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September 27, 2014 2:10 PM   Subscribe

 
Just randomly saw this on Amazon, & am quite excited. Sans research, this seems like targeting the long tail of a minority user group with good programming in a smart, edgy way. Thanks for the post.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:15 PM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


targeting the long tail of a minority user group with good programming in a smart, edgy way

That's a strangely bloodless marketer-speak way of looking at it. Even though I don't disagree!
posted by naju at 2:31 PM on September 27, 2014 [9 favorites]


I was very impressed and entertained by the pilot episode (and have watched it twice now).
posted by iamkimiam at 2:44 PM on September 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Pointer: FanFare.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 2:46 PM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sans research, this seems like targeting the long tail of a minority user group with good programming in a smart, edgy way.

I know nothing about this show - is it actively being marketed to the trans community?
posted by item at 2:48 PM on September 27, 2014


I was in love with the family's messy, hilarious, very broken-in relationships with each other well before the pun of the show's title was revealed. Gaby Hoffman in particular was terrific in the pilot. I look forward to checking out the whole season.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:53 PM on September 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's always money awesome in the banana stand Jeffrey Tambor.
posted by Fizz at 2:53 PM on September 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


targeting the long tail of a minority user group with good programming in a smart, edgy way

Part of the reason that the Trans community is probably so marginalized is that it isn't big enough to be the target market for something with production costs like a TV series. No. The target market here is likely the political left and the political center. The fact that it seems targeted at a fairly big market is actually a real sign of progress, if you ask me. 10 years ago this would have been too controversial for a megacorporation to touch. 10 years ago, the only trans characters I recall seeing on TV were narrowmindedly written stereotypes.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:55 PM on September 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Haven't watched yet, but I'm encouraged by the positive buzz I've been hearing, and I'm looking forward to the binge!
posted by rtha at 2:59 PM on September 27, 2014


targeting the long tail of a minority user group with good programming in a smart, edgy way

That's a strangely bloodless marketer-speak way of looking at it. Even though I don't disagree!


Well, it is Amazon we're talking about here. It's nice to see a progressive social issue get attached to big money without being seen as someone sold out.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:59 PM on September 27, 2014


targeting the long tail of a minority user group with good programming in a smart, edgy way

I haven't seen the pilot yet, but I was under the impression it was aimed much more broadly, rather than being micro-targeted at just the trans community. Am I mistaken?
posted by Dip Flash at 3:09 PM on September 27, 2014


Not very far in, but it's quite good. Feels like a fine blend of Six Feet Under, Enlightened & Arrested Development.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 3:15 PM on September 27, 2014


I saw the pilot this morning, and it seems to be a story about a messy, somewhat selfish set of siblings who happen to have a father who is having trouble with the idea of coming out as trans. So far, I like it (though I'm having some trouble liking all the characters, which I think is kind of the point).

I've honestly never been too much of a fan of Tambor, but he's beyond brilliant in the first episode. Just a heartbreaking performance.
posted by xingcat at 3:16 PM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


For some reason, "I've been Zillowing the fuck out of this place" is my favorite line and pops into my head at random times.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:19 PM on September 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm about to start episode four, and so far, everything and everyone is so good. Tambor especially.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:20 PM on September 27, 2014


Good on them if they are making an effort to faithfully represent the experience but hasn't the portrayal of a trans character by an actual trans actor by Laverne Cox in "Orange Is the New Black" set a new standard?
posted by Morrigan at 3:21 PM on September 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't find it hard to believe that of the available 70-year-old actors for the role, Jeffery Tambor portrayed the character in the most realistic way, trans or not.
posted by the jam at 3:48 PM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Good on them if they are making an effort to faithfully represent the experience but hasn't the portrayal of a trans character by an actual trans actor by Laverne Cox in "Orange Is the New Black" set a new standard?

Sure, but there is not just the one experience, and not just the one story; the sense I've gotten is that this is telling a different story about a different experience. There may be commonalities, of course, but the story of someone who comes out as trans when she is young is different from that of someone doing so after decades with a marriage and kids and all. There's room for a lot of stories and all the nuances of the variety of experiences.
posted by rtha at 3:52 PM on September 27, 2014 [8 favorites]


I think casting a trans actor versus a cis actor's a complicated question when it comes to a pre-transition character, or one who's going to spend a fair amount of their screen-time presenting that way; OITNB got around it by casting Laverne's twin brother as Sophia pre-transition, but elsewhere I genuinely don't know how many trans women actors would even want to play that sort of role. And the dynamics of representation in having a trans woman essentially stage-detransition for a part are, again, maybe more complicated.

There's been criticism of the casting choice, and while I 100% see where people are coming from with that in general, in this case I'm not so sure I agree. Admittedly I haven't actually seen the show yet, but I'm hearing largely good things from people who have, and everything I've read about the production process has been positive as hell.
posted by emmtee at 3:59 PM on September 27, 2014 [14 favorites]


Also, the cast does include trans women.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:59 PM on September 27, 2014


A cis actor playing a trans woman is incredibly offensive and hurtful and plays off the "man in a dress" stereotype.
posted by picklenickle at 4:07 PM on September 27, 2014


A cis actor playing a trans woman is incredibly offensive and hurtful and plays off the "man in a dress" stereotype.

The difficulty, of course, is that there are not a ton of 70 year old trans women actresses who can pull off a leading role in a show of this caliber and who would also be willing to present as a man for those particular scenes.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:16 PM on September 27, 2014 [16 favorites]


targeting the long tail of a minority user group with good programming in a smart, edgy way

That's a strangely bloodless marketer-speak way of looking at it. Even though I don't disagree!


He's just targeting the MeFi bloodless marketer demo, they need comments representing their PoV too!
posted by Drinky Die at 4:18 PM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I haven't watched the show, but the Autostraddle recap of episode 1 is not to be missed.
posted by desjardins at 4:23 PM on September 27, 2014


A cis actor playing a trans woman is incredibly offensive and hurtful and plays off the "man in a dress" stereotype.

We're in "deeply confusing levels of nuance" territory for me again and I'm not even going to attempt to untangle it. Would a 70 year old ciswoman be okay? That is just a woman playing a woman, after all. But do they look the part of a pre-transition woman? Or do we just never do cisfolks playing transfolks? I don't know if I can agree it's always offensive, but there are things like offensive versions of drag performances out there that lend serious support to comparisons to blackface. I'm leaning towards judging individual performances for offensiveness as they come here, but I wouldn't say I'm totally convinced.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:26 PM on September 27, 2014


My friend Jen wrote some about why Tambour was cast in this piece about the show:

"Tambor is the only cis actor with a trans role on the show. Soloway always had Tambor in mind for Maura, in no small part because he reminded her of her own parent. Given that the character of Maura hasn't started hormones and is mostly living as male, it made sense to cast a cis male. The show needed an actor with the talent and experience to anchor an ensemble cast, and one recognizable enough to assure producers and audiences to tune into a risky conceit. Soloway decided early, however, to have all other trans parts played by trans people, including three recurring roles: Ian Harvie as Dale, Alexandra Billings as Davina, and Trace Lysette as Shae. In the end, trans people have 15 speaking roles in season 1, and not always in parts that are explicitly trans."
posted by gingerbeer at 4:27 PM on September 27, 2014 [34 favorites]


I don't understand how people are so knowledgeable on the number of trans woman actresses, their skill level, and their willingness to play with presentation in order to craft sensitive portrayals of themselves.

There are a lot of trans women, of every age, who want to be actresses and who are actresses. They face plenty of opposition, like people believing they don't exist.
posted by picklenickle at 4:29 PM on September 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm about to start episode four, and so far, everything and everyone is so good. Tambor especially.

Same here. I'm really enjoying it. The only word I can think of to describe it is "sweet" -- it's a sweet show. Each one of the characters has some sort of fucked-uppery going on (the kids are all kind of dysfunctional in ways that seem totally reflective of my generation; Tambor is struggling with the realities of coming out), but the show treats them all with a kind of gentleness and kindness and sweetness. I'd be crying "pathos! pathos!" if it wasn't done so well.

The music is great too.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:32 PM on September 27, 2014


I watched the whole season last night. I get that in a perfect world we'd have a trans (and by that I mean that the assumption we're all making about Tambor not being trans certainly has lots of supporting data) actor playing that role. But we are not there yet, and TV shows have trouble getting financing without at least a couple of Names attached. It's certainly possible that Tambor is taking this role away from another actor who could be that anchor right now, but that is true of pretty much every show that ever gets made.

I also think he does a great job. And I believe Solloway understands a lot of nuances (I'm just going to cover my mouth and mumble because spoilers should really be avoided) that I had not expected that I'm looking forward to seeing play out.

I'm also pretty sure that no television (or TV-adjacent) show has ever employed this many trans and non-gender-conforming actors at one time. That is great today, and that is great for the experience that a lot of marginalized actors can't get so it's hard for them to carry the lead in a show later.

There's no way to go some of the places the show is going and not fuck it up sometimes (and there are a couple of things that are both accurate and enraging, because they are offensive and also things that happen in the real world to real people, and should that not be represented just because it's shitty and awful?), and that Autostraddle recap is pretty dead on about some of the problems, but then I feel defensive because I myself am a bisexual cliche and so I have some sympathies there.

Anyway, I think the show has an amazingly huge heart, and is maybe coming off the starting block with a good number of cliches in order to flip some of them around if given time. There's some "shit just got real" stuff that happens down the line that's really surprising and done with agility. I hope this is not too much a spoiler, but if you are trying to watch this and cringing that Maura is going to become the joke, I don't feel like that is ever true.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:09 PM on September 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't understand how people are so knowledgeable on the number of trans woman actresses, their skill level, and their willingness to play with presentation in order to craft sensitive portrayals of themselves.

People here probably aren't, but it sounds like Soloway had a particular performer in mind for this particular role, for particular reasons. You may not agree with those reasons or her choices, but it doesn't seem like they were made in a vacuum or from ignorance, or from blatant transphobia.
posted by rtha at 5:27 PM on September 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


Tambor is the only cis actor with a trans role on the show.

By the way, I'm not sure this is true. I'm pretty sure I caught Bradley Whitford in a trans role. Unless Bradley is trans and I didn't know it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:46 PM on September 27, 2014


Much like we generally call for a space between trans and woman (which fuck yeah, nobody has fucked up in this thread! Hugs for you all!) it'd be cool if we could not use terms like 'transfolk' (which sounds like it should be some weird hipster subgenre of folk music)...

I haven't personally seen this yet, but I look forward to doing so. Personally, I do see the situation with casting this particular role as more nuanced and complicated than just a straight up case of casting a cis person for a trans role as inherently and necessarily problematic. That there are trans actors playing many (if not all?) of the other trans characters in the show suggests that it's this nuance and complication that informs the casting choice, rather than boring old transphobia.

Also holy fuck, we're talking about a show where we can use phrases like "the other trans characters"!
posted by Dysk at 5:55 PM on September 27, 2014 [15 favorites]


I was also one of the people initially frustrated with another cis man playing a trans woman. But listening to all of the interviews that Soloway has done and reading about the other steps she's taken to make sure that actual trans people have significant input both on-screen and behind the scenes across the entire production have left me feeling very upbeat about the show. I'm looking forward to watching it in a couple of weeks when I'm laid up in a Boston hotel room after surgery.

I smiled listening to the interview with Soloway on All Things Considered the other day!
posted by Corinth at 6:18 PM on September 27, 2014 [10 favorites]


FWIW, Kelsie Brynn Jones, a trans commentator at HuffPo, writes about a series of things that upset her about the pilot, including the fact that the trans woman parent is played by a cis man, but also that the story fails to address the loss of economic and physical security faced by most trans women, who have not comfortably retired from an upper-middle-class job, and that her transition serves comedic purposes (raising the spectre of the "man-in-a-dress").

I haven't watched the show, and can't pass judgment myself, but I did think the issues Kelsie Brynn Jones raises are at least ones worthy of discussion.
posted by DrMew at 6:55 PM on September 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


So what do I do if I don't have prime?
posted by Violet Femme at 7:09 PM on September 27, 2014


It doesn't need to be "this show comes from a trans* friendly place" vs "it's a cis man playing the lead".

Rather, it can be said that "this show comes from a sympathetic writer and the lead is (perhaps problematically) played by a cis man and there are many trans women in other roles and there are economic and social issues in the script that many trans women viewers could not relate to" etc etc.

Positive aspects and problematic aspects don't add up and cancel each other out and achieve some numerical score that's either "for our team" or "against our team" in art. They just add up and add up and form something to talk and feel about. It's "and", not "but".

----

I thought there have been some great performances in what I've seen so far. There's some really interesting shots that draw attention to both the physical nature of sex, and the performance of gender, and the music is pretty great.
posted by DGStieber at 8:32 PM on September 27, 2014 [9 favorites]


Violet, Amazon is promoting its 30-days-free-Prime thing, so that's one way to go. I suspect there may be a later DVD release if you can wait.

Here's what I wrote in the FanFare thread (hadn't seen this one yet):
Oh, good. I was going to post a Talk about this because I want to follow it but I'm not sure I'm the best person to post about it -- I have very little identification with the genderqueer side of things and mainly I'm grooving on the acting and writing.

There seem to be a lot of really positive press responses about this show, with some calling it basically Amazon's breakout moment, from the second pilot "season" premiered earlier this year. (Interestingly, one of the actors needed to be replaced; Gillian Vigman got "very pregnant" and was replaced by Melora Hardin, best known from The Office. Another oddity is that this is digital content, so the reshot footage with Hardin is already the only one you can see.)

The creator is Jill Soloway, a veteran of Six Feet Under and other shows, who had a similar experience with her own father coming out as transgender. (This is barely a spoiler. The show isn't about plot or drama but emotions and relationships.) Tambor is simply amazing, taking on the role of a lifetime with an emotional depth you probably didn't expect if you know him as Hank or George. He's done a lot of prep work with TG advisors, some of whom I believe are shown in the group session. He and Hoffman also have some really great chemistry, portraying an intimacy and emotional compatibility that is very convincing. Landecker is also terrific, breaking out of her soccer mom persona (e.g. from Enough Said) by playing a soccer mom who is literally breaking out of her persona. Duplass I don't know (I know his brother though), but all three of Tambor's "kids" are great at showing a family with history and in-jokes and running quirks that drive each other a bit crazy. (It's also being touted as a superior depiction of Jewish life in California.) You also probably won't believe how good Judith Light is portraying the mother. But really, this show's bar is set by Tambor and Hoffman, who is fearless, as some of her other work will tell you.


As far as intentions and questions about methodology, some of those may be answered in this batch of exclusive interviews with cast and crew members at Audible.
posted by dhartung at 9:41 PM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


A cis actor playing a trans woman is incredibly offensive and hurtful and plays off the "man in a dress" stereotype.

Um, why? As a queer man, I don't have any difficulty with presumably heterosexual men playing queer characters--it's called acting; everyone is pretending to be something they're not.

What matters is whether the character is written and performed with integrity. Frankly, (as amusing as I found it) I thought Jack on Will & Grace--played by a queer actor--was a cardboard stereotype far more offensive than Will, played by an apparently straight actor.

Who should this character have been portrayed by? The character is pre-transition (assuming that transition is in the cards here, not assuming that all trans people must or should or want to transition), so should a pre-transition trans woman be playing her, by this logic? Should a post-transition trans woman be playing her? I can easily see arguments against, in both cases.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:29 PM on September 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


I did think the issues Kelsie Brynn Jones raises are at least ones worthy of discussion

They are, but I think raising issues about the first 31 minutes of slightly over 4 hours of available content might - in the digital day and age - be a special kind of nitpick. It's pretty much the definition of not giving the show a chance.

Just based on the pilot, when Maura announces she is selling the house she has lived in alone for years, that's a thing people sometimes do for economic reasons - which we might find out more about in a later episode. Also, we hear her on the phone to someone (to whom she says "I love you") about coming out to her family, which might mean she has at least one insider-friend outside her family, and so might know people of other socio-economic demographics. We might meet them. If you gave it more time than the pilot, which has its hands full just telling you everyone's names and major personality issue, it might turn out that these issues do not actually exist. Or they do, but not in the format you think.

I do understand that a not-visibly-poor retired person who has lived as a white man most of her life is definitely not the most inclusive main character, but at some point you have to accept that it's a TV show and they have to pick one thing and stick with it, and because Solloway created the show it's going to be the one she picked.

I would at least encourage people to put a bookmark on anything that seems problematic and let it play out (which seems to be kind of a repeating story technique that's being used here - there's a lot of arcing story structure going on) before declaring it a problem. Solloway is not unaware of what is problematic and is deliberately turning some of those things on their heads, but it's not all resolved in the pilot. That would be a super boring TV show.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:35 PM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you believe in the power of acting ("everyone is pretending to be something they're not"), then it connects that a trans woman (at any stage of transition, and many don't view it in such simplistic terms as post or pre), should be able to fulfill that role.

I feel like the obstacles to a male actor playing the role are handwaved aside, and the ones that trans women dubiously face are presented as impassable (as if cis men imagining an entirely different gender were easier than a trans woman simply drawing on an earlier time in her life).

There is so much faith expressed here in men being able to play women's roles, but so little in women's ability to play themselves. When I see cis men being routinely selected to play trans women but not to play cis women, it says that people think of trans women as being essentially a form or sub-species of man, when they have nothing to do with men anymore than cis women do. Both are women, end of story.
posted by picklenickle at 11:01 PM on September 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


If you believe in the power of acting ("everyone is pretending to be something they're not"), then it connects that a trans woman (at any stage of transition, and many don't view it in such simplistic terms as post or pre), should be able to fulfill that role.

I don't dispute that. But, given how much the creator of this show appears to have included trans women as part of the process, both onscreen and off, does it not seem reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt here that she cast who she felt was the best person to portray the role?

Or are you saying that a trans woman cannot be portrayed by anyone other than a trans woman?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:08 PM on September 27, 2014


How many cis women are played by men?
posted by picklenickle at 11:13 PM on September 27, 2014


Not many, and certainly not many that aren't ugly stereotypes filled to the brim with misogyny. Since ugly stereotyping seems to be completely absent here, I ask again: are you saying that a trans woman cannot be portrayed by anyone other than a trans woman? I'd point to both Terrence Stamp and Hilary Swank as (apparently) cis actors who did, it seems to me, sensitive and nuanced portrayals of trans characters, for example. Jaye Davidson (leaving aside other problematic elements of The Crying Game) also comes to mind, and I have no idea how they perceive or present their gender identity today. Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan.

I'm not saying, at all, that trans people aren't under-represented in film and TV. That is, thankfully, changing--slowly. Nor am I saying that the experiences of trans people aren't erased or watered down. But it reads to me like you are saying only trans people can play trans people, which seems a bit odd to me. Should queer characters be played only by queer actors? What about queer actors playing heterosexual characters? Non-Jewish actors playing Jewish characters?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:27 PM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah I do think only trans women should play trans women, in the specific culture we live in, where trans actresses are hugely discriminated against, and where the portrayals play into offensive stereotypes.

A white person playing a different kind of white person isn't the same as giving male roles to women who are wrongfully associated with maleness. There's a dynamic of oppression there that isn't present in these other roles.
posted by picklenickle at 11:33 PM on September 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


Okay... but it doesn't seem like stereotypes are happening here at all. The creator's mother is trans, there are trans women on the show and involved behind the camera. I mean.. like I said, all acting is pretend, right? As long as there's integrity in the writing and the performance--that is, not succumbing to brainless stereotypes--shouldn't any actor be able to play any role?

Intent is largely what matters, I think, and it's really, really hard to see any transphobia here. Can you elaborate on the transphobia you are seeing?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:39 PM on September 27, 2014


When I was growing up my older sister took ballet. One time she played the role of Fritz in The Nutcracker. She was pretty awesome, but being the younger brother I found it all very confusing.

"But Fritz is a boy..."

"Girls can play boys parts."

"But can..."

"Boys can't play girls parts."

It was kind of confusing at the time. Later I realized the issue was you just can't get enough boys to sign up for ballet classes, you certainly couldn't get me to, but that early memory in my head has kind of left me with an ambivalence towards the idea that gender is what determines who can play a particular role.

But, the other issue is that a lot of other great potential Fritzs (Or Claras) never showed up at the studio because ballet was seen as a "sissy" thing to do and they lived in fear of that label. So, balancing act. If someone has the courage to cross gender barriers for a role even if they are dumb idiotic barriers like "boys don't do ballet", I gotta respect that. There is serious courage in the act and I believe it should be acknowledged. I also have respect for trans actors who face discrimination just for existing as who they are. They need to have courage just to make it through the day!

So, yeah, I'm left lost and looking towards reading more in this thread to see what I should think. I respect Tambor for having the courage to put on a dress at the same time as I think maybe someone else should be in the role. I dunno.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:42 PM on September 27, 2014


It's structural transphobia. Intent doesn't matter. And I would suggest that a difficulty in seeing the nuanced ways in which trans women face oppression is probably related to not being a trans woman.
posted by picklenickle at 12:01 AM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Um... thanks for ignoring everything I said about trans experiences, I guess? I'm honestly trying to understand where you're coming from, and it seems a bit misplaced to suggest transphobia in this specific case, given how many trans women are involved with the project. And, you know, the creator's mother. Upon whom the entire show is based.

You're arguing for some kind of essential connection being necessary between actor and role, which is to ignore what acting is. Queer people face all kinds of systemic discrimination too (yes, also changing, and slightly less deadly and pervasive than that faced by trans people nowadays in most places), yet it would be just bizarre to insist that only queer actors can play queer parts. The whole point of acting is pretending be be someone other than who you are, and if that portrayal is being done with integrity and respect for an otherwise marginalized group, I think that's a step forward. The larger argument that you're making is that nobody from a marginalized group can be played by someone not from a marginalized group--unless you're suggesting that only applies to trans women--and that way lies madness.

Should there be more trans people represented in our media? Of course. Should discrimination be ended? Of course. Do trans women experience a ridiculous amount of hatred? Tragically, yes.

But I really don't understand how there is any transphobia present here, and handwaving with "Intent doesn't matter" doesn't answer the question. Because intent does matter, hand in hand with execution. If one's intent fails, that's one thing, but the intent here is to present a nuanced and realistic character informed by the creator's own lived experience, and the lived experience of all the other trans women involved in the show. Wouldn't it be erasure to have a trans woman playing a character presented as having a male body? (NB: the character is not male, I understand this.) The movie Lilies is coming to mind here, a movie that is all about gender and sexual identity--and in fact, it contains a double layer of two cis-male actors playing female roles (double as in the actors are playing male characters who then play female characters in the play-within-the-movie). Brilliantly, I might add, and without misogyny or transphobia or racism.

I mean... is presenting a trans character as something other than a cookie-cutter stereotype not a good thing? Is that not progress?

I am not disputing, in any way at all, that trans women face deep discrimination that manifests in all sorts of ways. But here, in this specific case? It feels like a reach, given all the behind the scenes stuff. Given everything behind the scenes, given the creator's own experience, given the trans advisors connected to the show, how is this transphobic? If you want me to see it, can you please explain it?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:42 AM on September 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


It's structural transphobia.

Just no. Please explain how we should portray a persons' transition, and process of coming out, without at one point presenting them in a gender role with which they do not actually identify. That is the story.

Can we be happy with a modicum of progress, or do we have to be angry that the world isn't fair at every turn? It's my opinion that casting a cis-male in this role is perfectly acceptable, even appropriate, so long as it's done in a tactful, well-researched and empathic manner.
posted by Violet Femme at 1:12 AM on September 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


Respectfully, picklenickle, maybe consider how your position could be a potentially harmful one as well. I think you would agree institutionalized homophobia still exists; though acceptance is getting better, we are still at the point where openly gay actors have a tough time being cast as straight love interests. One notable exception is Neil Patrick Harris, and that is not just because he is a great actor, although he is, but because people first came to know him as a child actor.

If we say that only gay actors should play gay characters because of this history of intolerance, it might seem like a good idea and a way to make sure gay actors get work, but it also means that those actors are more likely to become typecast and so will only be considered when a role calls for a gay man or woman rather than any role they are capable of playing. We ail know that separate but equal has never worked in favor of the oppressed class, so It also follows that straight actors would continue to get the majority of acting jobs across the board, since we have already established that the existing social structure favors straight over gay. Segregating gay from straight, then, no matter how well- intentioned, pretty much guarantees that gay actors will continue to be accorded secondary status.

I can envision the same sort of scenario playing out for trans men and women actors, so I don't really feel it would work to their benefit to insist that only trans actors play trans characters.

And that's not even taking into account the greater empathy for the transgender community which could come from straight audiences, who might never otherwise seek out education and understanding of the challenges transgender individuals face, tuning in to shows like this one specifically because an actor they know and respect plays a pivotal role.
posted by misha at 1:28 AM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


Trans women aren't men before they transition. They were never men. They are capable of portraying themselves at various stages in their life, just like cis actors do. Transition isn't some weird esoteric magic.

Of course marginalized actors should be able to play other roles. However, not all roles are created equal, because we live in a world with history and power differentials. It's the same reason white actors shouldn't do blackface. I don't think anyone would argue that blackface was an important baby step in progress. And on the same note, I believe we can skip the "trans women are basically a jokey kind of men in dresses" step and go straight to "basic respect and humanity".

Anyways, I don't have the energy to defend this, I'll have to exit the conversation.
posted by picklenickle at 2:48 AM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


"A cis actor playing a trans woman is incredibly offensive and hurtful and plays off the "man in a dress" stereotype."

Um, why? As a queer man, I don't have any difficulty with presumably heterosexual men playing queer characters--it's called acting; everyone is pretending to be something they're not.


Think of it as more like a white actor playing a black character. Queerness isn't a visible, physical thing in the way transness is.
posted by Dysk at 3:14 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sometimes fpps just hit me in all the right places, and this was one of them.

I'm a Tambor and Soloway fan, I have the same haircut and color as the HuffPost writer Erin Whitney, and like Whitney, one of my kids is at NYU in the Gallatin program doing that weird individual study thing.

Now all I have to do is push the cats off the sofa and start watching.
posted by kinetic at 6:55 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have to agree with picklenickle. Trans women get killed, all the time, because they are seen as men-in-dresses. Why are they seen as men-in-dresses? Because they are played in the media by actual men-in-dresses. Casting a cis man to play this part just reinforces that trope and is literally dangerous to people.

Makeup and special effects are better now than in any time in history. I can't see why it would be impossible or unlikely for a trans woman to play the part of someone earlier in transition. I mean, we are supposed to accept that Jeffrey Tambor is a woman - so why can't we accept a trans woman presenting as male (i.e. pre-transition)?

It is most definitely not the same thing as queer actors playing straight parts, because straight is a privileged identity, and queers don't get beat up and killed because people think they're straight. It's also not the same thing as straight actors playing queer parts, because no one thinks that most straight people IRL are secretly queer, the way that they think trans women are actually just men.
posted by desjardins at 7:27 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Queerness isn't a visible, physical thing in the way transness is.

This is a bad definition of trans. There are lots of people who identify as trans who don't transition in any way, and some who do so in subtle manners. And that doesn't even account for people who identify and present as gender queer.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:44 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it's also possibly relevant (small spoiler) that the later episodes use flashback so the 80s and 90s, where obviously a lot fewer trans people were using HRT.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:00 AM on September 28, 2014


I have to agree with picklenickle. Trans women get killed, all the time, because they are seen as men-in-dresses. Why are they seen as men-in-dresses? Because they are played in the media by actual men-in-dresses. Casting a cis man to play this part just reinforces that trope and is literally dangerous to people.

But like...men in dresses aren't why people kill men in dresses, right?
posted by Drinky Die at 8:15 AM on September 28, 2014


>Trans women aren't men before they transition. They were never men. They are capable of portraying themselves at various stages in their life, just like cis actors do. Transition isn't some weird esoteric magic.

This makes a lot of sense to me. If you're making a show about a trans individual who has to present both as a male and as a female in the course of the show, you're going to have to have scenes where the actor is in drag- either the trans woman playing male, or the cis male playing trans. And so if that cuts both ways, shouldn't the preference be for putting a trans woman in that role, especially given all the surrounding societal issues?

Then again, are there any 70 y/o trans women actors ?(almost certainly)
Any who are as good at acting as Tambor? (it's possible, i guess)
Any who are well known, and could carry a show and get producers backing to launch said show? (almost certainly not)

So should the show not get made? I can't do that math.
posted by DGStieber at 9:14 AM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Focusing on Tambor's casting to the exclusion of everything else is frankly myopic. This is a good series.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 9:22 AM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Trans women aren't men before they transition. They were never men.

I'm pretty sure no one in this thread has suggested this and I was personally very careful to use neutral terms like "person" and "stage of transition" and "gender identity" in the appropriate context. Anyone who used the word man in this thread to refer to a transwoman in the stage of her life where she was not yet out, is doing so in good faith as far as I can see. Feckless fecal fear mongering was careful to assert that they understood that a transwoman is not and has never been a man, that they were simply assigned at birth. I'm glad you've decided to exit the conversation, frankly, because you didn't even answer my question in good faith yourself.
posted by Violet Femme at 9:44 AM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


My wife and I devoured the first season this weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll leave the analysis of how accurately Tambor's character and the other trans* characters were portrayed to those who are better equipped to conduct that analysis, but as a TV show, there's a lot to like. There were some plot points that fell flat for us -- I won't get spoilerish here since the show just went live a couple of days ago -- but overall, the writers did a good job of fully drawing each of the supporting characters in ways that make their interactions with Maura (and each other) believable.

The one stylistic issue we had with it (perhaps because we're both Gen X-ers) is that the flashbacks to 1994 feel like they're flashbacks to the 1980s. The color palette, the decor, the clothes Maura wears, etc. all seem a lot more dated than we expected -- like mid 80s instead of mid 90s. Perhaps there's a reason for this that went over our heads, but it was a bit of a head-scratcher.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing peoples' thoughts as they watch the rest of the season.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:54 AM on September 28, 2014


Just finished the season myself. I have to say, I loved it. Part of it is that my family make up and dynamic is so very similar to this family (with a few exceptions), and we have had a LOT of the same conversations. I thought it was a very good portrayal of a real family.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:06 AM on September 28, 2014


The reason that cis men playing trans women isn't similar to straight actors playing gay characters is, as always, context. There are very specific cultural reasons why this can be particularly damaging to trans women, and because this meta issue can't be addressed in-show, some portion of the audience is likely to have some of those cultural memes reinforced just by the the fact that a cis man is playing a trans woman, even despite the best intentions and execution. That's a real worry, and it isn't myopic to focus on it - again, this kind of thing has and will continue to cause actual harm to actual trans women.

As I said, I've come to terms with it in this particular case (which is not to say I probably won't find problems with Tambor's performance at some point). But this isn't a thing where it's easy to extend the benefit of the doubt, because we know there's going to be collateral damage. I've only watched the pilot, but I've followed the news and interviews fairly closely and I've provisionally decided, for myself, that there's the potential for more good than harm. But everybody makes the calculation differently, and I have no intention of trying to tell other people that my conclusion should supercede theirs. I'd suggest that other people approach it the same way, and if you come across a trans person telling you they're not on board with it, just try to understand the context and history they're drawing on.
posted by Corinth at 10:38 AM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Corinth, I'd be interested to hear what you think after you see the entire season. They actually do address a lot of the "meta" issues that you're talking about in the context of the show.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, that sounds really interesting.
posted by Corinth at 11:39 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is a bad definition of trans. There are lots of people who identify as trans who don't transition in any way, and some who do so in subtle manners. And that doesn't even account for people who identify and present as gender queer.

Quite right, I should have said 'often' in there. And it absolutely is a visible thing for many genderqueer people, even as it isn't for many others.
posted by Dysk at 1:51 PM on September 28, 2014


Trans women aren't men before they transition. They were never men. They are capable of portraying themselves at various stages in their life, just like cis actors do. Transition isn't some weird esoteric magic.

Is this to say that one who identifies as a man cannot transition? Because I call bullshit on that. You have no more right to dictate the parameters of gender expression or identity than anyone else.

I wonder what all the gender police critics would say if, years from now Jeffrey Tambor came out as trans, and it turned out that that was the reason he took this role.
posted by klanawa at 5:11 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


klanawa, that's a very good point. Trans women sometimes used to identify as men, and trans men have in the past identified as women.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:16 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Very good point- and understandable to me as someone I would describe as an 'occasionally' gender dysphoric adult. For many it's not, but for some of us, understanding our gender identity is a hell of a long and winding road. I do take back my "never was" of a previous comment since we know it's more nuanced and personal than that. Thanks for the reminder.
posted by Violet Femme at 6:28 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


So what do I do if I don't have prime?

you could download it.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:26 PM on September 28, 2014


Is this to say that one who identifies as a man cannot transition? Because I call bullshit on that. You have no more right to dictate the parameters of gender expression or identity than anyone else.

I wonder what all the gender police critics would say if, years from now Jeffrey Tambor came out as trans, and it turned out that that was the reason he took this role.


I used to identify as a man. I was wrong. I am, and was, a woman.
posted by Dysk at 12:25 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's your story, Dysk. Everyone has their own.
posted by klanawa at 9:40 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wonder what all the gender police critics would say if, years from now Jeffrey Tambor came out as trans, and it turned out that that was the reason he took this role.

I assume people would amend their opinions based on the new information. It wouldn't change the fact that here and now, and for the span of time until that context-changing fact were revealed, someone self-identifying as a man has been seen as an acceptable choice to play a trans woman. Any consequences associated with that have happened, and will continue to have happened regardless of empty future hypotheticals.

As I said earlier in the thread, I don't actually think casting Tambor as a trans woman in this case is a bad thing, or will have harmful consequences; especially next to the positive presentation of the character, the casting of trans actors in lots of other roles, the attention such a well-known actor brings to the show and its message, and so on. But building a rickety rhetorical edifice where we have to treat men as Schrödinger's trans women, where criticism - justified or otherwise - of men speaking for, over, appearing as trans women is dismissable simply because it's possible that anyone identifying himself as a man in the present could conceivably be a closeted or pre-actualised trans woman? That's a crappy way to dodge discussion, and one with messed-up implications.
posted by emmtee at 10:48 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


That's your story, Dysk. Everyone has their own.

It's also one that's fairly common amongst trans women (and conversely for trans men) whereas the ' used to be a man'/' became a woman' narrative is pretty widely reviled and seen to be downright harmful. Using it as an excuse to cast cis people in trans roles is kinda shitty.

And this is despite the fact that I don't necessarily have a problem with Tambor playing this role. Just fuck if I don't have a problem with that line of reasoning.
posted by Dysk at 12:46 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not down with "reviling" peoples' lived experiences. There is no right way to trans or, for that matter, to cis.

someone self-identifying as a man an artist has been seen as an acceptable choice to play a trans woman. accepted the challenge of inhabiting a persona that is not his own.

Like every other actor since the dawn of acting. Let's see if he can do it faithfully and respectfully. God forbid we should have to find some actual Nazis for the next WWII movie...

BTW, emmtee, another good way to dodge discussion is to misrepresent peoples' arguments.
posted by klanawa at 1:54 AM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Neither cis nor trans are verbs, and that sort of language use is both dogwhistley and fairly problematic for a while host of reasons...
posted by Dysk at 2:08 AM on September 30, 2014


Neither cis nor trans are verbs, and that sort of language use is both dogwhistley and fairly problematic for a while host of reasons...

I'm sorry to disagree with you, but there really is nothing inherently wrong with a cis man playing a trans woman, especially if the portrayal is as sensitive as this one. Have you actually seen the show, as many of us have? Or are you just criticizing it?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:01 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you look a few comments up, you'll see that I'm specifically not taking issue with it in this instance at least. The comment you quoted is a response to something else said in the thread, not the casting choice. It shouldn't be that hard to follow.
posted by Dysk at 6:12 AM on September 30, 2014


There's no reason to be rude.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:53 AM on September 30, 2014


I think there is something inherently wrong with a cis man playing a trans woman right now, because this is the societal default for a whole host of gross reasons and that sucks. There are many more negative instances of cis men playing trans women than positive ones, and there's an entire real-life context for why this doesn't usually go well and how the consequences of it not going well invariably fall on trans women. Again, I'm fine (so far) with this particular character, but this is definitely a thing where skepticism should be the null hypothesis and shows need to actively justify these choices (like Soloway has attempted to do). Hopefully someday we'll be in a place where it doesn't make sense to assume the worst in these situations and individual representations don't have huge implications for the trans community, but we aren't there yet.
posted by Corinth at 3:55 PM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


There are many more negative instances of cis men playing trans women than positive ones

I don't want to derail the thread, but the "man in the dress" complaint has come up a few times here, and now this statement, and I am just going to come out and admit my own ignorance here and ask if this is currently a problem in media?

I really can't think of many instances of cis men playing trans women, and none at all recently other than the series that is the subject of this thread. The first cis man playing a trans woman I can think of offhand is John Lithgow, back in The World According to Garp, and given the times I felt his was an unexpectedly sensitive portrayal. There was The Crying Game as well, but again that was decades ago (and even then the overall response, I felt, was positive at the time). So, are you referring to those silly comedy farces where men dress up as women 'to avoid detection' or the ridiculous Tyler Perry Medea stuff ? Because, if so, I wouldn't consider those to be attempts at depicting trans women at all, and I don't think many cis people are under any illusions on that score.
posted by misha at 8:04 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think this thread is a good place for those of us who aren't transgender people to sit back and listen, learn, rather than assuming a default of 'I don't see it, so it must not exist'. That viewpoint doesn't look pretty in feminism threads, where it's rather easier to see or have explained (there being a lot more women in total than there are trans people, and also a higher aggregate amount of them on any given day who have the energy to do the 101 stuff).

Which isn't to say that there aren't arguments to be advanced for why this might not be a bad casting choice and could even be a good one. But coming at it from a place of 'Well, I don't see it, so nope, you're wrong' feels tone-deaf.
posted by pseudonymph at 9:33 PM on September 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't want to derail the thread, but the "man in the dress" complaint has come up a few times here, and now this statement, and I am just going to come out and admit my own ignorance here and ask if this is currently a problem in media?

It's so common that there are multiple TV tropes categories about it. No, crossdressers are not the same thing as trans women (definitions), but I guarantee you that the general public conflates the two, and that's the problem here. The TV Tropes page Unsettling Gender Reveal notes that "In Real Life, this trope can have violent or even lethal consequences - there are numerous cases of people being physically or sexually assaulted when their sex is revealed and some people have even been murdered."
posted by desjardins at 9:44 PM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


From the past year, both Dallas Buyer's Club and an Arcade Fire music video have done a crap job at this. But even the the "ridiculous" stuff like Ace Ventura has spawned an entire genre of "funny" trans panic reactions, with that 30-seconds-of-vomiting sequence becoming standard across various shows (Family Guy has used it, for example). Even if you want to argue that the Tyler Perry or Ace Ventura depictions aren't technically trans women, they contribute to a culture of misunderstanding and devaluing transfeminine identities. Each instance on its own can be waved off, but there are a ton of them, and they're all taking place in a society where trans women are not only marginalized but literally killed when people discover their trans status because of the homophobic implications of the man-in-a-dress trope*. It's not dissimilar to the way rape culture is disseminated and perpetuated, and it's why we should be extra careful with cis men playing trans women.

*Relatedly, California has just banned the trans/gay panic defenses for violent reactions to learning that someone is trans and/or gay!
posted by Corinth at 9:54 PM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


To be clear, the trans woman in Ace Ventura is played by a cis woman, not that this makes the portrayal any better (arguably it's worse because of the way the movie handles it). But, like, even Hearthstone, a Blizzard game I play almost every day and thoroughly enjoy, makes a "Finkle is Einhorn, Einhorn is Finkle" joke that makes me feel gross. The card it's attached to is thankfully not used a lot in the current meta, but seriously what the fuck?
posted by Corinth at 10:02 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not a trans person, so like pseudonymph said, I'm gonna try and listen more than talk. Hence, I have read intently and not said much.

However, I will admit that while from a strictly practical filmmaking/casting standpoint, Tambor's portrayal of a transitioning person at the point of beginning transition didn't hit any phony bells for me, I did find myself wondering what will happen in say, three years if the series is still running. The character would presumably be several years into HRT and what have you, but Jeffrey Tambor will still be a man.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:40 PM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]




Thanks for the links and info, desjardins and Corinth. Going to read and listen for a while now.
posted by misha at 11:41 AM on October 1, 2014


I like that Jen Richards interview a lot. Jeffrey Tambor was on The Colbert Report last night, and while I feel like he did a good job I'd prefer it if in-character Colbert never talked about trans people again.
posted by Corinth at 6:49 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]




I've watched four episodes now and while I still don't agree with casting a cis dude, if they had to cast a cis dude, I think Jeffrey Tambor was an excellent choice. He is quite convincing as a trans person who is not yet accustomed to/totally comfortable with presenting as female in public. The flashbacks are really excellent at helping establish the character and he does a great job portraying Maura's internal struggles.

However, I recognize that I'm coming from a not-a-trans-woman perspective, so I respect and defer to people who have actually lived that experience to know whether the portrayal seems accurate.

(PS: if you've only watched episodes 1 and 2 and you think everyone except Maura is a horrible person, keep watching, it gets better.)
posted by desjardins at 8:34 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think it's fair to say that selfishness, in both its good and bad ways, is a submerged theme in the show, though. Personally, I like flawed characters and indie drama that is steeped in human frailty.

Amy Landecker was interviewed on HuffPost Live, with call-ins from trans* viewers and a brief appearance by two of the trans* persons associated with the show, specifically dealing with the responsibility the producers feel to the trans* community and how much they have done to forefront issues and hire trans* persons behind the camera. (The bit about selfishness that I picked up on is actually addressed, briefly.)
posted by dhartung at 6:50 PM on October 7, 2014




I'm like 6 episodes or something in (I can't tell, it's a blur), and I am loving this so much. It's really, really well done.
posted by odinsdream at 1:56 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]




Kohan is kind of insane and makes depressing shows, though. The end of Weeds was just a pointless shitstain of bad emotions.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 7:49 AM on October 13, 2014


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