Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Transparent - Beyond the Supreme Court Test Plaintiffs

Are people watching Transparent?

I largely enjoyed Season 2, in particular.  I am also aware of, and sympathetic to, critiques within the trans community regarding the casting of cis male actor Jeffrey Tambor as Maura, a trans woman - and of trans stories in general not being told by trans people.

Perhaps to her credit, creator Jill Soloway has publicly discussed her hiring of trans actors, consultants, and at least one trans writer to help with the production of the show. Is that enough? I'd say that's not my call, as a cis person.

Today I want to highlight the less-frequently discussed character, Tammy (Melora Hardin).


Tammy is, to me, hot.  Like, HAF*.

*(I recently learned that's what the kids are saying for "hot as fuck." I also say fuck on this blog now on the regular, apparently.)

Lesbian and bisexual women's portrayal in TV and film is increasing, but butch women, butch queer women, being portrayed is still incredibly rare. It's as though queer women can be depicted, but they can't actually look like how many queer women actually look in real life.

Which, I guess is sort of an ongoing general rule for women in TV/film in general, yeah?

Men, I would argue moreso than women, can be fat, ugly, bald, frumpy, and old and still get acting roles - as they should! Women, however, have to constantly worry about their, in Amy Schumer's words, Last Fuckable Day - the day when the media decides that an actress is no longer believably "fuckable." So, like a woman reaches the age of 40 and from then on she's only fit for roles where she's, say, Tom Hanks' mom.

I would extend that further and note that even for women portraying queer characters, these characters often have to meet the standards of what's commonly thought of as the Hetero Male Gaze. Even The L Word, which was entirely about lesbian and bisexual women, showed approximately 3 butch women ever over the course of 5 seasons. (That might be an exaggeration. Was Shane butch? Debatable).

And, as a lesbian myself, I find many women appealing who do fall into those conventional beauty standards - but, my standards are also much broader.  I like women, like Tammy, who swagger.  I like women who give no fucks about whether men think they're nice, cool, or hot. I like women who are over 40 and are still portrayed as sexual beings. I find many women attractive who are, by media standards, fat (or who call themselves fat).

I like women are stereotypically feminine, androgynous, and yes, I like women who are butch.

So, back to Tammy. She is, in many ways, a mess. She's at times an asshole and, in Season 2, has a cringe-worthy public meltdown. (there, there, Tammy, there, there......sigh.....I'm sorry, what were we talking about?)

Oh yeah, but at the same time, isn't basically every character on Transparent a mess in their own unique way?

Some (ahem, Rod Dreher) who maybe have never seen the show, perhaps fantasize that Transparent is a propagandistic promotion of gender and sexual nonconformity that presents deviance as both desirable and superior than conventionality.

(which it is, obvs)

BUT, the power of Transparent, to me, is not that it depicts fantastical versions of people outside the norm. For one, it doesn't.  On the contrary, I feel drawn to the characters because they are imperfect, because they make bad decisions, and because they act jerky sometimes.  And, they're allowed to, even though they're queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming (and even if they have weird hairstyles - Season 2 Ali, what is going on?).

The show takes us beyond the point where queer characters must be pretty, gender conforming, and acceptably "safe" for a conservative, heterosexual audience (looking at you, Jenny's Wedding). We are invited to care about these characters despite their flaws. They are not the Supreme Court ideal handpicked, sainted, and prepped "test" plaintiffs for LGBT rights.

The show argues, instead, these people - we-  matter and are deserving of dignity, even if not immediately appealing to the mainstream. And that, I think, is progress.

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