I’ll be the first to admit it, when I first heard about Transparent, I cringed. Here was a comedy series in which Jeffrey Tambor, who has made a career of playing characters you laugh at rather than with, starring on shows like Arrested Development and The Larry Sanders Show. I’d grown used to members of the trans community being represented in demeaning ways, as ugly men slapping on a housedress and some lipstick and prancing around unconvincingly. The word demeaning doesn’t begin to describe it.
My mind’s eye vision of Tambor playing the role for laughs turned out to be thankfully out of place. Playing Maura Pfefferman, born Mort, Tambor brings a humanity and realness to the role. My appetite whetted by watching the pilot last February, I came to learn that it was helmed by Jill Soloway, a writer and later executive producer for HBO’s Six Feet Under. Transparent is based on her experiences with her own father coming out as transgender.
Long an activist and supporter of the LGBT community, Soloway enacted what she calls a “Trans-affirmative action program,” hiring transgender people to appear in and staff the show, with 20 trans people hired in the cast and crew, and more than 60 trans persons employed as extras.
The resulting series has been near universally lauded by critics and the trans community alike, and while some complained about the casting of a straight man to play a trans woman, Tambor has brought a respect to the role and its importance as a cultural milestone, that those criticisms have all fallen silent.
Transparent swept the Golden Globes, winning for best Comedy Series and Tambor for Best actor in a comedy series, and picked up another five awards from The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GELECA). In his acceptance speech at the Golden globes, Tambor opened with six powerful words: “This is much bigger than me.” The road to full acceptance has been long and difficult, and there’s certainly a long way still to go, but it really does feel like we’re now on the positive side of the transgender tipping point, and it feels good.