Transgender visibility on Transparent

Warning: This post might have minor spoilers of the third season of Transparent ahead. If you haven’t seen it or don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading.

Just this week Amazon dropped off the new season of its award-winning show Transparent, the amazing serie that revolve around the Pfefferman family’s lives after their father (portrayed by the always magnificent Jeffey Tambor) comes out as a transgender woman named Maura. As you can imagine, this TV show’s main concern has always been to tackle important subjects and themes concerning the transgender community.

If there’s something I must celebrate about this show is its hability to put me through a handful of situations that had made me feel uncomfortable more times than I’m able to admit. For three seasons, Transparent  not only have  singlehandedly managed to confront and transform all my paradigms, ideas and notions -even the ones I didn’t thought I had- about gender identity.

Thus, it didn’t came as a surprise when I felt this way again last night when I was watching  episode 6 of this season: The Open Road. In it, Josh (Jay Duplass), one of the Pfefferman’s siblings, makes a road trip with Maura’s transgender friend, Shea (Trace Lysette), a woman who dances on a strip club as a way of living and with whom he has a crush on.

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Naturally, the road trip rails off the road (pun intended) when Josh manage to singlehandedly insult Shea and make her feel awful after she gets honest with him about being HIV positive, as you can read on the quote below:

Shea: There’s something I need to talk you about.

Josh: Ok.

Shea: Look, I’m totally healthy and it’s really nothing to worry about, but I just have to tell you that I’m HIV positive. I have to. I just don’t want you to find later and hate me or murder me or something.

Josh: Well, we were just kissing, I mean, you can’t get it from kissing, right?

Shea: No, you can’t get it from kissing.

Josh: Ok, I’m not going to murder you, I’m not going to hate you. It’s cool.

Shea: So, are you Ok?

Josh: Yeah.

Shea: I have some condoms in the car.

Josh: Are condoms are like a 100%… they work?

Shea: Look, there’s this pill that pretty much eliminates the chances of you getting it.

Josh: Uhm… Pretty much?

Shea: Well, they’re still researching it.

Josh: Ok, do you have it here? With you?

Shea: No; I don’t have it here. It doesn’t work like that.

Josh: Ok.

Shea: If you want to slow things down… figure out where this is going. Maybe we can go and see a doctor when we come back, to explore this in a long term.

Josh: Long term? It’s just a lot of build up.

Shea: Let’s just go.

Josh: Are you mad?

Shea: Yeah, I’m mad!

Josh: At me? Why?

Shea: Why?

Josh: Yeah! I’m, like, I’ve been totally cool with everything.

Shea: Yeah, you know, you deserve an award. What a hero!

Josh: Ok, you were just about to fuck me and told me that you probably would not give me HIV. I’m not aloud to ask some questions? I’m not aloud to, like, pause? And feel weird?

Shea: Why the fuck did you bring me here?!

Josh: I brought you here because it seemed fun. This is fun.

Shea: Fun?! Like a sex-worker-good-time fun?!

Josh: Ok, now that you mention it, I pay for all of this.

Shea: Fuck you, Josh! You needed a fucking date to go tell your son his mother kill herself? I see right through you and I’m not your fucking adventure! I’m a person! I’m not your fucking adventure!

This particular scene kept me awestruck not only by its raw bluntness but also by what really lies beneath this conversation: transgender visibilty and the social imaginary behind transgender people.

Nowadays, most TV shows and films have succesfully managed to introduce some transgender characters into their worlds,  but not for the right reasons. Much of them just have been doing this in order to check their transgender quota and to pat themselves on the back by consider themselves so diverse and inclusive, not for actual representation.

Precisely this week Modern Family ‘s producers made a lot of fuzz when they told several people they were going to have a transgender child playing an important part in an episode. Along came Tom, a transgender boy (who was also known as Tina) who befriends Lily, Cam and Mitchell’s little daughter.

Tom’s important part in the episode was esentially reduced to act, and function, as an example of tolerance and inclusion from this family, He played the part alright, but not only his character hadn’t had lines and no important participation in the story whatosever, he also didn’t have the chance to portray a full-fleshed character. He wasn’t a person.

It’s easy to see when a transgender character it’s added into some story to let people pride themselves about their tolerance and diverse casting, like in this case. These people are all the Joshes that consider themselves to be “totally cool with everything” and expect to receive a badge or recognition for their level of acceptance and their rejection-free conscience when dealing with another human beings.

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And that’s the real problem, they don’t see transgender people  as normal human beings. For them, transgender people are individuals to take care of and to befriend in order to feel good with themselves, when, in reality, they are not their “fucking adventure” to sink their teeth into. Each and every one of them are real persons, with feelings and their own stories to tell.

If Transparent‘s main goal is to make people feel uncomfortable by confronting them with their own realities and the way they understand and transform their life, I’m up for it. It’s really hard to find TV shows that make you question everything you think and thought it was right, and that’s something we must celebrate.

If you want to get a closer look of this particular scene and what the actrees who portrays Shea felt, don’t miss out the fantastic interview Esther Zuckerman made to Trace Lysette for A.V. Club.

The problematic approach of This Is Us

If there’s something that television loves to rub on our faces is that they truly do understand families, real and proper “American families”. From Married With Children to Modern Family  we have had our fair share of modern depictions of what truly means to belong to a family.

I must admit that, in spite of everything, Television Networks had made enormous efforts to represent and transform accurately the family structures that have been evolving along with society’s constructs and paradigms of what a family is. Now, it’s possible to see a family formed by a gay couple or even a trans matriarch.

So, it really strikes me that, knowing all of this, there’s still networks betting for shows that, instead of proposing something new, they’re still playing safe whilst using really dated and problematic tropes as  NBC’s new show, This Is Us.

The premise is simple: Three different families, formed by a married couple with three children, a pair of two adult twins and another couple with two children, are linked by something more (that I won’t say in order to save you from a possible spoiler) than their shared narrative.

The first thing that came to my head when I watched the first two episodes (the only ones that have aired yet, there is) was that all three families has their fair share of men and women participating as important members.

The first family is formed by Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) a thirtysomethings who just happen to have three children. The second one it’s made by twins Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley). Finally, the thir family is formed by Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson).

However, there’s a tenuous, but problematic, difference in the way their roles and characters are depicted. Whilst men are concerned with their jobs outside their homes and being positive role models for their children, women are preoccupied  about their look and taking care of their families inside their houses.

Now, I know that at least one of these families are from 1944 and the construction of this concept on that era was totally different from ours, notwithstanding, would it be too much to ask if one of the other families doesn’t perpetuate the already worned out, and tiresome, “concerned mother” trope?

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How many times do we have to put women trapped between the four walls of their house on TV? How many more women do we have to portray as the selfless wife that waits patiently for her family to arrive home to have at least one story within their narratives? How many more private spaces are we allow to use in order for a woman to have a place to belong to in our shows?

I would like to know why these people still thinks that women are not aloud to have ambition or goals in life beyond their kitchens and why these very places are still considered as the inherent place for women to live in.

It’s worrisome to think that women’s only motives in life are their families and the way society sees them, because it does not only reduce them to become cheap tropes, but also they pale in comparison to the full and well-rounded men characters whose interests are much more than that.

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Which brings me to my second concern: men’s objectification. It’s really confusing to me that, if this show’s main concern is to shine a light on its men why do they keep showing Jack’s butt and Kevin’s abs more than once in only two episodes? It’s even more incoherent when the latter’s main concern its the fear to lose his credibility as an actor when his career choices are compromised when he is asked to take his shirt off on the show he’s working on.

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Does the show is really aware of its meandering and inconsistent narrative? Is it on purpose and, if so, what for? To make a statement? To make a meta comment on how the entertainment industry exploits men and women’s bodies for its own benefit? Maybe I’m just overthinking it.

Whilst This Is Us  has a lot of good ideas around the concept of a modern family to dig into, they usually fall apart when they are portrayed by its characters. So, In order to portray them accurately, and reflect on the conflict that they have with each other, the writers need to get through their dated stereotypes and start to think on new ideas to help their stories to follow through.

Bojack Horseman: Understanding The Other.

I started to watch Bojack Horseman like a month ago because I wanted to enjoy something ‘light’ and not to heavy on the plot. Oh, how beautifully wrong I was. Not only the show singlehandedly managed to suprise me with each and every single episode, but it also achieved to kept me in a constant state of  awestruck wonder with its round characters and well-thought arcs.

Yes, Bojack Horseman is an animated tv show, but it’s certainly  not a light-handed one. It is constructed like a sitcom, but actually is so much more. Bojack is an antropomorphized horse who also happens to be a drunk television star from the 90s that is looking for the actual meaning of his life in a odd version of Hollywood where antropomorphized animals and humans live together. Talk about high-concept tv shows, right?

What’s really interesting of this show is not only its ability to tackle important, issues with some dark sense of humor, like abortion, the star system or the rape culture, but his utter and deep understanding of Otherness and how society’s constantly looking to inflict pain and punish the Other.

But before I can carry on , I would like to take a little break to explain what Otherness is. This idea is central to sociological analyses of how majority and minority identities are constructed. Otherness is the state of being different from the common and very shared social identity. So, The Other would always be considered as the other one that is not me or,  in society’s case, us.

Thus, Bojack Horseman‘s world excels at trying to understand the Other in form of their main characters. Its narrative is constantly making them an example of Otherness with each situation they have to live. They are the outcasts of the diverse world, The Others of their reality.

Bojack’s careful character depiction of a depressed individual functions as a representation of The Other of sane people, The Other of us. In a society were people are labeled under the dichotomy of sane/insane person, The Other are always the ones that suffer a mental illness and are constantly punished and judged upon on something they can’t control.

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Bojack tries to be happy, but he doesn’t know how. First, he is sure that, in order to achieve it, he needs to act on a movie that portrays the life on one of his personal heroes: Secretariat; but when he actually does that, he feels the same. The next logical step on his plan is to win an Oscar to be happy, and when he is (mistakenly) nominated, he feels the same, again. Depression, as Bojack will learn, is not something you can turn on and off as you wish.

He is portrayed as broken person, one that is constantly screwing people over in order to find his own happiness. That kind of person that prefers to ignore the fact that depression is a real issue,  and is rapidly taking over his life, with alcholo and drugs. The one that make all this decisions because of his Otherness.

And is because his understanding of how Otherness works within the limits of society that he places his friend Diane as The Other on his relationship, because she’s not like him, because she thinks differently, and because she considers herself as a feminist, and that is too much for him to handle.

In Bojack Horseman’s world, Diane’s character functions like the perfect  depiction of The Other of men. She is that kind of person that can not and would not accept neither the rape culture surrounding her nor men’s failed attempts to decide over women’s bodies, even if everybody is standing against her. Including Bojack Horseman.

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Princess Carolyn, Bojack’s cat agent, and Mr. Peanutbutter, Diane’s dog husband who’s also an actor, on the other hand, are the perfect example of an Otherness dichotomy, not only because their animal races are typically pitted against each other by society, but because their flaws as characters are labeled as weakness by the society. The former cares too much about other people and the latter is the epitome of carelessness.

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Not only Otherness help us to understand the profound level of discrimination we create over our relationships and the hurtful stereotypes we put on each other when we recognize our differences, it also help us to understand ourselves by seeing us reflected on The Other. That’s something that this TV show taught me.

Bojack’s Horseman ability to create and develop great stories for a bunch of pretty round and full-fleshed characters is just one of its many skills, but to create a sense of understanding of Otherness with them, is just the perfect cherry on top to partner up with this ‘light’ animated TV show.

Me estás matando, Susana, Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates y el doble estándar en el cine

Hoy en día, no es algo del otro mundo saber que a las mujeres y hombres se les juzga continuamente con un doble estándar. Donde a un hombre que se acuesta con muchas personas lo llaman “casanova” a una mujer que hace lo mismo le dicen “zorra”, donde a un hombre que es duro y estricto en el trabajo le llaman “asertivo”, a una mujer con la misma actitud le dicen “perra”.

Como sociedad, no somos capaces de discernir entre lo que está sucediendo frente a nuestros ojos, de los símbolos e imaginarios que tenemos impregnados en la mente. Esto  nos lleva a juzgar sin pensar y a dejarnos manipular por las estructuras paradigmáticas de las personas que nos rodean. Lo mismo sucede en el cine y en la televisión.

No solo reproducimos y creamos representaciones con fuerte carga simbólica y cultural con los personajes que interpretan nuestras historias favoritas, sino que también utilizamos un amplio abanico de herramientas narrativas para juzgarlos.

El doble estándar no diferencia ni edad, ni cultura, ni país y está presente en nuestras series y películas favoritas. En esta entrada hablaré de dos filmes recientes -de dos países diferentes-  que lo trabajaron dentro de sus narrativas de formas similares: Me estás matando, Susana Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates.

Ambas historias comparten aspectos narrativos esenciales para sus historias: la primera película gira alrededor de la pareja formada por Eligio (Gael García Bernal) y Susana (Verónica Echegui), un par de individuos enamorados con suficientes problemas propios como para sabotear su relación numerosas veces. La segunda trata de las parejas formadas por Dave (Zac Efron) y Alice (Anna Kendrick) y Dave (Adam DeVine) y Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), un grupo de personas completamente desubicadas de la realidad y de los individuos que los rodean que terminan siendo parejas en la boda de la hermana menor de ellos.

La presentación de parejas en cine o televisión es una herramienta infalible para comparar personajes y equiparar experiencias, estas películas no son la excepción. De hecho, el contraste entre personajes no solo es la fuerza narrativa que dirige a ambos filmes y donde el doble estándar se hace presente numerosas veces, sino que también es la característica intrínseca con la que ambas historias son capitalizadas.

La idea de encontrar similitudes en las diferencias entre personajes no es nuevo, de hecho es una técnica que, aprovechada correctamente, propicia un estudio interesante de los personajes. Sin embargo, utilizada equivocadamente, como sucede en estos filmes, se convierte en una inmensa lista de motes sexistas y comparaciones sin sustento.

En Me estás matando, Susana Eligio es un mujeriego empedernido que no piensa en otra persona más que en si mismo, mientras que Susana es una mujer que le tiene miedo al compromiso y que, en consecuencia, la motiva a huir y comenzar una relación con otro hombre. Bajo esa noción, la película le coloca a ambos personajes la etiqueta de “engañadores” pero los juzga de forma diferente. Mientras a Eligio no se le recrimina por ninguno de sus actos, a Susana le llueven quejas, reclamos y motes por hacer exactamente lo mismo.

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Aunque ambos filmes, en una primera instancia, colocan en el mismo nivel a sus protagonistas, la narrativa se encarga rápidamente de separarlos con detalles y aspectos -como diálogos, imágenes y silencios- que parecen insignificantes pero que son igual de potentes que el discurso mismo. Esto es una respuesta natural a la normalización que le otorgamos al doble estándar y con el que estamos acostumbrados a lidiar día con día.

Mientras que la reputación de mujeriego de Eligio se pone en tela de juicio por medio de supuestos y diálogos simplistas, a Susana se le recrimina una y otra vez por medio de situaciones penosas y quejas constantes. Como si tener relaciones con muchas personas fuera inherente en los hombres e imperdonable en las mujeres.

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En Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates a Mike y Dave se les llama perdedores y fiesteros, sin embargo nunca se muestran explícitamente las consecuencias de sus actos.  Alice y Tatiana, por otro lado, son  mujeres fiesteras e irresponsables que son presentadas, durante toda la película, como una amenaza imponente capaz de arruinar una boda y que, eventualmente y gracias a una muestra explícita de todos sus actos, termina por suceder.

Mientras Mike y Dave son tachados de irresponsables y obligados únicamente a llevar un par de mujeres  “con valores que se encarguen de enderezarlos y cuidar de ellos” a la boda de su hermana como consecuencia, Alice y Tatiana son las que tienen que responder por sus actos y arreglar todo el desastre que los 4 ocasionan en la boda a la que van.

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Así, Eligio, Mike y Dave representan a todos los hombres que son tachados de mujeriegos  irresponsables que la sociedad nos enseña a normalizar sus actos como típicos del género masculino y que no se les exige que respondan por sus actos.

Susana, Alice y Tatiana, por otro lado, representan a todas las mujeres que necesitan estar a la altura de la etiqueta que se les impone desde del nacimiento de “mujer intocable que es educada con buenos valores” que no tiene -ni debe tener- la capacidad de equivocarse o romperse.

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No está de más recordar el daño que la reproducción de dichos estereotipos ocasiona a la creación de discursos de equidad de género. Por ello, considero que es nuestra responsabilidad como audiencia identificar este doble estándar presente en las películas y series que consumimos y no quedarnos callados sobre ello.

Ron Swanson and the politics of manliness.

I’m pretty sure that one thing we all can agree on right now is that television nowadays is the perfect platform to depict new, and very different, ways of represent people. TV shows now, more than ever, excel at creating true characters with an incredible capacity to be a voice of certain groups of individuals. Now we can see ourselves reflected in the Mauras, the Hannahs, the Leslie Knopes, the Teds, the Barry Allens, even in the Frank Underwoods, all in the interest of fairness and  representation.

Manliness and masculinity certainly have changed too along the years and many manly characters tropes have evolved in pro of a more approachable and well-suited representation that would suit better with today’s gender narratives.

Long gone are the dated representations of the manly man and already worned out Macho trope, defined only by his lack of sensibility, his obsesion with the hero complex and his violent attitudes towards women. Now, a man can be manly whilst recongnizing his own feelings and respecting women, not just because they are women, but because they’re persons too.

I want to invite you to close your eyes and think of an actual manly character that is relevant to his show’s story, and actually share the above featuress. If Ron Swanson went through your mind, then you’re probably right. He is the perfect example of this interesting representation.

If you have lived under a rock and don’t know who he is and what does Parks and Recreation means, let me explain it to you. The show revolves around Leslie Knope, the bubbly and optimistic Deputy of the Parks And Recreation Department of the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. Ron Swanson, on the other hand, is her boss and director of the same department.

Ron is, by any means, a manly character as he adheres to many stereotypically masculine treats. He constantly claims that he has only cried twice in his life, he loves to fish, hunt, camp and to do wood working, he also is very stoic as he stands on a particular point of view on not sharing any kind of feelings to and with anyone.

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If this were any other TV show, Ron’s character could  have easily fallen under the Macho trope, but this is Parks And Recreation, a show that aims to tell stories that are more concerned with depiction, representation and character growth than reproducing stereotypical gender roles. To Ron, manliness is not a synonym of violence towards women.

Ron’s character depiction in fact suggests something very real and relatable, that manliness is actually different for everybody as there is not just one way to be a man, but a handful of features, characteristics and ways to act that can be shaped and molded for each individual.

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He has his own way to understand manliness, he does not cry nor does he shares his feelings, but he doesn’t feel threatened by anyone, specially not by women. He is actually able to recognize the strong influence women have had in his life and the way they helped him to become the man he is now, as he beautifully explains on this quote from season 4:

“I don’t consider my self an anything ’ist, but my life has been shaped by powerful women. My father once told my mother woman was made form the rib of Adam and my mom broke his jaw.

That’s what I think Parks and Recreation is all about, the perfect balance between the depiction of true and rounded characters and their realtionships with each other. Ron’s abilty to aknowledge the strong relationships he has mantained with women all his life it’s just one of many examples of this very idea.

He had a strong mother figure to loook up to, two empowered and determined ex-wives to share his life with, one stubborn and passionate asistant to learn from and an optimist protegee as Leslie Knope to share a friendship with.

I found really refreshing when a TV show I like allows itself to have an incredible pairing, conformed by a man and a woman, that shares a profound level of respect, admiration and caring  between each other like the one Ron and Leslie have.

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They are the ideal depiction of a friendship based on respect, where their genders doesn’t define neither themselves nor their roles within their relationship. He doesn’t need to explain to her how to act and be like a woman in politics the same way she does not tries to change who he is.

If Parks And Recreation has taught us anything is that friendship can trascend gender roles, that stereotypical roles does not define people and that a manly man can, and should, break the mold society is trying to put him into.