buddy or soul mate, there is a lot more to someone than that.
Faith: But you go to a school where the word “faggot” is considered an appropriate general pejorative word to call someone. What would you say to those people about a queer family experience? I mean, I know if they called you a fag you would be all “ok” and your girlfriend would be like “not so much” … but if they called someone else a fag, your response would be?
WP: Mess with him, you mess with me.
Faith: Or her or hir?
WP: Both of course.
Faith: So Jenn, the people online that are pissing all over the Transparent Cheerios? Were they fans before or bandwagon naysayers?
Jenn: Well, I don’t want to speak for people, or quote them without their permission, but a large part of the difficulty some people had was the fact that they found Maura to be visually unappealing.
Faith: And as with all women, if you aren’t hot you are discounted? I have a friend who has said ze would transition if ze could be hot and score mad dick. But ze is quite the bear. And there is more flexibility in life in being an ugly guy than an ugly girl.
Jenn: The argument seems to originate with the fact that Jeffrey Tambor is a cis man, but very quickly turns into the fact that Maura is not pretty and people seem to take that as an attack – a stereotyping – that trans women look like men in dresses. I think the logical argument is a 70-year-old late transitioner who when she does decide to transition sort of jumps into it with the same attitude as other trans women of her generation, which is strongly informed by the Harry S Benjamin standards of care.
Faith: Hell. Some FAAB’s look like men in dresses.
Jenn: Of course, but this points to a measure of internalized transphobia and transmisogyny within the community.
Faith: It speaks to our cultural norms in general. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
Jenn: The whole backstory [regarding cross-dressing versus being trans] was brilliant but was also a source of a lot of complaints.
Faith: Tell me about that? Did it have anything to do with the differentiation between trans identity and cross-dresser identity by chance?
Jenn: We have this new generation of people coming into their identities early. Trans men and women who have transitioned as early as childhood. Which is AMAZING, but they didn’t experience the generation where MANY trans people found themselves through secretive cross-dressing.
Jenn: I transitioned at a point where this “old guard” transition narrative was just starting to fall out of “fashion.”
Jenn: It used to be that you went to the therapist, they talked you out of transition. If you insisted they would make you do a year of “real life test” where you lived as your identified gender without any support, and if you survived THAT then you could move on to hormones and surgery. This was a REALLY shitty, cruel, violent way to treat people.
Faith: And then you ended up in a psychiatric hospital if you didn’t actually kill yourself first. Most of the “old guard” stories I heard have a “then I was inpatient for a while” part to them.
Jenn: Exactly. So there is little wonder that people would try and suppress their identities as much as possible as long as possible. Which either left you hospitalized or letting off steam through cross-dressing and such. In almost no cases did you transition while young and cute.
Faith: Not that that is easy either. I do a lot of consulting with agencies in town that work with trans youth.
Jenn: The new guard can order hormones off the internet, or go to Planned Parenthood and get hormones on an “informed consent” model. So now we have teenagers transitioning with HRT as the first step and not doing the social aspect (the RLT part) until they are already being properly gendered in their old clothes/social situations. (Often called “failing,” as in “I male failed today and someone called me ma’am.”)
Faith: Theoretically. But San Antonio, while being the 7th largest city in the U.S., doesn’t have a lot of support in that regard. I do a lot of education on resources; I still get “Can you write a letter?” calls all the time.
Jenn: I’m not saying everyone goes that route, but it is theoretically available. Letters are still a strong component of transition.
Faith: My favorite was the referral for a woman whose issues had nothing to do with her transition, but they presumed that it did, when her issues were about something else entirely, and her gender was not a problem…at least for her.
Jenn: But this actually illustrates another divide.
Faith: She had some other stuff going on that had zero to do with her MTF status. But I got called to write a letter. Letter for WHAT? There was no medical treatment needs for her gender confirmation. I had to educate the caseworker who called me. We still have fights about pronouns within our agencies out here, let alone hormones!
Jenn: Totally. And there are people who are opting to bypass the system entirely. You can get hormones through mail order and there is even a surgeon who will do orchiectomies on an informed consent model.
Faith: And I don’t blame people for doing that, but I worry about the quality of their care as a clinician.
Jenn: Certainly. It’s troubling for sure. But when faced with a system that can’t bother to get your pronouns right let alone support your care, it is scary.
Faith: I sometimes feel exhausted from all the advocacy. But if I don’t stomp and scream who the fuck will?
WP: Do you feel exhausted from me?
Faith: You exhaust me, too, WP, but that’s a different kind of exhaustion.
Jenn: Shortly after Leelah Alcorn died, the amount of chatter I saw regarding people wanting to know about testicular destruction was INSANE. And why? Because “the system” is set up in such a way that people are willing to inject their testes, crush them with hammers, or ligate them until they go gangrenous because access to care is so difficult. And it’s “better” to perform self-surgery than wade through the mess of a “legit” transition or commit suicide.
Faith: WP may not recognize Leelah’s name. The calls I have gotten about her…what he has overheard has been more of “Jesus Christ, that poor girl who killed herself.” I think he has heard more of the conversations I have been having with people about Leelah than the actual story. Leelah had a neighbor who recently joined a private trans support group I am a member of. She was one of the supports in Leelah’s life and is now grieving deeply. She tried to be family.
Jenn: I actually knew Leelah. Tangentially. We weren’t friends or anything but I knew who she was. A very sweet girl.
Faith: I felt a little better knowing that she had a neighbor that was trying to help. TALGBITC is getting even more politically active in my presidency, our position paper about SOCE [sexual orientation change efforts, the umbrella that covers “treatments” such as reparative therapy] was just released. There is not as much research about gender SOCE work as there is sexual orientation SOCE work, but apparently Leelah’s family tried reparative “therapy.” All my work in general as a clinician, focusing on sexuality, gender, differential desires? All of that. The work choose me, I didn’t choose it. Hell, I was researching co-occurring disorders in American Indian tribes throughout my doctoral program. And I’ve had to set up a network of people who I can refer to, Docs, etc. So that doesn’t happen on my watch. And it’s a drop in the bucket.
Jenn: And THANK YOU for the work you are doing. It saves lives.
Faith: Ditto. Revolution chose you, too. For different reasons, but same needed voice and outcomes. WP was born into the revolution, not much choice on his part.
WP: So Jenn, what your favorite part about the show? And Mom, yours too?
Jenn: WP, my favorite part is actually a very small part of the series.
Faith: My favorite part? Lemme think a minute. What was yours Jenn?
Jenn: It’s the rabbi. And specifically a quote, which I don’t have memorized so will mostly get wrong, but she is talking about the Torah, and how her job is telling the same story over and over and over and trying to make it relevant.
Faith: I think I like the scene where Shelly is talking about needing people actually there for her, not just calling on the phone. It reminded me of losing Ned to cancer, and the people who helped the most were the people who just showed up. And it speaks to the bigger message of the story and of what family is. Keep showing up. You won’t be perfect, but be present.
WP: And to help others get through situations that are the hardest.
Jenn: Family. A loaded word.
Faith: And what we consider family. Davina discussed that in more than one episode. So we are born with family and we choose family. If we are lucky they are one in the same, but we often have to create the family we need to get through the “situations that are the hardest.”
Jenn: Family. I truly believe that family is more than bloodlines. I’ve “adopted” 3 sisters. One I haven’t spoken to in…years. It’s who you care about and who cares about you.
Faith: Exactly. WP has bio family and chosen family. It takes a village.
WP: We also have C*. He’s trans. And Auntcle B*? Is she trans?
Faith: No, ze is gender queer.
WP: Gotcha, wasn’t sure. But C* is trans, right? And you have A*, your gay husband, too.
Faith: Jenn, talking about redefining language? WP, refers to B* as Auntcle, since ze embodies both female and male genders. And all the people he is talking about are mostly our chosen family. Though we have plenty of queerness in our bio family, too.
Jenn: We have a tradition about marrying people and this legal framework defines your familial association… you marry someone and they are “family” but without this paper they are what? Just friends? Naw.
Faith: Leelah’s neighbors were thrilled with the Golden Globe wins for Transparent, by the way.
Jenn: Good. Her parents still go on the news and misgender her. KNOWING how much that hurt her in life.
Faith: “We loved HIM. We just didn’t agree with THAT.” How can that be called love? I don’t understand the disconnect. The better statement is we loved what we wanted our child to be, not who she really was.
Jenn: Which I guess all cycles back to the story in Transparent.
Jenn: The people in that show are AWFUL. Every single one of them is a self-centered narcissist but at the end of the day, they are THERE for each other.
About The Authors:
Jennifer Linden is a trans rights advocate living in the shadows of the great Rocky Mountains, alongside her long-suffering wife and a menagerie of fuzzy and not so fuzzy critters. When not calling out trans-misogyny whenever it rears its ugly head, in 2015 you can find her gracefully crashing her mountain bike all over Colorado, or getting tackled like a chump on the Rugby pitch.
Warrior Panda is the chosen pen name of Faith Harper’s 14 year old son. He was more interested in having a cool pseudonym than actually maintaining privacy. It was either Warrior Panda or Ninja Buttons. Do you think he made the right choice?
Faith Harper is the motherfucking Intimacy Dr, dammit. Insert her Out In SA bio line here.