This weekend the heavy favorite to take home the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series is Jeffrey Tambor, who plays a woman on Amazon’s show Transparent.
More accurately, Tambor plays a trans woman – a woman who has transitioned from being a man. It’s a stellar role on a series that spends a lot of time on voices we don’t traditionally hear from in sitcoms.
And I really, really dislike it.
This isn’t my typical hyper-critical nature rearing its head. The show is fine. The thing I don’t like is Tambor himself in the role.
Having a cisgender man (i.e., “a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex”) cast in the role of trans woman not only takes the role away from a trans actor, but also emphasizes the inherent maleness of the character. That’s a trait most trans woman characters are trying to leave behind as they live an external life aligned with their internal gender identity. If a trans actor wasn’t available for the part, a cisgender woman would be more appropriate since the truth of the character is as a woman, not a man.
No matter how much Tambor transforms into the role, we will still see him at awards ceremonies as a man. His next role will likely be as a man. Tambor is sensitive and supportive in every media appearance for the show – a true ally – but all the accolades he’s won and will continue to win for Transparent will be about how bravery and honesty of his portrayal of a woman in transition.
It would be more brave and honest to have an trans artist like the Jamie Clayton on Sense8 or Laverne Cox in Orange Is The New Black (two shows with their own set of other representational challenges).
I’ve had trouble articulating this discomfort to friends in conversation, especially as a cisgender white dude who doesn’t really have a stake in this discussion. Why do Transparent and The Dutch Girl bother me so deeply when I’m fine with the way Drag Race and Hedwig and The Angry Inch dissect gender roles with men portraying women?
Then, a few weeks ago, I came across a powerful series of tweets from writer and actress Jen Richards. Richards articulates my objections concisely and crystallizes them with additional detail. I present them here, unedited, in their entirety. [Read more…] about on Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent, and Transmisogyny