I belief we are in a Renaissance in scripted television, and are blessed with a wealth of high quality, expertly written, designed and directed tv shows. Some of my favorites are provocative, clever, artful, daring, and fearless. But of all the shows I am hopelessly devoted to, there is perhaps no program as brave and important as ‘Transparent.’
In over 30 years in theatre, I have worked with many in the LGBT community, and two actors I worked with as a young man went on to identify as Trans, and underwent gender reassignment surgery. Despite my self-avowed progressive liberalism and devotion to civil rights and unconditional acceptance and tolerance, I found myself confused and skeptical of the Trans community. In theory, I supported the community, but found myself unable to wrap my head around the idea of gender identity and sexual assignment being legitimately different entities, and how someone could be trapped or victimized by their own bodies. I had long accepted that being gay was not necessarily a choice, but genetically predisposed. How could I not apply this same belief to those of the Trans community?
Through the brilliance of the writing and the humanity of Jeffrey Tambor’s rightfully awarded performance, I have come to understand the pain and psychology behind such an often traumatic, but infinitely liberating experience of becoming the person you always knew you were. As a liberal committed to social justice, I believed I was accepting and tolerant of even the most marginalized and disenfranchised. And yet, even I had blinders on, and needed something I could relate to, and be educated by. ‘Transparent’ is not just any other show, but a groundbreaking introduction to a community long maligned, misunderstood, and forced into the fringes of our society. It is a gift to all of us, and an invitation to love characters that may be different superficially, but alike in all the ways that matter. The desire to be accepted and allowed to be themselves — as they identify, not what we assign them — is the animus that drives us all. What’s more watchable than that?
We live in a dynamically diverse society, and are separated by religious beliefs, lack of beliefs, politics, class, socio-economics, race, culture, and a wealth of other factors that seek to divide us, and demonize those unlike us. And yet, if we allowed ourselves, we would realize that we share so much more in common as humans than what keeps us apart. Perhaps if we all were more accepting of the differences that divide us, we would allow each other to live self-actualized lives of purpose, with the freedom to fulfill our unique individual potentials, and live as we wish, without fear of censure or persecution. We would ultimately be responsible to ourselves, and living our lives as we wish, and letting others live theirs. I believe that the majority of hatred, malice, and violence in this world derives from ignorance, intolerance, envy, resentment, and a distrust of those different from us. Murders have been committed almost exclusively as a result of these primitive motives. Wars have been waged. Cultures massacred through genocide. Minorities persecuted. Lifestyle choices and orientations battered and tormented. We live in a chaotic world where we are barraged with noise and conflicting beliefs, tactics, and choices, but in reality, there are really only two choices — love or hate. One implies acceptance, empathy, and effort. The other is divisive, judgmental, intolerant, and violent. The choice is ours.
‘Transparent’ is an appropriate title. It obviously plays with the root word, ‘trans,’ but it also suggests a human heart long bound by prejudice, convention, and hostility, but an aching desire to be seen. In fact, they not only want to be seen for who they really are, but they crave truth and desire to rid themselves of the lies and the shrud of secrecy. In truth, their souls can only be cleansed and complete when they are transparent to themselves and others. A clean and transparent plate glass window is a gateway after all, with a view to something beautiful and inviting. Maura Pfefferman simply wants to be seen for who she uniquely is, and at the same time, how much alike and relatable she is to the rest of us. Just as a transparent picture window allows for a view beyond, it also has the ability to reflect our reflections back at us.
‘Transparent’ allowed me to see Maura Pfefferman for who she was, why she felt so strongly about the gender she knew herself to be, and why I should care. I saw myself in her humanity, and allowed myself to evolve my conflicted feelings about a community deserving of our love. Granted, I had a far shorter path to go than many of the skeptics and hostile groups and individuals still out there. However, it is worth noting that the LGBT community has made remarkable and rapid progress towards gay marriage and tolerance over the last 20 years. We still have a considerable way to go, but the peaceful battle to win over public opinion has shifted dramatically. It’s likely the Trans community will be the last to be granted widespread acceptance, but it’s shows like this that start the conversation.
“Transparent’ is one of many great shows on television today, but perhaps it is the most profoundly important. It is a timely step towards a truly egalitarian society, where we choose love, and we are each allowed to be exactly who we wish and know ourselves to be. Bravo!