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.


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.


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.