Some people could easily site their privilege if they thought about it, and most people, whether privileged or not, have spent time so engrossed in their own problems, they’ve forgotten to be there for the ones they love.
Though suffering from a few of the same issues as the television show Girls, Amazon Prime’s Transparent is a revelation. Like Girls, the protagonists are white and very, very privileged. They all behave as though their world and their personal experience are the only one of importance, and they frequently use one another and/or the people they are dating as tools with which to further construct their egotistical little empires. Also, much like Girls, this show is highlighting the behavior most of us struggle with on a daily basis, and that reality should not deter one from watching.
Transparent attempts to show its characters evolving towards empathy, compassion, and triumph over the almighty ego. This battle is one of the most important battles for every human being as a triumph over the ego is a triumph over the barrier that creates the illusion that each of us is somehow better or more worthwhile than any other person and is arguably the root of all oppression. On to the premise. The patriarch of a large Jewish family has just revealed to his three children and ex-wife that he is actually and has always been a woman. Jeffrey Tambor brilliantly fills this role, switching masterfully between his role as the masculine father and to the feminine role of not-mother yet also not father anymore. From Mort to Maura, Tambor’s performance is oftentimes incredibly heartbreaking as she tries to keep the family from spiraling into chaos while simultaneously trying to embrace who she has always been and rejoicing in her new life.
The children, all grown-ups in the sense that they live in their own homes and are of age, still behave like children. They have not quite mastered their own transitions from childhood to adulthood, and they have also not figured out their own sexualities and desires; they are still living in the world where each of them does and says what they’d like rather than does and says what is necessary to show love to those around them.
They each react violently in their own way to this shift within their familial dynamic- with the eldest sister putting on the best show of support- though she too has her moments of self-involved destruction. The middle sibling, played by Jay Duplass of Puffy Couch fame, is also a horrible disaster to every person he comes into contact with. He is so uncomfortable with his own masculinity that when his father reveals her true identity as a woman, he can no longer achieve an erection because his sexuality is so inextricably linked to his father’s. I love this portrayal of a man-child. He is obviously gifted at what he does, but because his lens of the world is so clouded by his insecurities, he allows opportunity after opportunity to slip by.
The youngest sibling played by my childhood crush supreme, Gabby Hoffman, is a perfect representation of the child who was so spoiled and so intellectually-praised, she has grown into a woman who believes everyone around her is less aware, less smart than she. She’s got it all figured out and her cynicism, her awareness of what’s going on on the surface, is preventing her from seeing the complex realities around her. I want to call her a “MPDG”, but she’s not a dream and she’s not saving anyone from anything. She’s the reality of the MPDG, and I really want to see her get it together. During the first episode, she and her father (who has yet to come out) are talking about their shared depressive issues, and when she denies feeling depressed, he remarks, “Boy, it is so hard when someone sees something you do not want them to see”. The idea carries through the entire season. Everyone is hiding something, but they are doing it poorly and it’s this deception, this lack of ability to see through the bullshit, that’s keeping them from expressing their love for one another. I want to believe that real lessons can be learned here.
Also notable is that the producer Jill Soloway instituted a Transaffirmative Action policy for the hiring on the show, prioritizing transgendered applicants over all other applicants. Additionally, one of the writers, Ali Liebegott, is a poet who toured with Sister Spit and Michelle Tea. Swoon. Swoon. Swoon.