Perhaps to be anything other than a white, middle class, male in America poses a challenge to anyone who is ‘the other’. Battles for equality and change on US soil are anything but foreign concepts. Starting in the 1950’s battles for equality and equal rights have boldly raged. Perhaps the Black Civil Right movement of the 1950-60’s was the first to ignite the fiery flames of change. The women’s movement soon followed, taking momentum off the heels of the Civil Rights movement, and the 1960/70’s saw the beginning of the feminist movement. Taking inspiration from other segments of suppressed Americans who now had more freedoms and rights than ever before, the gay community in America decided to take action. The most pivotal moment for the movement came in June 1969, with the decisive Stonewall Riots. The coming decades infused a breathe of life into the gay community that it had never before felt, especially in the media. The 1980’s opened a new wave of gay and lesbian dialogue, and with it, the sudden exploration and depiction of gay characters on television. As the 90’s came, so did the strongest era of gay representation on TV. Shows like Will and Grace, Friends, and Sex and the City brought forth new representations of gays and lesbians that audiences had never before seen. Gays and lesbians were now given a powerful voice in television, and for the first time gay and lesbian characters become beloved parts of core TV ensembles.
The new millennium brought and even larger boom of gay and lesbian characters to the small screen. The hit Queer as Folk, The L Word, which trailblazing brought lesbians to the forefront of prime time TV, and the always hilarious Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, changed the male gay/straight dynamic, and most recently HBO’s excellent new series, Looking. The vast horizon of TV land is now filled with gay, lesbian, and bi sexual characters, case in point the wildly popular Netflix original series Orange is the New Black. Although TV now has a wide range of gay, lesbians, and bi sexual characters, transgender ones have seemingly fallen by the waste side. Until now.
Premiering in the fall of this year, Amazon Studios Transparent is perhaps one of television’s most powerful new series. With ease, humor, and beauty, the show brilliantly depicts the life of Mort, played by Jeffrey Tambor. Mort ,now in his seventies, is a delicate divorcee and father of three, who has been living with a secret for most of his adult life. Throughout the first season the episodes contain tragically beautiful flashbacks of Mort in his previous 20 years, as he secretly indulges in his desires to be a woman, while desperately hiding any indication of what’s truly in his heart from his family. The flashbacks to earlier in his life introduce audiences to an era when feelings were swallowed and palpable loneliness were apart of life. To be gay, or even questioning, was a society no-no, and those who wondered were left to wonder in silence.
Season one opens with Mort, who now goes by the name Maura, coming out to his eldest daughter, Sarah, who married with a family, has started her own lesbian love affair. As the episodes progress, Maura who is starting to completely transition into a woman, tells his now fully grown children one by one that daddy is now a woman. Tambor, who has starred in other hit shows like Arrested Development, executes the role with such grace and integrity, that audiences can not help but be deeply moved by the powerful transition and journey of this transgender man.
Maura the Dad from Transparent
The character of Maura probably speaks to a shockingly large segment of the population- for all she represents. To see beyond the surface of the character, from someone who is just transgender, to understand her struggle which far surpasses the superficial surface indicators. To acknowledge in her journey the emotions and feelings of being stuck, misunderstood, and confused. Maura represents someone who was once lost within himself, not able to break free of social and familial bonds to embrace his,now her, true self. The audiences witnessing of her transformation from someone who once hid their secret in pain, to someone who is now proud of who they are, is something truly wonderful. Maura evolves into someone who she now recognizes to be her true self. A transition some in life are never lucky enough to make. To evolve mentally, emotionally, and even sexually, to create a better grasp on who they are.
Maura’s ability to create relatability which spans across the population spectrum is nothing short of inspiring. As Tambor once beautifully phrased it in any interview ‘’people need to come out’’. Everyone needs to come out at some point, in some shape and in some form. To come out as who they really are, and conquer who they yearn to truly be.
The profound writing of the show, explores the depths of family and personal dynamics, holding a large mirror up to society, forcing it to examine who we are a nation- our morals, prejudices, and values.
The appearance of one of the first, and most powerful transgender characters on television, can have far reaching effects. Societal and personal changes can arise from witnessing the complex transformation of this character, as well as a heightened sense of awareness, exploration, and compassion, for ourselves, and those around us. Sometimes the media develops powerful characters that shape the face of society, Maura will be one.
Let us know what you think of the series!