September 30, 2014

Some Thoughts on Transparent Season 1

I have watched all ten episodes of the new Amazon series Transparent, a series built around the story of a trans woman, Maura Pfefferman, coming out to the world. A series just about a woman coming out would be unsustainable in the long run, though, as eventually, Maura’s going to have to become just another character living her life. So wisely, the series chooses to have Maura’s coming out be a trigger point for a whole series of events for those she loves as they live their own messed up lives.

Maura’s first coming out scene absolutely nailed it. I became a little verklempt.

And the Pfefferman children do live messed up lives. In fact, I thought all three of them were pretty reprehensible until about the fourth episode. There’s Sarah, the responsible eldest child, who decidces to let go of her domestic responsibilities and chase her passions; Joshie, the immature middle child, who is struggling to grow out of his stunted adolescent view of love and sex; and then there’s Ali, the wild youngest child, who needs to stop being defiant for the sake of defiance and take control of her out-of-control life.

The ripples of Maura’s decision to become her authentic self play their way through these three lives, each as inauthentic in their own way as Maura’s years as Mort. Ultimately, her transition becomes something of a metaphor for the changes each of the major characters experiences throughout the season. They’re all much more likeable in the end.

[Also: an Ali! Yay! Unfortunately, her’s is short for Alice. ]

As for Maura’s transgender experience, I found it to be refreshingly authentic. Tambor plays her with so much subtle emotion that she really comes to life on the screen. It is, however, the story of a certain generation of transgender woman. Nowadays, so many of us aren’t waiting until the kids are grown and gone to accept who we are.  While I found myself identifying with the broad outlines of Maura’s journey, the specifics just didn’t ring true. Sneaking out to hotels for weekends en femme, attending a camp for crossdressers, trying to assuage the feelings by turning it into a sexual kink — these are not experiences I can relate to. Maybe if I’d struggled to live my lie while my children grew up I would have felt such urges. But really, those are the experiences of someone living in a different world than the one we have today. It’s okay (well, okayer than it used to be) to come out, to live authentically, and so more and more we’re doing it younger and younger. I can’t fault the show for that, though, as Maura’s experience is a perfectly valid reflection of a transgender journey and it’s handled with style.

I hope that as Maura matures as a woman, she gets a better fashion sense.

The telling of Maura’s story reflects how the series wishes to portray trans people as a whole: as human beings. For example, one subplot involves Ali meeting, and then trying to seduce, a trans man. He is never depicted as anything other than a male with male desires and male tastes; references are made to his vagina, but they don’t take anything away from who he is as a man. Another subplot involves Maura moving into an apartment with Davina, another trans woman (played by the awesome Alexandra Billings). She’s a secondary character, but Davina was one of my favorites in the series. She is the woman who made it — she lives her life like anyone else, and she’s happy enough with it, and she’s mostly unremarkable and just normal. That’s the dream, really: to just be you, only the way you want you to be.

In the end, the series ties its wending plotlines up into a decent enough conclusion that, should there be no Season 2, you’re not left with a total lack of resolutions. However, there are definitely enough plot-lines that could be picked up again if the show gets a second season. Which I think it will.

If you have Amazon Prime, watch Transparent. If you don’t have Amazon Prime … er, get it, I guess, or wait for it to come out on DVD.

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