The dual meanings of the title are gorgeous. The obvious is a conjunction of “transgender” and “parent.” Then there are the dictionary definitions, “obvious” or “sheer; admitting light through” or “easily recognized.” All of which are interlaced throughout the series through every character.
We open the series with Mort/Maura Pfefferman(Jeffery Tambor) in a group session, sharing her anxiety and trepidation about coming out to her children. Maura has been living her life in false happiness, suppressing her desires, in an effort keep her family together. We feel her tension and anxiety. Anyone who has come out, this is a flashback to an all too real emotional time.
“Transparent” is immediately about Maura’s transition, and also about her family’s transition as well. There is no overt preachiness to this series, rather it feels like we are taking part in Maura’s journey.
Shelly(Judith Light), Sarah(Amy Landecker), Josh(Jay Duplass), and Ali(Gaby Hoffman) Pfeffermen all have their own flaws and virtues, revealed throughout the series in the kaleidoscope of their lives. Each character’s motivation is rooted in the fashion that they are playing a role expected of them.
Shelly, the archetypical Jewish mother, diverting all sensitive subjects from discussion; Sarah, the hypertensive elder daughter; Josh the libertine son; Ali the flippant younger sibling all coalesce into a self-absorbed family unit, exploring the dynamic of familial relationships, gender identity and gender fluidity.
It is transparently ironic, than, that each member of the Pfefferman family harbor their secrets, believing nobody else knows. Their own myopia blinds them to their own self, like a defense mechanism. Like a child playing peek-a-boo by covering her own eyes, thinking nobody can see her, is an apropos analogy.
In a pinnacle episode, “Best New Girl,” (S1:E8) Maura and friend Mark go to Camp Camellia, a “Crossdressing Camp.” While there, segregation of crossdressers and transsexuals is exhibited, stirring internal conflict within Maura. Maura finds she is most relaxed and euphoric with, Connie, the cisgender wife of an attendee, and there is a moment where she mentally projects how it would be if her wife, Shelly, attended next year. This flashback episode is Maura’s “ah-ha” moment when she realizes she has to transition and live her life as a woman.
This series explores a transgender parent transitioning, however, the fabric of gender, relationships, and family dynamics are equally explored.
Series creator, Jill Soloway, took inspiration for “Transparent” from her personal experience when, 4 years ago, her father came out as transgender and wanting to transition. She also stresses this is not an autobiographical depiction of her family’s experience, but a means to also explore gender.
As part of the making of the show, Soloway enacted a self-defined “transfirmative action program”, whereby transgender applicants are hired in preference to non-transgender ones. As of August 2014, over 80 transgender people have worked on the show, including 2 transgender consultants (nytimes.com/2014/08/31). In 2014 Our Lady J was chosen as the first openly transgender person to be a writer for the show.
All the bathrooms on the set of “Transparent” are gender-neutral.
Casting Jeffery Tambor as Mort/Maura, a cisgender actor, instead of a transgender actress had initial condemnation that Jill and the show weren’t taking transgender issues seriously. I believe casting Jeffery was ideal, in this role. We are taking this journey along with Maura, as she affirms herself and sheds the male mannerisms. Casting backwards, with a fully transitioned transwoman, would have had less an impact, in my opinion.
The whole Pfefferman family is a delightful blend of disfunction and success, enabled by growing up with with privilege and status. This self-absorbed cocktail insulates their emotions and their ability to deal with emotions in a healthy way. Each family member has emotional baggage and physical consequences that they are forced to recognize and either bury further or deal with. Characters are developed wonderfully throughout the two seasons and every moment seems believable for each character as we empathize with their decisions.
mir, irini, peace, amn,