Transparent Episode 101 Recap: The Family That Eats Ribs Together

Hello and welcome to the very first episode of Transparent, the new Amazon exclusive show that we’ve been talking about since February. It features a family with adult children whose parent comes out as a trans woman, and have A Lot of Feelings. Maura, the trans woman and parent referenced in the title, is played by a cis man, Jeffrey Tambor, which is not ideal for many reasons but is, I guess, the world we live in. To be clear, Maura isn’t out to her family as a trans woman for much of this episode, but we’ll refer to her as Maura and with she/her pronouns.


We open with a montage of waking up, which would definitely not fly in a creative writing class but I guess that’s why we’re on TV instead. A girl with frizzy hair is making coffee in a small apartment out of a cheap coffeemaker: I spy a Shiftless Twentysomething. I know my own kind.

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Maybe I can find a job somewhere in this mug

Next, we move to a naked bearded man waking up next to some sort of Scandinavian skincare model, and prodding her to wake up and make out with him even though she is clearly very sleepy. I feel confident in identifying him as a Disaffected Manchild. This is also the point at which we realize how many naked boobs there are going to be in this show. It’s a lot of boobs, it turns out!

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Oh god I was having a nightmare that we were in a Judd Apatow movie

Next is a household that appears to have been constructed solely as a showroom for very expensive kitchen appliances. This All-American family has a housekeeper/cook situation and also a minivan, seems like a strong possibility of a Stifled Soccer Mom.

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It never takes only thirty minutes, Rachael Ray, you goddamn liar

In a park, we see Ali — the Shiftless Twentysomething — on a walk with Carrie Brownstein, who is dressed in an outfit you could base an entire episode of Portlandia on.

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And so she was like “you really think you can eat a jelly donut this big all by yourself?” And I was like “yes.”

Ali wants to write a book for twentysomethings based on “Are You My Mother?” called “Are You My Soulmate?,” but is distracted by staring at a dreamy personal trainer in the park. Sadly we don’t get to hear more about this book project which would surely have been the biggest thing to hit the literary scene since Lena Dunham wrote a collection of poems in the voice of each of her childhood stuffed animals because Ali gets a call from her dad. What could it possibly be about? “Dad” isn’t really correct, maybe, but it’s what all the kids think at this point and what Ali says to Carrie Brownstein; I’m interested to see what the show does with parental titles as it moves forward.

Starsweep to inside the minivan of suburban bliss, where Sarah is getting a similar call. We don’t hear any of these calls, or Maura’s voice.

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OnStar are you there? Are you listening? What do you think I should bring to the potluck? God I’m so alone

Elsewhere, the already-insufferable cup of brogurt is announcing something is “tweetable.” Is that better or worse than “tweetworthy?” I don’t know and I think we can all agree that the better choice would have been to just announce “I’m tweeting this,” or maybe just shut up forever and sail off into the ocean alone. The Scandinavian skincare model and another girl who looks identical to her are hanging out in really improbable poses while one of them knits an ugly-chic scarf from an extremely tangled pile of yarn that’s making me twitch just looking at it. Is this what happens on the L Word for straight people? Is this the way that they live? Ali shows up, and there is some concern that she will smoke all the weed. I think you’ll recover, buddy.

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Really excited to use this as the wallpaper for my phone, laptop, tablet and Zune

Sarah the Stifled Soccer Mom is at the daycare center when she runs into the dreamiest butch who ever butched. You can tell she wears a really nice but not overpowering cologne and has really soft hands. Tammy the Dreamiest Butch is now on her second marriage, and she and Sarah are both real happy to see each other. Tammy confesses that her five-year-old daughter got in trouble for biting another child, and for some reason this makes me about fifteen times more attracted to her. Will have to make a note to bring that up in therapy.

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Yeah, right between your two front teeth. No, it’s still there.

Sarah runs through the list of her kids and breaks the news that she’s married to a man, but this does not seem to present an obstacle as the conversation quickly transitions to how they should “get together” and “have a playdate,” which is definitely the mom version of “come over and watch a movie in my dorm room.” Tammy puts on a pair of aviators and I have to take a brief recess to fan myself.

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I’m looking for John Connor

Back in the BroCave, which looks like it would cost even more than my student loan debt, Ali and Josh are discussing what percentage of the Scandinavian girls (who are a band, I guess?) he’s sleeping with and whether it would more accurately be defined as “fucking” or “making love.” I can’t report much about this scene due to sticking my fingers in my ears the whole time because the idea of discussing intimate details of your sex life with a sibling is so gross to me. Also because for some reason when men specifically say “make love” it makes me nauseated.

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And then you just squat all the way down, do 10 kegels, and jump back up. I’ve been doing these fifteen times a day and now I can lift a car.

Ali and Josh discuss the phone call that all three of the siblings have gotten, which it turns out has been inviting them all to a family dinner in their childhood home. The informed viewer can guess that this is an opportunity for Maura to come out to her kids. But the kids don’t know that, and the prevailing theory is that their dad has cancer, and Josh’s reaction to this possibility is an extremely callous suggestion that possessions should just be distributed now, for tax purposes. It seems clear that Josh is, unfortunately, a smoldering pile of human garbage.

The human-garbage hypothesis is strengthened when, upon arrival at the dinner, Josh announces that the food in question has given him “a boner in his tummy.” I feel concern that maybe straight men do not know how to express human emotion without boners as a reference point. Does joy feel like a boner in the heart? Does depression feel like erectile dysfunction of the brain? This is truly a demographic in crisis. The only bright spot in this particular scene is that Ali and Sarah are both wearing flannel because the family that gays together stays together. An alternative to the cancer theory is floated: what if this dinner is instead about an engagement? That would be sweet. Viewers know that this is not, in fact, the case, and is pretty much definitely actually a coming out.

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Stay five steps behind him at all times so no one thinks we’re related

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Rachel

Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

69 Comments

  1. This was beyond awful. Every wretched trans stereotype on display and, of course, the utterly unpassable and never going to pass transwoman.

    I especially like the Cheating Bisexual just in time for Bi Awareness week!

    I anxiously await NPR and HRC explaining how it’s the best thing since Normal and TransAmerica.

    • I didn’t watch it and don’t think I can bring myself to watch it, partly for the very reason that it plays into the tired stereotype (see “Normal”) of a cis man playing an older trans woman who is very much “visibly trans” and doesn’t blend in. (I hate the word “passing,” given its connotation of trying to be something you aren’t, so I don’t use it.) It’s obviously perfectly OK to be visibly trans. But the fact remains that a great many trans women don’t want to be seen as trans every time they go out in public, and be subjected to unwanted attention, and have that detract from being seen as themselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that either. And the fact remains that the “non-passing” older trans woman is an incredibly tired stereotype that doesn’t really fit reality. (Says I as an older trans woman myself, even though I’m a dozen years younger than Jeffrey Tambor.) And then there’s having a cis man portray Maura, which I still don’t accept as OK no matter how good his performance is.

      Watching movies and TV shows about trans women is difficult for me under any circumstances — I usually spend more time cringing with embarrassment than anything else, and my pulse starts to race just thinking about it, including thinking about any kind of scene where a trans woman gets “caught” by her children or parents — so in this case, I think I’ll probably skip it. Without even touching the issue of the Jewish stereotypes, which make me cringe just as much.

      I will read the recaps, though!

  2. I did enjoy this show’s pilot, for the most part, but I had a very hard time swallowing how they portrayed the family’s Jewish heritage and how that related to them being “spoiled, selfish, rich kids”. It feels very much like stereotyping and like a very negative portrayal. I will continue to watch the show, but this aspect of misrepresentation should not be overlooked. Please include any commentary you may feel about this is in the next recap? It’d be nice to discuss all the aspects of how groups are being characterized, not just the queer groups in the show.

  3. I was actually pleasently surprised by the quality of the show, though after reading this review I’m questioning my own opinion. Obviously casting a cis male actor as a trans woman is a questionable choice, but given the age of the character and the fact that she is just starting transition, somewhat understandable. I felt like Maura was sensitively portrayed and what we’ve seen of her character so far is interesting. I’m also excited by the fact that she seems to be interested in women, since queer trans characters are incredibly rare (the only other example I can think of is Sophia from Orange is the New Black).

    As for the bisexual represention, as a bi/queer woman I’m usually very sensitive to poor represenation, but for whatever reason I wasn’t bothered by Sarah’s character. It seemed clear that her marriage was in trouble before Tammy entered the picture. I didn’t see her as a stereotype of the “cheating bisexual” but just as someone who was bored and miserable in her current relationship and wanted to recapture the excitment of her first love. She doesn’t handle the situation well, but all of the characters are portrayed as flawed individuals, including the two straight siblings. I didn’t see her particular flaws as having anything to do with her sexuality.

    I’m surprised that I came away with such a different impression of the show, given that I’m typically highly critical of queer and trans representation in the media.

    • It occurs to me that the show won’t go the route of having Sarah ID as bi, because she hadn’t even told her husband that Tammy was once her girlfriend. I forget the exact language she used, but it was something like, “You remember that friend from college? She’s a lesbian.”
      I don’t know how you get a relationship to the point of marriage without discussing significant past relationships, but… that seems like a red flag to me. I’m only 2.5 episodes in, but I’m starting to expect a “Ah, I’m really a lesbian” turn about by the end of the season.

    • I completely agree with everything you said.

      Re: Maura – I watched the whole series this weekend, and it is certainly not a perfect show – the biggest issue being that they chose a cis man to play a transgender woman, but I understand the choice. I do think they portray Maura sensitively over the season (she is by far the most likable) and at her age of coming out/transitioning (70s) it is as much a new beginning as an ending tbh and she will most likely never “pass”

      And you are also spot on with your interpretation of Sarah imo. And she does gloss over her past relationship w/ Tammy in the pilot, but without spoiling anything she does tell her husband about their past.

      It is easy to see all these characters as basic stereotypes in the pilot, but I think the show/Jill Soloway has a clear idea of all these characters and their world that really become fully formed and deeply flawed people.

  4. Ok, I had to stop reading this midway through because 2 things:

    1. You obviously came in hating this show, and the bias in your review shows so hard, which is really lame because normally I LOVE your reviews/everything you write here. So that’s just me being disappointed.

    2. You missed a MAJOR chunk of the plot. THOSE OLD PEOPLE ARE NOT THE GRANDPARENTS. THAT IS THE MOM AND STEPDAD. IT PLAYS A HUGE ROLE IN THE SHOW. And I’m sorry my caps lock got stuck but, seriously? I’m not sure how you wouldn’t be able to pick up on that one.

    I’m absolutely in love with this show. I binge watched it tonight, the whole way through, and I cried like a baby. I called my mom and sister and begged them to watch it because, no spoilers, but the way it handles sexuality and queerness and gender identity is, in my opinion, truly fantastic for mainstreamish television. It’s not the same as having them read Bi or even You Can Tell By Looking, but it will help them open their mind to the world of gender and sexuality outside the binary.
    Not a single one of the characters are supposed to be all-together likeable. They just aren’t. Because this show isn’t trying to create some perfect family, it’s trying to show something real. And if we’re honest with ourselves, I think we can all identify with at least one aspect of the kids. Even Josh (who ends up being a lot more bearable as you learn more about him) The first episode certainly isn’t perfect. But for crying out loud. We owe it to ourselves as a queer community to watch a show that isn’t afraid to TRY to start a conversation.

    I hope you’ll give this show the chance it deserves. Obviously not everyone is going to spend an insane amount of time binge watching the whole season on a Friday night (my girlfriend is out of town and I have a cold so… that’s my excuse) but it really does have a lot to offer when it comes to creating a more accepting and curious (for the right reasons) public.

    • Agreed on all of this. Though I loved Rachel’s recap almost as much as the show itself! So I dunno what’s goin’ on!

      The pilot has some pretty problematic portrayals (say that three times fast), but things get much more down-to-earth and realistic as the show progresses. I dug it.

    • I did this exact thing and I have your exact opinion. Thank you for sharing. I was similarly exasperated by this review. There was a lot of meat in this show, and whether its commentaries and critiques succeeded or not, it deserves to be taken far more seriously than Rachel allowed for this time.

  5. I really liked this recap. And I think I liked the show? I definitely liked Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of Maura a lot more than I thought I would, especially in the second episode (i’ve only seen the first two but I’ll wait to talk about ep. 2 when that recap comes out). Like, normally I’m too upset about a cis actor playing a trans woman to care, but this time I felt like they did okay (not saying that this means it’s okay other times; this is the one exception that proves the rule).

    Also, I don’t really understand why people keep saying that Jeffrey Tambor’s character could never pass? (and once again, I want to say that 99% of the concept of passing is garbage) I mean, I thought she looked like an average woman her age. Sure, she doesn’t look like a 70 year old hollywood actress, but to me she looks like an average 70 year old woman. I don’t know, maybe I don’t have as strict guidelines for who is passable and who isn’t?

    With Parenthood having it’s final season this year, I could see this becoming my Favorite Show That Has Too Many Upper Middle Class White People on it.

    Also, Rachel, I’m really glad I’m not the only one on staff who cries whenever they hear that song, I was literally crying when they were doing the cover of “Operator”.

    • No, I thought the same thing – to me she looked perfectly fine for an older lady, especially now that I know she’s supposed to be around 70. Honestly I had no idea Tambor was that old – for some reason I thought he was in his fifies! If I look like that in my 70s I won’t be complaining.

      It would have been amazing to see a trans woman in that role, but I recognize that in this particular case it would have been a challege to find someone. I really hope that the trans actors on he show are given good material and prominate roles. I’m only 3 episodes in, but Alexandra Billings’ character looks promising. For once I’m actualy feeling hopeful, but we’ll see if the show delivers.

        • Also, read elsewhere that the crew of this show was largely made up of trans individuals and all of the bathrooms were gender free, AND that the shows writer (creator? unsure) is the child of a trans parent and drew a lot from her experiences with them (unsure of pronouns) for the show. Those were all really positive signs to me.

    • “Also, I don’t really understand why people keep saying that Jeffrey Tambor’s character could never pass? (and once again, I want to say that 99% of the concept of passing is garbage) I mean, I thought she looked like an average woman her age. Sure, she doesn’t look like a 70 year old hollywood actress, but to me she looks like an average 70 year old woman. I don’t know, maybe I don’t have as strict guidelines for who is passable and who isn’t?”

      Agreed 100%. And like other people have said, if you’re casting a character who’s early into their transition (especially if they’re older than like, 30? 40?) you have pretty limited options available to you among actual trans actor, I imagine. Just because, well, I feel like most trans actors who are openly trans – I would imagine that most of them have been medically transitioning for a good while. (And also that very few of them are those that opt out of medical treatment, esp. hormones.)

      As a trans guy who has the tendency to be fairly self-involved and unable to see outside his own issues when it comes to trans representation (by which I mean I’m not too great at feeling appropriate feelings about people who have trans experiences/identities different from mine) – and I know this is something I definitely need to work on, but, baby steps, I still doubt even my own experiences and feelings a lot of the time – I had to imagine what I’d think if it were a cis female actor playing a trans man in order to avoid sounding like an unsympathetic jerk – sorry :/ I’m working on it – and I think that in this particular case I’d be fine with it? Like, ideally it would be an early transition trans guy in that case, or at least a non-binary trans person who was assigned female at birth, BUT – it doesn’t seem like a terrible choice to cast a cis woman in that situation. (This paragraph is so incoherent. I’m sorry. I’m having trouble articulating anything non-douchey. I’m really sorry.)

      … All that with the caveat that it’s acceptable as long as the character is portrayed sensitively. I’ll have to watch the show to see if that happens. (Do you have to have a subscription to Amazon Prime to watch? Because that’s not a thing I can do. Money.)

      But anyway my point was, Maura looks like she could easily be a cis woman, to me. And in real life, expecting that (“looking cis”) from trans people is utterly awful and unnecessary, but in the media it’s good to break down stereotypes, and I think the main reason people are seeing Maura as visibly trans or “non-passing” is because they know she’s being portrayed by a cis actor, and projecting that onto her. Like, because of the transphobia and transmisogyny embedded in all our brains (and I do mean all of us, cis and trans alike), a lot of us, when we see a person or character we know to be trans, we don’t think they really pass unless it is absolutely impossible (or, well, very difficult, with our binarist gender conditioning) to see them as their assigned gender. Which is a bunch of crap, because there are plenty of cis folks who are either androgynous or are sometimes mistaken for another gender, and we don’t question their ability to “pass.” And there are even more cis folks who could easily present as a different binary gender Without Question, as long as no one knew them any other way. You know?

      So I think the trouble people have with seeing Maura as “passable” is at least partly (perhaps mostly?) because of the transphobic conditioning we all get, from birth onwards, in this and many other cultures.

      It’s definitely still a fair critique to be concerned or angry about the pattern of trans characters being overwhelmingly portrayed by cis actors, especially cis actors who don’t identify with the gender of the character they’re playing. Completely fair! Especially in terms of just getting an Actual Trans Person’s perspective on trans portrayals and daily life challenges. But this critique is sometimes disguising some deep-seated, possibly subconscious, certainly difficult to retrain, skepticism about trans-ness in general. Which is rough. And it affects nearly all of us, cis allies and trans people alike.

      There’s an essay I love by Dean Spade, the main point of which is not particularly relevant, but it has this great line: “the gender dysphoria we all feel” – which, when I read it, was a revelation. Of course! Everyone – everyone! – experiences gender dysphoria, to some degree or another! Which is a great, compelling, articulate, succinct argument for transgender rights and liberation being an absolutely essential part of HUMAN rights.

      (link to Spade’s essay, if you’re interested: http://www.lttr.org/journal/1/dress-to-kill-fight-to-win – I really loved it; perhaps some of you might too?)

      In summary, my less considered opinions and reactions are deeply flawed, and probably also my considered ideas as well, but I definitely think that skepticism about Maura’s presentation, that reading her as necessarily “visibly trans” – it doesn’t hold much water, and it’s rooted in some prejudice, even if it is unconscious.

      It would be more relevant to critique Tambor’s performance as being questionable not for his appearance but for his ability to act as a female character, and a trans one at that. Not in terms of how he looks, but in terms of things that are a little more difficult to quantify, since people, regardless of gender, have many of the same challenges and preoccupations, though we certainly differ in some important ways. But I mean, we all have to eat and sleep and find human connection. We all suffer and try to find ways to suffer less. Etc. The human condition, basically.

      Sorry this is so rambling and unfocused. My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations?

  6. Wait a second. Why is it okay for Josh to play into the white boy, self entitled, man-child stereotype, but it’s so horrific for Sarah to have a few negative bi stereotypes? The playing field for the siblings seems pretty equal to me and neither of their characters is unbelievable. We’ve all met are fair share of Joshs and Sarahs. Being selfish and self centered isn’t about gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.

    • So well said! Positive traits know no color.gender.sexuality and nor do negative ones. I think the more we drive that point home in mainstream media, the more we become one with that mainstream instead of ‘angry black woman number 2’and ‘sassy gay friend’ and ‘butch lesbian’ in the credits of entertainment and people’s minds.

    • Because in the real world no one discriminates against, denies access to effective physical and mental health care, or commits violence against entitled white cis boys based on stereotypes. They reward them with jobs on Wall Street.

      • Which is to say, yes, it’s lazy writing. And I’m sick of that character. But it’s not actively causing real harm to middle class cis white dudes because they benefit from all of the privilege. So… apart from being bored, I just don’t care.

  7. I fell asleep reading this recap and had the weirdest dreams where me and my sister were the kids but were also in a video game and racing to apologise to Maura but go loads faster when collecting the green blocks. Weird times.

  8. So uh Ali, Josh and Sarah I did not read or get that they were suppose to be Jewish or have a Jewish identity. They just read as middle class white people or just uh white people to me. I have feelings about the white identity in America and how it is a nothingness that drains away any sense of culture, self, tradition or attachment to family and tries to fill that emptiness with stuff. >_>

    It’s easy to look at characters as just assigned tropes and Sarah can be nicely squeezed into the untrustworthy, cheating bisexual. She seems more like than that to me or maybe I feel wishful that she will be more than that. Her marriage seems to have definitely fallen apart long ago and Tammy is someone familiar she can just fall back in with. Someone she had success with, more of a life with.

    Maura brings up alot but I’m not trans so I feel I should keep quiet and be respectful. To me transwomen are women, but I don’t reside in a vacuum and I can see why her portrayal by a cisman could be harmful.
    At the same time I’ve witnessed the happiness of woman who is not passable who transitioned compared to a person who may or may not have come out to me as woman then quickly said transitioning would be useless anyway and how miserable they were. Probably still are.
    In Maura I see the weariness of my mother who picks up all the slack my aunt leaves when it comes to helping take care of my grandmother or grandfather. I also see the sadness of my grandmother when my aunt neglects her. She is so relatable to me it hurts.

    Josh is very special person that makes one want to buy a bunch of dildos, put them in a sack and throw them at him real hard but one does because sex toys cost money and you’d rather give them to people who deserve toys. Also it would not learn him any grown person feelings.

    • Often original television pilots have a different cast than the final product we see on television. For example, The L Word was originally shot with a different guy than Eric Mabius playing Tim — they even did promo shoots with original Tim.


      But Original Tim was indicted on domestic abuse charges so they kicked him out of the cast, and re-recorded his pilot scenes with Eric Mabius in his role.

      None of us have seen Original Tim, however, because The L Word, like most TV shows, only showed its original pilot to network executives for their approval or denial. (another unaired pilot: Riff Regan, not Alyson Hannigan, played Willow in the Buffy pilot) Because Amazon was using a reader-response model — they showed us pilots for six different shows and let us vote on which ones we’d like to see go to series — we had access to a view of the “original cast” that we wouldn’t typically have.

      There’s a number of reasons those roles might’ve been re-cast — I assume they got Carrie Brownstein on board post-pilot, and she’s a big name so they replaced the original Sid. w/r/t Tammy, it could’ve been a scheduling conflict or any number of things.

    • I thought I was the only one, too!

      Ok, I’m streaming in Canada via a 3rd party site and ONLY the first / pilot episode was available, but the homo with the kids was DEFINITELY a long-haired vegetable. I was double-taking on the screen recaps.
      I’d have to go back and check, but I’m pretty sure there were also some dialogue changes and the youngest daughter’s workout outfit in the training scene was blue shorts and a white T-shirt, not a jacket.
      I suspect we must have been watching the original pilot and there were some tweaks to the final, full product. Where were you getting your episode from?

  9. WARNING: SOME POSSIBLE SPOILERS
    First off, I want to admit the shame of joining Amazon Prime for 6 hours, binged watching all 10 episodes and then dumping Prime. Sorry Jeff Bezos, Transparent is a good choice in programming, but I’m still not joining your damn consumer service. I value local businesses.

    Transparent did interest me because I have certain resonant intersections with the story… I’m a woman who is trans, a ‘late transitioner’ although not as old or late as Maura) who is a parent (and facilitated a parenting group for trans people for a number of years) and raised a reformed Jew (in a synagogue which looked more like a Holiday Inn). While the series is eminently watchable, sometimes moving and funny and I enjoyed many isolated moments and certainly performances (plus I looove that opening piano theme and montage), I also think it’s a lot more pleasantly shallow than many glowing reviews are giving it credit for.

    Since I don’t want to drop spoilers, I’ll just say I found the trans content in the show kind of a vague demi-step forward but not as revolutionary as Soloway, her house trans people or many reviewers are claiming. The good: no one trans is murdered, no trans women are sex workers (except someone on an internet site), trans people aren’t easy jokes and a few smaller parts are played by trans performers. But it suffers from some of the same limitations OITNB does in this regard… the trans characters are totally there because they’re trans… not because they’re fascinating characters. There is too much exposition about trans issues (IMO always a dirty word when it comes to trans-themed scripts), too many lines which are just information and not enough interior reality. All trans people seemingly talk about is related to their trans identities. Most of the “15 trans people” touted as hired for the series are there for window dressing (I saw Holly Woodlawn, former Warhol star, for about 2 seconds).

    The only trans woman character other than Maura with any real lines is played by Alexandra Billings who, while she’s in a number of episodes, is really just “the other trans woman” and Maura’s companion and not given a lot to say or any complexity. In one scene with Maura, Billings character and a young, beautiful, very passable trans woman go out together… which I honestly didn’t find terribly believable from my experience in the trans community where, sadly, most people who are young and passable tend to avoid people who “aren’t passable” and late transitioners like the plague. The other trans character, mostly in 2 episodes, is a trans man played by stand up comedian (and mega cutie) Ian Harvie. While his scenes are funny and end in an interesting twist, he again has little personality. He’s there to be trans (although, in his instance, there is some reason for it). And what do the trans people talk about… it’s virtually all about being trans. They talk about hormones (oddly Premarin, an old school, animal cruel, synthetic estrogen which is virtually never prescribed anymore yet is inexplicably mentioned) and talking about transition in a pretty objectifying way. Little emotional content, and little of the pain or isolation most older transitioners experience. I personally didn’t feel the frequent flashbacks added a lot of depth to Maura or the family story and distanced me from what she was experiencing in the present. Many of the mini-side plots seemed like conscious story plotting and took precious time away from some core threads.

    As with OITNB, the trans women are sexless (unlike everyone else in the show). It’s your basic ‘old, unpassable trans woman as eunuch meme.’ While I wasn’t happy about Jeffrey Tambor’s casting, he is an incredible actor who invests Maura with way more humanity, complexity and longing than the scripts do. The 3 gentiles playing the kids are all actors I like a lot but given too much cliched upper class LA Life shallowness to portray. It never ceases to amaze me how limited a view of one of the most multi-class and multi-cultural cities in the world is characterized in tv and film. Again, watching the series was very enjoyable (and easy… maybe too easy), but it’s pretty surface. As Soloway has said in interviews, it’s centered on what it’s like being the offspring of an older transitioner and not about the trans person. Even that might be generous.

    • Thanks for all of this, as someone who is also “a woman who is trans, a ‘late transitioner’ although not as old or late as Maura) who is a parent [and, in my case, a long-time moderator on a private forum with a lot of other trans women who are parents]… and raised a reformed Jew.” And thanks for watching, because what you say confirms my instinctive feeling that I would not be able to watch this without substantial cringing. My one slight disagreement would be to say that back in my support group days (now nearly ten years ago, when I was in my late 40’s), I (and some other older trans women) did spend a lot of time hanging out with “young, passable” trans women, because we weren’t seen as visibly trans ourselves. I do agree that a lot of trans women who aren’t visibly trans avoid those who are like the plague (regardless of age) — as if merely being in their company makes that visibility contagious. It’s not something people are usually proud of, but I do understand the fear. If the show were to acknowledge that this happens, it would be a lot more realistic.

      • Donna, in fairness to Transparent, there is a brief scene where Maura wants to go out for drinks after a support group and no one takes her up on that. I’m sure there are exceptions, it’s just my experience. I’ve seen a lot of painful, awkward moments when people who were passing and had already transitioned didn’t want to hang around someone who was very ‘visibly trans.’ No, I don’t think anyone’s proud of it, but it’s a reality that when a woman (even a cis woman) hangs with trans women, it’s not unlikely their own gender might be called into question. A kind of sick “guilty by trans association.” :(

    • Yeah, I don’t want to say too much for fear of revealing spoilers, but my biggest issue with the show was that none of the characters played by trans people got any real character development. I’d hoped that Alexandra Billings’ character would be fleshed out eventually, but sadly she really wasn’t. I otherwise thought the show was quite well done, but this was a major failing.

    • “from my experience in the trans community where, sadly, most people who are young and passable tend to avoid people who “aren’t passable” and late transitioners like the plague” —

      I’ve heard the same self-loathing fearful denunciations of “older transitioners” (older = 1 day older than the person saying it) by young attractive transpeople. However, to be fair cisgendered people in their 20s don’t generally hang around age 40+ cisgendered people either.

  10. I Just binged the show: So I’m no expert, but I’ve seen just about everything there is in movies and tv that has Trans characters, i even did a camp talk on it at the last a-camp. I am a filmmaker, a trans women, a bisexual, and I’ve been in a few things (played a gay guy in Dallas Buyers Club) It would be an understatement if i said my opinion was a bit biased, but honestly, this is the best damn attempt I think I’ve ever seen outside of a few pieces of cinema (cough Lawrence Anyway cough). Maura was strong and confident, the things her character had to say just amazing. I honestly didn’t feel like she was a stereotype, she just felt like any normal older woman in her position, and i also thought that she was very pretty throughout even in her “lazy” modes (and everyones obsession with passing is really quite disheartening, I mean one can be pretty and not pass, and one can exist and be recognized as a person even if she isn’t conventionally attractive, i mean god knows i don’t pass all the time if ever). She seemed real to me, I mean i have to give credit where credit is due and i really think this drives home the fact that content is more important than some sort of casting standard (although i highly doubt very many men could pull it off the way tambor did).

    • It’s great to hear your opinion on this! I watched the whole series and felt like it was pretty damn good, too. apparently solloway’s experience with her parent coming out as trans is what inspired the series to begin with, and there are also more than 25 trans cast and crew members, which seems pretty great. idk, i hope this show does well. although jesus those are some insufferable children.

      • Whatever the number of trans people involved (and I think they’re mostly as extras in the LGBT center scenes) what does that mean if they’re just window dressing? I guess my point is, if there is no interior life to them, no pettiness, no complexity, nor fallibility or sex or humor, I don’t care that much (other than them getting a day’s pay and access to the catering service). They had trans actors and I didn’t really see them used. It was a missed opportunity. Instead we got another of the endless scenes of seeing ‘the kids’ getting loaded and side plots which soaked up too much time in a 29 minute show.

        • What I find particularly irritating about the “trans walk on” is that I’m guessing most people who view them see ordinary men and women and just assume the actrons are cis since they don’t appear “trans.”

          It’s nice they get a one day paycheck I guess.

        • Can we please not trivialize day players. Ive worked on a day to day basis in the film industry here in New Orleans, and those days are pretty important for, you know, paying bills. Cis gendered people here in town could make decent money working solely as Background, trans people aren’t afforded that. I greatly appreciated being able to be myself on the few sets who would have me (Dallas Buyers Club was not one of them) and its more important than you think to the working trans actor to have these background parts, to show that we exist in the real world, in the background, not just front and center. I know I’m in the minority, but when it comes to trans people/androgynous people and there portrayal I thought they did a good job of making us real and not monsters, which is what happens more often than not. Also Mauras friends were trans, and maybe they weren’t huge this season, but I’m sure we will see more of them, also we have a real life trans man in a show, acting like an actual dude, which hardly ever happens.

        • Also i want to add that coming across a set that is friendly to trans crew is nearly IMPOSSIBLE. The film industry is incredibly misogynistic, like you wouldn’t believe. The fact that even one trans person was welcome on set is HUGE. I know the film/tv world has a long way to go, but this show is not exactly perfect, but i still feel its going in the right direction.

        • I don’t feel as if I’m trivializing anyone. It’s work, and I acknowledged it as real work which is nothing to sneeze at in the trans community. But for many decades, there have been trans people (and more often cis men playing trans people) who are thrown into scenes whenever they want to make it seem more outre, bizarre, othered (or even sleazy). Don’t want to drop a spoiler but, sure enough, there were the drag queens thrown in the foreground shots of the “trans talent contest scene.” Why, because it had to look more outrageous? And for the talent contest they’re loudly pumping disco… because, what, that’s what trans people supposedly love to listen to? Even them singing “Somebody that I used to know” was just hokey (okay, sure, it was supposed to be a little hokey)… but it couldn’t be something which wasn’t directly related to being trans? Yes, I’m glad they hired a trans man for a short story arc and a trans actress who appears in several episodes (but doing what… providing reality or credibility for the show’s central casting choice?)

          As to the future, there have been lots of shows with trans characters who functionally disappeared or were killed off when their short-lived usefulness was fulfilled. My point is… without real interior lives, characters become marginalized… like the faceless crewmen on Star Trek who ended up getting killed in every episode. My issue with this show is that, despite the title, despite the hype surrounding its subject matter, it’s only tangentially about a trans person. There is so much more they could have done, both in terms of Maura and how her family interacted with her and they chose to make it pretty lightweight. (The effed up family dynamics surrounding money are actually much better represented). Yes, I expect more. And no, I don’t feel like being patient any more… I’ve been patient long enough. I’m not condemning the show nor saying it’s without value, just that the hyperbole surrounding it as a trans tipping point isn’t deserved.

  11. more sexless rubbish about the parenting ‘grounding someone in reality’ and importance of previous relationships? And treating someone as a specimen and a host for ‘deep’, ‘conflicted’ emotions? Something that’s really needed, irreplaceable and never done before… I am so watching this.[/sarcasm]

    Getting my gf out of that ‘realistic’ and ‘respectful’ secondary importance modus operandi was a fucking hard thankless work, actually involving the entire control freak arsenal and bordering on secret service style subversion. Dramatisation, borderline intellectual dishonesty, incitement of hate towards an ex, intentional conditioning an uncritical perception of me as being right, undermining of an entire core belief tree and replacing it with resentment and iconoclasm. I know i sound like the mother of all crazy girlfriends – but [strike]ends justif[/strike] it was only and exclusively for her own good.

    So yea, can we for a change have a film or a tv series about the likes of her, women coming out at least somewhat victorious and having ripped little territory to be themselves in – from the claws of the network of oppression, coercion and constant social pressures. And one could even throw in an odd unrecognised lesbian everyday hero like me, those epic quests for power tend to have a better chance of succeeding with competent support staff.

    • I couldn’t figure out where I remembered her from until I got my act together and googled it, and then FREAKED because that was my most faaaaav movie back in the day!! It made me like her so much more.

  12. I just watched the pilot because it’s free!

    I really enjoyed it. It hurts a lot, and I can’t get over how awful Josh is, and the scenes of the children talking about Maura, talking over Maura – cringing forever. But I love Maura. She’s lovely.

    Best scene: Maura at the LGBT center (I’m assuming it was a trans-focused group), talking about being ID’d at Target, having a moment of honesty about her children’s selfishness, which I didn’t dare hope for because she seems so desperate for them to see her and it’s so hard to criticize someone whose love and sympathy you need and aren’t getting.

    Even after hearing about Tambor’s performance in advance I was still apprehensive because all I’d ever seen him in before was Arrested Development, but man, I was blown away. Even when Maura’s not saying anything, not doing much, there’s so much pathos there. Like after her children leave the disastrous dinner, and she puts on her nightgown, lets her hair down, reads in bed – that was a beautiful moment.

    (In fact, those kinds of moments were pretty much the ONLY time that I felt for the other characters. Never Josh though. Josh is awful and boring all the way through.)

    Also, this might be just me projecting (and having read a fair amount of trans-centric fanfiction lately – and also, the show’s premise), but the scene near the end, where Ali gets into her apartment and immediately strips, and then later stands naked in front of the mirror and looks unhappy, and then puts on workout clothes and goes to a personal trainer to talk about getting all muscular – that seemed really achingly familiar to me. (Well, I’ve never been to a personal trainer, or had a family situation like Ali’s, etc.)

    I mean, I doubt they’d go down that road (No of course not! Suspension of disbelief only goes so far! You can’t have TWO people in the same family be trans! Hahaha that never happens!*) and it was probably not intended to be interpreted that way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it nudged a few antennae for other people who have their feelers out for those things.

    And back to the LGBT group scene, can I say how relieved I am that THIS is the kind of stuff they’re highlighting about Maura’s experiences as a trans person? Rather than makeup and clothes and bodies and sex? Because oh my god it’s so rare. Even in documentaries! Even the presented-as-though-it-were-objective documentary approach generally focuses on physical transformation to the exclusion of everything else and it’s terrible and reductive and doesn’t resonate for me (and, I think, for many other Actual Trans People).

    I really wish that my reaction to this scene was less about relief and more about nuance and pathos and acting etc, but it’s still too rare an occurrence for relief not to play a major part. It’s also a relief that that’s not the major focus even when Maura’s hanging out in her (feminine) PJs. So I’m glad. :)

    *Obviously that’s bitter sarcasm. For instance, my mom, while she has never said she identifies as trans, has certainly experienced some feelings of gender ambiguity and dysphoria about being perceived as female, especially when she was pregnant. (With the added stress of being young – 19 – and looking even younger than that. Judge-y stares everywhere.)

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