This is the episode of “Transparent” I can’t stop watching again and again
Most of you are probably already familiar with “Transparent” (or at least I hope you are!). The show created by the uber-talented director and writer, Joey Soloway, ran for five season spanning from 2014 to 2019 and which brought home a total of 42 awards, including multiple Emmy Awards, and a Golden Globe for “Best Television Series- Comedy or Musical”. An outstanding success story which feels even more special given its queer narrative.
Despite witnessing a spike in LGBTQ+ themed series and movies being celebrated by audiences and critics alike in recent years, Transparent remains a unique case of study for its bold and provocative writing, which not so long ago would be impossible to imagine being produced by a major network like Amazon Studios. I mean, Joey Soloway really didn’t shy away from touching on every single controversial topic she could come across: religion, sex, gender, and even the Holocaust! And yet, her beautiful storytelling never lets the show feel inappropriate or raunchy. In a way, I see Transparent as a love letter for queer individuals and their families which shows both the beautiful and tragic parts of their lives.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, it centers on the lives of the Pfefferman family after one of the parents comes out as a trans woman. During the show, we get a glimpse of what it’s like for Maura, who has always identified as a woman, to adapt to her new life and encounter challenges both expected and surprising. Although this premise is very appealing by itself, the audience soon realizes that Maura is not the only star of the show, as each of the Pfefferman family members is presented as a rich and complex character with fascinating narrative arcs and a unique storyline.
I would recommend you to treat yourself and watch the entire series, but if you only want a taste of it, I’d recommend you to watch one of the best and most provocative episodes from the show: “Man on the Land”, the ninth episode from season two. Before I tell you why this was one of my favorite episodes, I’ll put up a spoiler alert for those who prefer jumping right into the show without knowing anything about it.
Man on the Land is a great episode for every queer person and ally out there who likes thought-provoking topics and somewhat controversial themes which can spark debate. I’ll warn you though, this episode does address very sensitive subjects that can trigger certain individuals, such as rape, hate crimes, and gender discrimination.
The episode centers on Maura and her two daughters: Sarah and Ali, with whom she attends a musical festival created for and by lesbians. As at this point in the story all three characters identify either as lesbian or bi, this appears at first like a safe and inclusive place where they can celebrate both their womanhood and sexuality freely. Women of all ages, colors, and body shapes dance with each other to a song by the Indigo Girls as a woman uses sign language to translate the lyrics for those who may be hearing impaired. A queer heaven indeed, right? Well, not exactly.
Maura finds out about “the policy”, the “woman born woman policy”. No trans woman is allowed inside the festival, which quickly makes Maura feel out of place and judged by everyone around her. Suddenly the festival doesn’t seem so warm and loving anymore. How many queer individuals haven’t experienced something like this at some point in their lives? But what’s truly heartbreaking in this particular case is the fact that Maura has to endure it within the lesbian community, which theoretically should be the one place where she feels at home.
Eventually, Maura ends up hanging out with Ali and a group of extremists, who explain that they created the festival so that women born with a vagina and uterus have a safe space in the world. I disagree with the ideology behind trans exclusive feminism, however the show challenges its audience by explaining through some of the characters how male genitalia can be triggering for some, and how privilege men have over women will permanently make them different from one another. I won’t deny this last point does have some truth to it, however, is that enough to prohibit trans women to attend the festival? Personally, I don’t think so, but I invite you to watch the episode and decide for yourself.
Meanwhile, Sarah, who has been going through hell since leaving her girlfriend moments after marrying her, is looking for a way to leave her guilt aside. At first, she’s invited to a meditation workshop in which the instructor explains they’ll be releasing some deep emotions, however Sarah choses to wander into a dominatrix group practicing “consensual power exchange”. She ends up engaging in an act of sadomasochism which she seems to really enjoy.
I find Sarah’s experience a great way of showcasing a different side of gay female sexuality, which is not often explored as much as its male counterpart. It’s not uncommon for gay men to talk both in private and public spaces about their sex lives, even the taboo aspects of it, so we tend to somehow “normalize” these kinds of practices for them. It’s very interesting to change the lens to a female gaze the way this episode does. Despite Sarah’s experience seeming shocking at first, we can see how much she’s into it, which suggests that aggressive role playing shouldn’t be regarded as exclusive to a single group, or based solely upon a patriarchal system in which men always have to be the ones inflicting pain.
As you can see, Transparent really inspires some enriching conversations and ideas with this episode that I’d love to keep on discussing with someone. So if you decide to watch it and discover things I missed, or disagree with some of my interpretations, please let me know. Either way, I hope you end up watching the entire show and enjoy it as much as I did.
Note: I do not support Jeffrey Tambor’s actions. This article is solely about the show “Transparent”, focusing on its storyline and fictional characters, not on the actors who participated in the series.