Amazon Series “Transparent” Sparks Debate Over Authentic Media Representation

tumblr_n72ze27diN1tni17wo1_400We love when gay roles go to gay actors, often spotlighting otherwise unknown talent. But sometimes the entertainment industry (it is an industry, after all) needs “a name.” And the crossover of these two realities can be frustrating.

In the transgender community, the tension surrounding authentic representation seems even thicker. Which is understandable — how many trans performers portraying trans characters can you name besides Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black?

A new series set to stream on Amazon Prime, Transparent, follows the story of a middle aged woman with three adult children coming out of the trans closet late in life.

The show’s main character Mora is played by Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), who by no fault of his own, is a man.

After a recent screening of the premiere episode at Outfest, L.A.’s LGBT film festival, Tambor spoke openly about his take on the role during a Q&A session:

“There aren’t too many footsteps for me to follow. This is an inward journey to my own feminine side.”

And no one is criticizing his thoughtful portrayal. But some in the crowd were upset at the show for having cast him in the first place, similar to the protests we heard over the trans role of Rayon going to Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club (a performance that nabbed him a golden statue come Oscar time).

Ashley Love (left), a journalist at Trans Forming Media and a transsexual and intersex advocate, addressed the panel which consisted of moderator Ari Karpel, show creator Jill Soloway, cast members Melora Hardin, Carrie Brownstein and Jeffrey Tambor, and Trans artists and show consultants Rhys Ernst and Zachary Drucker:

“We see this as ‘transface’—it’s 2014, why can’t the industry evolve? I personally know trans women who wanted to audition for the role, but [the production] wanted a well-known man instead. Why don’t our gay and lesbian friends learn from the trans community?”

Ernst defended the show, saying:

“There can be times when [cis people portraying a trans individuals] can be respectful.”

Love later told FrontiersLA:

What’s disappointing […] is Hollywood ‘transface’ continuing to be the norm. Despite there being talented trans actresses to play trans roles, TV and film directors miscast non-trans male actors instead, many times making a mockery of our womanhood (misgendering), reinforcing stereotypes, suppressing our visibility and disempowering our civil rights. Affirming change is long overdue.

Episode one of Transparent is currently available to stream through Amazon Prime.

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  • Daniel-Reader

    Based on that argument, transwomen couldn’t try out for cisgender parts. And that wouldn’t seem fair. It is a profession. It is called acting. Good acting is good acting. Poor acting is poor acting.

  • IcarusD

    @Daniel-Reader: That’s been my concern when people have advocated that gay roles should go to gay actors. If we require that only gay actors be allowed to play gay roles, doesn’t that mean that gay actors would never be allowed to play straight characters? There simply aren’t enough gay roles to go around.

    I get concerns about misgendering and reinforcing stereotypes. But surely a large burden of the responsibility for the character’s portrayal also falls to the writers and directors.

  • morgan riggs

    The show needed an actor that wasnt going to pass as a woman. Mora is newly out and at that latent age would look like a man, its unavoidable. What trans actress would want this part? As a trans man, there is no way I’d play a part where I had to look like a woman attempting to pass as a man.

  • wilfredo267

    @morgan riggs: We will never know the answer to that question because no transgendered person was given the opportunity.

  • wilfredo267

    to audition.

  • stranded

    @morgan riggs: good point.

  • masc4masc

    Let’s face it, Hollywood’s damned if they do and damned if they don’t when it comes to this stuff. It was a problem when a straight guy declined an LGBT role (Lucas Grimes)…and apparently there’s STILL a problem when a straight guy actually decides to take on an LGBT role (Jeffrey Tambor). There’s just always a complaint….

  • inbama

    The Ts love misappropriating other people’s struggles and turning it into a bizarre joke.

    Blackface was the intentional degradation of black people. Cruel racial stereotypes were played for laughs.

    Nothing remotely like that is happening here.

    These whining narcissists seem to have nothing better to do than to invent unnecessary new words, imagine new ways that they are persecuted, and create endless rules as to how the rest of the world should think and speak.

  • vklortho

    @morgan riggs: I can definitely see that. There are two reasons why I stopped caring about parts where men play trans women. First like you said if the trans woman character isn’t passable then it kind of makes sense to have a guy play the role. Second, major physical transformations seem like major award bait so I can see men getting the role over both cis and trans women in a lot of films and series just for that alone.

  • bbg372

    Apparently, having a personal blog with a mere 160 followers makes Ashley Love a journalist. She claims to be an activist as well, so that must mean she has a Twitter account too.

    Dan Tracer should have published this article without any mention of Ms. Love and her histrionics. Providing underserved visibility is only going to encourage more of this wrong-headed stupidity.

  • Stevenw

    “Why don’t our gay and lesbian friends learn from the trans community?”

    Apart from he screening being at outfest, I don’t see what it especially has to do with us…?

  • Qjersey

    I dunno, I’ve met plenty of older trans women who are just as pretty as Jeffrey Tambor in ‘trans face”

  • BitterOldQueen

    @bbg372: Thanks I wondered who she was. I’m still unclear about what she meant by “Why don’t our gay and lesbian friends learn from the trans community?”, except that it’s more hectoring and self-important preachifying from the trans community, which is honestly wearing a little thin. Hollywood is a business, as her “gay and lesbian friends” learned a long time ago. A random trans woman in the Tambor role would attract far fewer eyeballs, which is the point of the business. If we as a community (and I use the term broadly, since some folks apparently have an odd and self-centered view of what constitutes a community) want visibility and acceptance, we should in fact ENCOURAGE straight actors to play gay/lesbian (or trans) roles, and vice versa. Visibility and equality doesn’t mean that everything has to be an in-you-face, pious Teaching Moment.

  • BitterOldQueen

    @Stevenw: I’m increasingly tired of being told what I should learn and from whom. Were a gay man to suggest that the trans community could learn a thing or two from the ‘mos, the reaction would be deep offense, personal distress, and ridicule. The transfolk, apparently, are not just a part of the GLBT community, they ARE it, and we should all do as they say.

    Speaking only for myself, and not as one of her gay and lesbian friends, I’m done with the lectures, and frankly question why a gender-orientation community is aligned with a sexual orientation one in the first place, since there’s not necessarily overlap. I know that’s an old argument, but since when do gays and lesbians and bisexuals have to provide a political action home for all the disaffected and discriminated-against. By that logic, as a white gay I should join the NAACP and demand that they put the tragic issues of white gay men at the forefront.

  • inbama

    @BitterOldQueen: That’s what they’ve done to the women in the feminist movement – replaced “patriarchy” with “cisgender” and “sex” with “gender.”

    And when the women fight back to keep their movement from being hijacked, they’re called “transphobic” TERFS.

    Just like our “transphobic” drag queens who’ve called each other “tr—–s” since about forever.

  • jayj150

    “I personally know trans women who wanted to audition for the role, but [the production] wanted a well-known man instead. Why don’t our gay and lesbian friends learn from the trans community?”. Um…WHAT????. She somehow managed to throw shade at gay and lesbians for something that has absolutely nothing to do with them. Hollywood casts a straight man to portray a transwoman and somehow it’s gay and lesbian folks who ‘have something to learn’. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, but seriously, anyone still thinking transsexuals are our allies is beyond naive and ridiculous. And by the way, Jeffrey Tambor is a fine actor, I’d much prefer him to play my people than the ridiculosly overrated Laverne Cox.

  • DawnTrans

    In this case, a story of coming out later in life it makes sense to use a cis male. No one comes out and is suddenly transformed into a beauty. Middle age transition isnt at all glamorous.
    On the other hand TransAmerica with Felicity Huffman in the lead role was hard to watch.
    Yesterday Andreja Peji? announced she had surgery. I guarantee she will be cast heavily in the coming years because she is so beautiful.

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