"Transparent" and the transition in transgender media depictions


#1

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#2

I’m speaking from a priveleged position here (white, cis, male), so I’m trying to keep an eye on my words…

Isn’t the tragedy about the lack of trans actors getting roles, industry-wide? This is one instance of it, and wouldn’t it have been kentucky if it hadn’t been, but it is just one role. Was it really so important to warrant attacking someone who is stepping in what appears to be the right direction?


#3

Forget it Jake


#4

A question for you, Andrea: Obviously it would have been ideal to get a trans woman actor to play the role. Given that there is probably a very small pool of older trans women who are high level professional actors, I can see why the showrunners felt the need to use a cis gender actor. But would it have still been insulting and misgendering if they had simply chosen a cis woman instead?

From my perspective, using a cis woman actor would at least be respecting the character’s gender identity. But I’m not trans, just an ally, and I’d like to know your perspective on it. I’m thinking of Chloe Sevigny’s role in Hit and Miss as an example. Or Felicity Huffman in TransAmerica.


#5

Being on the outside of this as well I see where you are coming from. From the cis community stand point this is another exploration into something that is unfamiliar. Is it 100% accurate, maybe not, but I’m not sure that’s the point either…after all it is entertainment. At the same time from the trans community perspective the fact that it isn’t 100% (or really close to it) accurate potentially makes them feel like they are still hiding behind something false just for the sake of being part of everyday society. Or at least that’s how I interrupted what was being said here.

I’m sure both ideas are valid. Realistically change and acceptance will not happen over night, no matter how accurately you portray or show what life is like as a trans person.


#6

And note also that the primary critic quoted in the article, Ashley Love, is hardly a spokesperson for the transgender community as a whole. There are almost certainly a range of opinions within that community on the subject of casting, representation, and so on. Just as there is re: who can belong to that community. For example, Love has denounced transvestites and crossdressers (notwithstanding their gender identities) as interlopers.

I suspect that one reason (among many) that many studios do not bother producing interesting shows such as Transparent is because they will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Given that seemingly inevitable outcome, why make Transparent for a relatively small audience when you can make another inevitably successful, immediately forgettable Transformers movie?

I do not mean to imply that the transgender community should simply accept a depiction of trans persons (or casting of a non-trans person for such a role) that they deem inappropriate, even if the studio represents itself as an ally. Accept or reject as desired. But it’s clear that in a society in which trans people constitute just 0.3% of the total population, where acceptance is hard fought, and when mainstream representation is governed by an industry that moves with profits, the transgender community has a lot of work ahead. Not that this observation is any great surprise.


#7

I agree it’s a step in the right direction. However, many trans people like the activist quoted in the piece see this as a slightly better version of more of the same. I don’t agree entirely with her, but I felt her point of view was mischaracterized and dismissed in the MSM.


#8

@Lexisaurus I agree and mention that in the piece. There’s a tendency among trans people to think this or that piece of entertainment is going to be the one thing that will make all the difference, and that’s not how it works. I love many things about Hit Or Mis and Transamerica, but they get a lot wrong. Trans people don’t even get to play ourselves in leading roles. Activists like Ashley have a point, I think, even if I don’t entirely agree.


#9

Well also they’d be pretty much limited to broad comedy or uplifting affirmative story lines,and characters with saintly patience. Compare that to the many many talented and beloved actors whose bread and butter roles were villains. Are we ready for a trans villain stock character? I don’t think so.


#10

@bcsizemo the stakes get higher when there are so few portrayals of people like you in mainstream media. Overall I believe this is a net gain for the community, despite a few problems.


#11

The range of opinions covered in this article speak a lot to what I, admittedly an outsider, see as both a strength and a weakness for the trans community. Like any community it’s composed of individuals–many of whom have very different backgrounds and very different opinions.

It can be intimidating for someone like me who wants to be an ally, but who worries about whether I’m being the right kind of ally. But that’s my problem, and is neither the fault nor the responsibility of anyone in the trans community.


#13

I am not trans, but as an ally I wonder if, in some ways, a cis woman could be considered more insulting in a transwoman role than a cis man. It’s a lot harder for tall, broad-shouldered, square-jawed transwomen to find acceptance than for more femme-y ones, and you don’t want to inadvertently give the message that only conventionally feminine transwomen are acceptable. I feel like presenting a conventionally masculine actor as a woman who deserves respect for her identity might be the more daring and progressive choice.

And, for that matter, I suspect that the very small set of professional transwoman actors is exclusively composed of conventionally pretty ones, through no fault of their own. :-/ So it’s tricky.


#14

Regarding the above comment - it’s not hard to find later-transitioning actors. Many trans women transition later in life, and some had careers before that. Look at Bobbi Charlton in The Switch - she had twenty years of acting experience before she transitioned. And she was not the only 40+ trans woman who auditioned for the part. And that was limited to just Canadian actors. So I think they would have found an MtF lead if they’d actually put some work into looking. Still, I’m glad to see they’re trying to make good with the trans community.


#15

Well for that matter there are a number of medical conditions and chromosomal aberrations that create sexually dimorphic women regardless of their gender politics.

There may already be famous trans-ish women out there who are male with androgen insensitivity syndrome. Medical textbook photos of women with this syndrome show a normal female figure. Search google images for “androgen insensitivity syndrome” to see which celebrity names crop up.


#16

From a pragmatic place, I have cis friends who are watching this show and getting a real insight into my past. Much of Moira’s story is my history, white middle class family person and all. And yes, some of my story has unlikable characters. You can’t tell a fraught story without fraught characters. And I don’t think a transitioned trans woman could play the part as simply. His portrayal is what it is because he has not lived in the world as a trans person. At times he is embarrassing because he hasn’t been through this before. Four or five years in my past you would have done well to cast Tambor to play me. Today it would be comical because I am not that same person. I think this program captures this one trans demographic very well. There are many many other stories in many other contexts that need telling and I hope they can be told as effectively. And yes, creative decisions in fictional shows are influenced by money. That’s why it’s hard to fund documentaries.


#17

I am not sure I agree or disagree with Ashley. I have only watched a bit of transparent thus far so I cannot really speak fully about the show. From what I saw this is an older person that no matter what would always appear rather “male.” That is just reality, and I have seen people like this often at my church. The glbt place where the main actor goes for counseling is full of other trans women that pass and are very much trans. It seems to me they did a very good job of showing the awkwardness and beginning processes of transition. This is not something that could be done by someone who has already transitioned. Granted someone could pretend but would never be as gritty as someone just starting the process. Just my thoughts on it but I would like to see more of us represented as actual actors and actresses in all sorts of roles. I think its starting to happen but calling out ever show doesn’t do anyone any favors. This show was very well written and shows us in a rather positive light. To me that is a huge improvement over the past and a victory in itself.


#18

I’m another cis white guy, but I think this is an excellent point that goes a long way toward excusing Soloway’s casting decision. Mort spent 68 years deep in the closet, and this show (insofar as I’ve seen; I just finished episode 7 last night, but I expect to finish the rest before the weekend) shows her in the process of beginning her transition, as well as many flashbacks to years before. Probably a trans* actor could be found who could play the part equally well, and the cunning trio of Hair, Makeup, and Wardrobe could accomplish whatever transformations were needed for the pre-transition flashbacks, but insofar as this is a fictional show for entertainment (albeit one with important messages), the Theatre Arts major in me has long believed that the character is far more important than the actor (which is one reason why so many people remember the names of guys like Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth, yet so few know who the hell Richard Burbage was). But then again, it’s true that Tambor as an actor is not going to be able to draw on personal life experience to inform his character in the way a trans* actor would. That may or may not result in an obvious difference to the audience, but it’s a factor to be considered.

As a side note, I had to roll my eyes a wee bit when Jill Soloway said this:

When asked by Outfest panel moderator Ari Karpel about why many characters on Transparent seem so unlikeable, Soloway said she thinks “unlikeable” is industry code for “doesn’t make a white cis male feel better.”

So far (episode 7, remember) I find the trans* characters by far the most likeable in the show. Really, it’s Maura’s kids who are unlikeable, since they’re so appallingly self-absorbed. But at least there’s hope. Initially I thought Ali would be the most insufferable, but I did like how concerned she was when Ed went missing. Josh has yet to display a single sympathetic fiber in his being to me, though.

And my wife and I were tickled no end when Sarah complained about being “on four committees at Ivanhoe.” That’s our kids’ school, and we serve on a few committees ourselves, though our refrigerator is half the size of Sarah’s when she makes that complaint. When did Silver Lake get that ritzy?


#19

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