“Transparent” Brings Queer Narratives Out of the Closet

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“Transparent,” in case you didn’t already know, is one of the best shows around at the moment. The Amazon Original has been swimming in critical acclaim since it came out in 2014, and, three seasons in, most of the major TV awards bodies seem to have just agreed to mail various trophies straight to its door, with the series picking up awards in everything from directing and acting to music and costuming. In short, if you’ve not already caught up on the show, do it now. Text that one friend who has an Amazon account and offer to bring the snacks. But beyond its critical success, the show is proof of how important queer narratives are in pop culture- and how much they can bring to the table for the writers and directors willing to go there with their show.

Photo: Amazon

I think first off it’s worth talking about why “Transparent” does such a good job with its queer-related storylines. First off, and most obviously, the premise of the show is driven by a father, husband, and respected academic (Jeffery Tambor) coming out as trans and transitioning into womanhood as Maura. While there has been some controversy about Tambor playing a transwoman (which Tambor himself addressed in his Emmy acceptance speech this year), I can count the number of times I’ve seen a trans person’s story- their sexuality, their family life, their romantic endeavours- unfold over the course of an entire series on, um, no fingers. The fact that the show is so brazenly and unapologetically committed to bringing that story to the screen sets up a strong basis for its queer narratives, but they’re not just limited to Maura’s romantic exploits.

Photo: Amazon

“Transparent” also explores the sexuality of its other two leading female cast members- Sarah (Amy Landecker) and Ali (my crush of a lifetime, Gaby Hoffmann). With the show being so intimately tied up in the minutiae of the personal lives of its characters, it’s natural that their relationships become big parts of their stories, and they’re handled beautifully. Both women have relationships with both women and men over the course of the show, and I will never stop appreciating how brilliantly they’re handled. There are no parking lot fights or dead lesbians in sight, no glamorous women with nails that make me cringe pawing at each other; by the same token, these women and their relationships are not idealized and passed off as virtuous and perfect in some misguided attempt to appease LGBT viewers. They don’t need to be. Like the rest of the show, there’s a rawness and realness to their relationships with the opposite sex that feels surprisingly honest. Plus, the show doesn’t balk at actually using the word “bisexual,” for which it earns ten thousand plus points in my mind.

Photo: Amazon

I could spend all day (and have) talking about how Transparent’s representation of queer women is by far one of the best on TV at the moment. But what’s more important, I think, is noting the context these relationships take place in. While “Transparent” is a show strongly rooted in queerness, it isn’t defined by it. “Transparent” is about faith, family, history, creativity, and more things that I could possibly hope to satisfactorily cover in just one article. It’s proof that queer stories do not have to be sequestered off into shows that are solely aimed at LGBT audiences, that they can exist in a nuanced and interesting form alongside more mainstream plots. Often, shows which feature prominent queer characters and stories are assumed to be solely aimed at LGBT people- leading to sidelined LGBT characters in mainstream shows and LGBT characters having trouble breaking into the mainstream. For the writers and directors willing to work them into their shows, they’re a much-needed supplement to the endless straight, cis-gendered narratives that dominate pop culture almost everywhere you look-and judging by the critical and audience reactions to the show, one that a lot of people desperately wanted to see.

It’s more than a little ridiculous that, in 2016, stories that deal with queerness and gender non-conformity should be boundary-pushing, but they are. But, beyond the brilliant stories “Transparent” presents, it’s a show that demonstrates just how well queer narratives work in fiction- and, by presenting them alongside storylines we’re more used to seeing, that LGBT entertainment doesn’t need to be hidden in the closet.

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