2/11/16 Update: I lost interest in this show soon after writing this. All four main characters are predictable and what I would characterize as toxic people. In a season and a half we decided there was better TV to be had. Don’t waste your time.
I’ll be honest. The media circus surrounding Bruce Jenner’s transformation into Caitlyn Jenner made me avoid Amazon Prime’s Transparent. There’s only so much public sexuality I can stomach. Maybe it’s an age thing but I’ve found a hint to a better life is not leading it with your crotch, and the first few episodes of this show struck me as borderline voyeuristic as the main characters approached life with their genitals in the fore. But I stayed with the show because I’m a Judeophile as well as a connoisseur of great dialog, and the show is centered around a modern Jewish family whose patriarch decides he is a she at the age of 68, and the witty banter between the characters is worth suffering through the sex. And there is a lot of sex – mostly of the lesbian variety. But the show does provide some interesting lessons that are worth commenting on.
Women are just as violent as men, only the nature of their aggression is not physical. Parents of teenage girls can confirm the brutality between girls, violence that leaves scars as painful and deep as any physical wound. Men know this as well, that women hit with their mouths instead of their fists, and the idea that a world dominated by women would be more peaceful is refuted by any junior high class.
Transparent does not avoid this brutality. For example when Maura, the father dressed as a woman known to his children as “Moppa” goes to the mall with his daughters, he tries using the women’s bathroom. Two teenage girls recognize him as being a transvestite immediately, and their mother begins attacking him for being a man in a woman’s bathroom. What follows is a verbal brawl where Maura’s daughters verbally parry and assault the mother and her girls in defense of their “Moppa.” It’s a strong, emotional scene made even more sad by Maura stopping at a porta-potty at a construction site on the way home.
In another scene the youngest daughter Aly intentionally sabotages her brother Josh’s budding relationship with a female rabbi. Aly senses the rabbi’s misgivings about the relationship, then masterfully accentuates them before striking, leaving the rabbi in tears and Josh completely bewildered.
The violence of attacking and killing relationships is a common occurrence on the show, with daughter Sarah hooking up with her lesbian flame from college and destroying not only her own marriage but her flame’s as well. Transparent ignores the aftermath of these breakups though, with the ex’s appearing in later scenes as if nothing is wrong, one of the show’s most glaring omissions. But it does capture the pain felt by Josh when his girlfriend has an abortion, a procedure that’s a more physical example of the supposedly “gentler sex’s” capacity for violence.
In a women’s world there is no place for men. All of the men in the show are either transvestites, gay, or emotionally-stunted man-boys like Maura’s son Josh. Even daughter Sarah’s ex-husband, the father of her two children she jilts in order to run off with her lesbian flame from college, is an emasculated caricature who can’t even raise his voice when his wife announces her intentions to leave him. The character who exhibits the most masculinity in the show is a female to male transsexual love interest of Aly’s. Evidently it’s okay for women to explore their masculinity and men their femininity, but there is no place for a man to accept his inherent masculinity.
Feminism is a synonym for narcissism. One thing becomes obvious in the show very quickly: Maura and his ex-wife Shelly have raised three spoiled kids. In their minds their world revolves each one of them, and they display the emotional maturity of pre-schoolers. Maura understands this and in typical Jewish fashion blames himself for their failures. But Maura himself is not what I would call “loving” or thoughtful. There’s a scene at the funeral of his ex-wife’s husband where he commandeers the discussion about the departed and makes it about his coming out. Ironically later in the same scene his daughter confronts him for cancelling her bat mitsvah. Maura unleashes some female viciousness as he points out her own narcissism in his own defense, proving that he is very capable of employing the tactics of his chosen gender.
Creator, director and writer of the show Jill Soloway came up with the idea after her own elderly father came out as transsexual. Soloway characterizes herself as a feminist and appears in a scene as a feminist professor expounding on the violence within language, describing women being raped by exclamation points. “A patriarchal society can’t really handle that there’s such a thing as a vagina. The untrustworthy vagina that is discerning-receiving. So you can want sex, you can want to be entered, and then a minute later you can say, ‘Stop—changed my mind.’ That is something that our society refuses to allow for. You don’t feel like it now? You’re shit out of luck. You know why? Because you have a pussy! To me, that is what’s underneath all this gender trouble: most of our laws are being formed by people with penises.” she says in a recent New Yorker interview, sounding much like the professor her characters make fun of in the scene.
But the gender trouble displayed in her show doesn’t derive from people with “penises”; it’s entirely “vagina” driven. Women – those with and those without vaginas – rule in Soloway’s universe, and the results aren’t particularly pretty. Whether this proves Soloway is a better writer than she is an ideologue, or that she’s unintentionally succeeded in portraying a feminist-lead dystopia is hard to say.
I am not a misogynist – far from it. I was raised by a domineering mother with four sisters and amazingly grew up straight, marrying a strong-willed woman who later became a doctor. I do not believe women should be stuck tending hearth and home unless that’s what they want to do. If they want to become CEOs, scientists or athletes I have no problem with them. I believe people are complex and Society should step back and allow people the freedom to explore these complexities.
But I do have a problem with the ideology that feminism has become: a male-hating club that’s interested in overthrowing one system of oppression and replacing it with another. Ideologies have winners and losers, constrain people instead of freeing them – as the gradual decline of liberty (including sexual liberty) and free speech have shown on feminist dominated college campuses in the United States.
More ominously there is a thread that runs through the show that traces back to the Holocaust. In Season 1 Josh steals a ring from his mother that came from an aunt who was handed it by a doomed woman at Treblinka. Season 2 starts with “flashbacks” to a 1933 Berlin cabaret where men and women, assumed to be Jews, are exploring their own sexual identities. Is the aunt who survived somehow connected to Aly? Is Soloway suggesting that feminist narcissism eventually leads to fascism? Something to think about when ISIS is raping more women than exclamation marks.
Feminism’s flirtation with fascism is worth considering given how it functions on college campuses. Instead of empowering the individual it empowers the State. Take for example the anti-rape crusades that are forcing colleges to adjudicate sex crimes and base convictions on a low standard of evidence. Instead of teaching people how to respect themselves and others, it strips them of responsibility for their actions and hands it to an unelected bureaucracy answerable to no one. Young white males now face expulsion, financial ruin and mental anguish for being accused of the same crime Hillary Clinton’s husband was. If Paula Jones is a liar, why can’t “Mattress Girl” Emma Sulkowicz be one? Either women are capable of lying about rape or they aren’t, and if they aren’t capable of being liars they aren’t human.
Transparent is a well-written and interesting show from my perspective, but it’s clearly not meant for libertarian white guys who are comfortable with their sexuality – be they straight or gay. But anyone who comes from a dysfunctional family will appreciate the show, if only for the repartee between the main characters that may trigger a flash of familiarity.