Transparent Episode 104 Recap: Cabinet of Family Secrets

Before they can continue on to the mall, though, everyone has to pee. This is when the JAWS theme basically starts playing in your head. Maura pauses outside the ladies’ room, and Sarah gamely encourages her to go in, telling her it will be fine. But it won’t be fine, dear reader!

God, my fucking kids

God, my fucking kids

Once inside the bathroom, Sarah loudly calls Maura “Dad,” which tips off several people in the restroom. A teenager tells her mom “Do you see that person over there with the gray hair? I think it’s a guy.” The mom turns around to ask Maura “Excuse me. Are you a man? There are young women in here that you are traumatizing!” Sarah makes a face and says “Those little bitches over there? Yeah, they look really traumatized,” while Maura physically shrinks up and backs away. Ali hides inside a bathroom stall while Sarah, empowered by her RHOA makeup, loudly argues with this asshole mom calling Maura a “pervert.” Maura has to break up the scene, and has Sarah and Ali leave with her.

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Resting bitch face

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Active bitch face

This scene has so many layers of things that are infuriating and heartbreaking. Sarah is like a giant flashing signpost about how not to be a safe and supportive family member/friend of a trans woman — she’s tried to do her research and she’s sure her heart is in the right place, but she still manages to do something clueless and heedless that humiliates Maura and puts her in very real danger in front of her own children, just because she can’t be aware enough for one minute to realize the larger context of the situation. And then she makes it worse by drawing even more attention to Maura and to her trans status, having a yelling fight that makes her feel good about herself but only makes Maura feel worse. It’s a reminder to us, fellow cis people: no matter how conscious of trans issues you think you are and how devoted to allyship you imagine yourself to be, you are always one mistake away from putting the trans people you care about in danger. No amount of good intentions will ever mean you’re beyond fucking up.

And for Maura, this moment is just indescribably demoralizing and horrific. By most measures, things are going better for Maura and she likely feels more confident about being perceived as a woman than she ever has before: her daughters both seem marginally supportive of her and are out with her in public; she’s just had fresh hair extensions so she doesn’t need to worry about a wig that might look artificial; she’s just had her makeup professionally done; she’s even been coached, however reluctantly, on how to walk. And yet even with all those things, the day was totally ruined in a split second by dumb and bigoted cis people. Regardless of what changes Maura has made to her physical appearance, she still isn’t considered a “real” woman by others, and she had that fact announced publicly and in front of her kids. God, it’s the worst.

In the parking garage, Sarah asks if Maura is okay. “I will be,” she says. Sarah and Ali walk away. “Why is [she] doing this now?” Ali asks, selfishly. “Why did [she] wait so long?” Sarah responds, maybe not realizing they’re talking about different things. Elsewhere, Maura has finally found someplace private she can pee: a Port-A-Potty in a construction site. Super! Super.

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Ali goes back to the makeup counter to immediately return all of the expensive products Maura bought her for cash, because Ali just wants money from Maura all the time. This makes me incredibly angry actually but I don’t know how rational that is? It reminds me of the time that I found out my roommate with rich parents was using their credit card to go online shopping and hoping they wouldn’t notice, and I was horrified and equated this to stealing money from her parents, but my other friends whose parents also had money told me that that was fairly normal and not stealing. We were all in our early twenties if that matters.

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Every time I’m disappointed in you my eyebrows get a little bit closer to my hairline

I don’t know it seems really gross to me. Also Tammy cancels on the date she had with Sarah, although if their “date” was just gonna be Tammy smooshing Sarah’s boobs around then I feel like the honeymoon phase is over anyway, that shouldn’t count as a “date night” until you’ve been dating for at least a year. Ali’s face is a color that is completely unrelated to the color of her actual skin, it’s sort of hypnotizing.

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What do you think koala emoji/eyes emoji/helicopter emoji means

Maura is trying to figure out how to use the stovetop in her little apartment but eight thousand gay boys are having some sort of patio party next door and it’s very loud. Maura tries to call the apartment complex manager to have it addressed, but she hears the phone ring next door and realizes that the apartment manager is one of the partiers! Goddammit. Honestly living in a complex full of party-hearty gay boys sounds sort of like the worst thing possible except I bet they have good drugs and also would probably lend you a mesh tank top if you needed one. The larger point here is that Maura is having basically the worst day possible. She deals with this by taking her shoe off and banging on the dividing wall screaming “Turn the music the fuck down, motherfuckers!” She also calls them faggots which isn’t very cool, Maura, although I recognize it’s been a pretty fucking rough day. It doesn’t matter, because they don’t even hear her, so she just sits on her patio with one shoe on, letting the obnoxious party music waft over her.

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Starsweep to the barber shop where Ali still has all her foundation on and is getting a haircut. She goes back home and takes a bath, washing off the makeup and feeling her new, shorter hair. I want to be generous towards Ali and guess that she’s not mooching off of Maura as a general lifestyle choice but is mostly using it to fund things related to her body/physical self and changes she wants to make to it — like personal training or a haircut. For those who are aware that the creators of Transparent have mentioned there being a genderqueer character, this seems like evidence that Ali might be that character.

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I’m thinking sort of like a Shane vibe, but also not too butch, and also I don’t want to have to use too much product, and also none of it should get in my face if I want to pull my hair back, and maybe a little kind of undercut but nothing that would be unprofessional for work and also can you shave “Bubbline 4Ever” into the back

Across town, Sarah is showing up at Tammy’s house, because she’s terrible at having affairs. Tammy points out that this is super weird, which is true, but also keeps putting off telling her wife about Sarah. Tammy says she never told Sarah to leave her husband, which I guess is sort of true, but the fact that they’ve also been talking about Tammy telling her wife for some time now makes that seem a little suspect. Sarah says “I love you, and I’m feeling so ready, and open, and honest right now but I am afraid that I am making this shit up in my head and that you are not coming with me, and I feel like you’re just going to delay and delay and delay. I have dumped out every fucking piece of my life and I need you to tell her the truth.” Tammy…. doesn’t really say anything.

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You told me you understood Princess Bow Wow’s needs and would never take her to a groomer that didn’t respect her boundaries and every time I look at her I just think about how you betrayed both of us and I don’t know how I can ever trust you again, not in a real way

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I just think you might be overreacting

Sarah does a sad little angry laugh and starts to walk away before Tammy calls after her. This is becoming increasingly less discreet. Sarah asks if Tammy loves her, and Tammy pauses for a second while staring down at the ground, which is an extremely convincing and romantic way in which to tell someone you love them, in case you’re taking notes. “Then tell her about me,” Sarah says, and Tammy sort of nods. Probably this is going to go well!

Josh is hanging out at Ali’s apartment, where she is serving him “just bread. The toaster broke.” I’ve been there too, Ali. Josh thinks her new hair is funny, and Ali tries to prod him to talk with Maura without outing her.

Bargaining > Depression

Denial > Anger

Denial > Anger

Bargaining > Depression

Acceptance?

Acceptance

They make a halfhearted attempt at talking about Josh’s feelings, and I sort of am starting to see how these two might have matching anxieties and neuroses and self-loathing that help them understand each other in a way that others don’t. There’s a really beautiful version of “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” by Bettye Swann playing, and Ali snaps her fingers and gets Josh up to dance with her, and they both boogie away on the carpet like little muppets.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. 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 1122 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. Boob squeezer here. I’m like a 13-year-old boy. BOOBS! I don’t know why. I have them and yet I find them fascinating. (There, I said it. I live it.)

    Ali scamming money off of Maura was definitely not cool. You are being totally rational! Especially because the show has made it clear that she gives all her kids plenty of money when they ask for it, and Ali is, what, 30 at least? And is being supported by her parent(s?). So the fact that she’d probably get the money if she asked makes it extra sketchy for me. She’s definitely an interesting character.

    I could not love Alexandra Billings more.

    The Port-a-Potty about killed me, so humiliating.

  2. I think Maura is actually a very bizarre name for her character. It’s an Irish name, derived from Maureen and Mary, not something a Jewish woman of her age would have ever been named. Religious Jew or not, I can’t help thinking Maura would experience some sort of dissonance how none of the women in her family or that she grew up with ever had a name like that.

    Also, believe it or not, not all of us go through ‘second adolescence’ (being a teen has as much to do with incomplete brain development and limited life experience and not just social awkwardness or hormonal boosts) coming up with fantasy names and wearing whacky girly outfits.

    • As usual, I find myself agreeing with you. The “second adolescence” excuse for immature behavior has always bothered me a great deal (although it bothers me more when it’s used as an excuse for treating people badly). Yes, I went through a kind of second puberty when I transitioned, and yes, I had a lot to learn about certain aspects of presentation, especially putting on makeup, but I was still in my 40’s, and the last thing I wanted to do was draw untoward attention to myself.

      As far as the name goes, I agree that Maura is an unusual name for a 70-year old Jewish woman, but at least it doesn’t stick out as much as when middle-aged trans women name themselves Jennifer or Michelle or the like. “Donna” isn’t a very Jewish name either, but it’s certainly appropriate for someone born in the 1950’s, and that’s one of the main reasons I chose it.

    • i always imagined that maybe it was different for sisters than it was for like sisters/brothers, like i have a brother i can’t imagine talking like that to and also rachel has a brother but maybe everybody out there who has sisters could tell me ‘no riese that’s not how it works’, i might be projecting because i could talk to my imaginary sister about whatever i wanted

  3. I was really upset that when Ali sobered up she was reacting so badly to Maura’s coming out, but her caked-on, completely-different-color face after the makeovers was absolutely amazing.

    Also that bathroom scene was HARD TO WATCH.

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about this… should they just stop calling her “dad”? I’d like to know Maura’s point of view on this, in my head it makes sense for their kids to call her “dad” but probably causes pain to Maura?

      • Just to throw in a trans parent’s input… I’ve heard trans people who are parents (I used to facilitate a support group for them) be all over the place on this subject. Some people truly don’t mind if their kids call them their pre-transition parental titles, while others come up with some new creative way of saying it (I think Jennifer Boylan’s kids used “maddy”). Others are upset if their kids (young or adult) call them other than the typical parental honorific for their current gender.

        I transitioned when my daughter was around 6. I was originally papa, then when starting transition I was “poppy” for a couple of years. But after that, I just wasn’t comfortable with the name (which is also Spanish for papa as well as the flower) so I’m mostly called by my first name. When she’s referring to me to other people she calls me ‘mom,’ but still tend to be ‘Gina’ in private (I’m also a single parent). I have mixed feelings about it but we’re meeting each other half way. I give her a certain degree of flexibility in that I wouldn’t grant to other people. And I find so often, how these things play out has a LOT to do with the attitude of the other parent (in this case, Judith Light’s character) and how she feels about it and reacts to name, parenting title and pronoun changes

        • Just a p.s. to the comment I posted a few minutes ago, regarding your last sentence: my former spouse — my son’s mother — made it very clear to my son when I transitioned 9 years ago (when he was 15) that she would not under any circumstances ever accept the notion that I could also be called “Mom,” and would view it as a usurpation on my part, and an act of extreme disloyalty on his part. I’m not sure that a different attitude on her part would have changed my son’s already-expressed viewpoint that he still wanted to call me Dad in private, but who knows? In the end, I don’t care that much, for the reasons expressed in my other comment. It’s far more important to me that I know that he completely accepts me as a woman — and that three years after I transitioned, he turned to me and said, apropos of nothing in particular, that looking at me, it was hard for him to believe that I was ever anything other than a woman.

      • In my experience, a great many trans women who have children — especially when the transition takes place when the children are older, or even adults — leave the choice of whether their children see them as fathers or mothers entirely up to their children. In fact, I feel strongly that it should be left to the children; it’s generally more important to them than to the parent. To assume that the character in “Transparent” is automatically becoming a mother, instead of a father who’s a woman — and, therefore, should no longer be addressed as “Dad,” at least in private — would be quite unrealistic.

        The very first thing my son asked me when I told him of my plans to transition, when he was 14, was “will it be OK if I still call you Dad?,” and my immediate response was that of course it was OK, as long as he didn’t do it in public! What would be the point of trying to impose something upon him that he didn’t want? Allowing him to have that continuity was the least I could do to help my transition be as easy as possible for him. And what difference does it make? I don’t need to have the label of “mother” to make me feel secure in my identity. I have no cognitive dissonance, and see no contradiction, in being a female father. And neither does my son. As far as we’re concerned, “Dad” is really just a three-letter word that means to him that there’s been no break, no symbolic “death” of his father; that I’m still his and he’s still mine, just as we’ve always been, and that he loves me. If he felt differently it would be different, but it is, and should be, his choice.

        In the 10 years since then, I’d say he calls me Donna more and Dad less, but it still doesn’t bother me when he uses the latter. And I still sign every card and email “Love, Dad,” and I am happy to do so.

        In public, of course, he often refers to me as his Mom to third persons. Because I don’t want to be outed to strangers, and he respects that!

        And when I introduce myself to people he knows (assuming they don’t already know about me), I don’t say “I’m J’s dad,” or “I’m J’s mom”; instead, I avoid the problem by saying “Hi, I’m Donna; J is my son.”

    • I have a friend with a parent who’s a trans woman, and he refers to her as his dad, at least to other people. For example, he’d say, “my dad is a woman.” I haven’t met the parent in question so I’m not sure how she feels about this, but he seems otherwise completely supportive of her.

  4. Rachel, this recap is awesome! I was really critical at first but it seems like you’ve really gotten into the swing of the show and I keep sitting here cackling at work while reading which is more than a little awkward. *Thumbs up emoji for you!

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