Jill Soloway’s “Transparent” is a truly great TV show, primarily because its characters, the Pfeffermans, are unlikeable – selfish, lying, navel-gazing cheaters – yet totally engaging in a way I haven’t seen since “Six Feet Under.”
“Transparent” shines with clever dialogue, intricately layered story lines and an overarching awareness of the primacy and inexorability of truth, whether individual or epigenetic: The truth is patient and will find you, however long it takes.
Plus, “Transparent” portrays older female sexuality in laser-sharp focus. Not gonna lie, I didn’t enjoy watching Judith Light get diddled in the bathtub by Jeffrey Tambor, but I appreciate the message: Old women are human beings with human needs and you, the vaguely-nauseated viewer peeking through your fingers and dying for this scene to be over, need to call yourself out on your ageism. And yes, Gaby Hoffman is strange-looking in the extreme, but it’s only because she refuses to adhere to Hollywood femininity requirements such as eyebrow-shaping and teeth-whitening. There’s power in that.
However! The second-to-last episode of Season 2, “Man on the Land,” is 30 minutes’ worth of misogyny and lesbophobic propaganda. In case you didn’t watch: Tambor’s character, Maura, a late-transitioning M2T, accompanies his daughters to Idyllwild, a thinly-veiled stand-in for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival complete with nut loaf, a Drumming Against Racism workshop, tampon crafts, and the Indigo Girls performing “Hammer and a Nail.” We, the viewers, see the women having a good time, but also, we’re invited to laugh at the silly-serious retro-ness of lesbian culture. Those throwback dykes with their hairy armpits, nattering on about “safe space!”
Watching this, what I saw was a twisted, perverted parody of Fest – of any female-only space – seen through male eyes; or through colonized female ones. Like some kind of Black Mass with the liturgy recited backwards.
So then Maura goes to the crafts area, where Vicki, a jewelry seller played by Anjelica Huston asks Maura how she feels about “the policy.” Maura doesn’t understand, so Anjelica explains: “The women-born-women policy.”
Maura is very hurt; very upset; and all of a sudden all the women are yelling “MAN ON THE LAND! MAN ON THE LAND!” (with a volume and intensity, by the way, I never heard at Fest) because the port-a-Jane guys are there and they want to make sure “nobody gets triggered, or too excited,” and Maura feels they’re yelling at him; staring at him; in hot pursuit. Because everything, of course, is about Maura.
The women who simply ignore him do nothing to make him feel comfortable, and that’s how we can tell they, too, are exclusionary bigots with no empathy. During a short scene of a few women at a campfire discussing their need for WBW space, someone mentions Maura’s male privilege – a privilege he’s enjoyed up until pretty much now.
“I was in way too much pain to experience what you’re calling privilege,” Maura says, and shakes his head in disbelief when it’s pointed out that his pain and his privilege are two different things,
Then, when someone else mentions rape, Maura’s younger daughter responds, “She stopped raping a long time ago.”
The message here: Don’t listen to your own voice; your own instincts, when it comes to what a male-bodied person might do in female-only space. Just listen to what he tells you. Listen to what his supporters tell you. Let him into your space. He has as much right to be in your space as you do.
Maura is now running through the woods looking for his daughters to tell them he wants to go home – he doesn’t belong here, his heart is breaking – and all of a sudden the veil between the past and present tears open and we’re watching Maura’s mother, a Jewish girl in Weimar-era Berlin, fleeing the Nazis and losing her brother, “Gittel,” because guess why? He’s trans and refuses to use a visa with his male name on it even if it means death. What a hero! What a martyr! Because, if people don’t accept you exactly as you want them to, the only alternative is death, right?
The scene continues, and now we have full-on Nazi imagery – book burnings! men in identical shirts! – spliced with lesbian faces; lesbian bodies. It’s a Miller analogy: Women who want female-only space are to Nazis as Maura (and by extension, all men who believe they are women) are to Jews being rounded up for torture and extermination. Maura runs through the woods to escape women who simply don’t believe he is a woman, while Gittel is dragged into the woods to be murdered by men simply because he is a Jew.
The clear message: Hate is hate, you evil dykes. There is no difference between:
- Wanting a week in the woods with other women; and
- Attacking a group of innocent people with guns and leading them away to starvation; forced labor; the gas chamber; the grave.
It’s amazing to me that women (the Indigo Girls, Ali Liebegott, Eileen Myles, Sia, Peaches) who owe their artistic success to the lesbian community and our lesbian dollars, were so eager to participate in this lesbophobic travesty. Jill Soloway, a lesbian, wrote words to mock and trivialize other lesbians who spend money and time supporting her work. Jill Soloway wrote the words, “Let’s go into the forest, and menstruate on a stick,” and put them into a lesbian character’s mouth to make an audience laugh.
The Indigo Girls, I sort of get. They’ve been singing the same songs in the same order for going on 30 years, so of course they took the opportunity to breathe life into a stagnant setlist even if it means shitting all over the same festival that gave them so much exposure. Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose, I guess.
Eileen Myles, though. Who the fuck reads Eileen Myles but us?
At the end of the episode, we see Maura leaving Idyllwild, laughing in defiance and shouting, “MAN ON THE LAND!” as she escapes what she calls “the feminist fuckhole.” Vicki the jewelry seller picks Maura up and takes her to a hotel, where they have the kind of sex that makes you cover your eyes. If not wanting to watch Anjelica Huston straddle Jeffrey Tambor in a wig is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
“Transparent” is important TV. Don’t not watch it. Watch it hard. Watch it with everything you’ve got, because the message is there, and it’s insistent, and if you are a dyke, it’s for you. What you do with it matters greatly to us all.