You may have heard that Jeffrey Tambor just won another Emmy for Transparent last weekend, in part because of all the media falling all over each other to praise his deep/inspiring/emotional/beautiful/whatever acceptance speech, in which he went on about how sad it is that transgender actors just don’t get hired for trans roles, I mean, what is that? How does this happen, asks the cis man holding his second Emmy for playing a trans woman. I cannot imagine how! Truly! It is a dark and mysterious mystery of mysteriousness!
Look. My hatred for Transparent and everything it stands for is pretty well-documented, but to recap, this is a television show conceived and developed by a cis woman who wants to work through her mommy issues, because, you see, her mom is trans, and there’s just so much to talk about and explore and exploit here. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the main character, a trans woman, is played by a cis man, and they’re gone to great lengths to justify this, using the typical ‘we needed to see what she looked like before she transitioned’ and ‘we needed a big name to anchor the show’ and ‘it was just too hard to find someone’ excuses. It is transphobic from top to bottom for cis people to be telling a story about trans people, down to playing them, because apparently it’s too hard to find trans talent. Except oh wait it’s not, because there are a handful of trans actors given minor, grudging roles to show everyone how magically progressive the show is. We care about trans talent!
That’s the tack Tambor took on Sunday, when he got up on stage to graciously accept his second award for the same role and went on about how he thinks it’s sad that no one ‘gives transgender talent a chance’ and how gee gosh golly he hopes he’s the last cis man to win an award for playing ‘a transgender.’ It was vomitorious and the media loved it, because it got its cake and ate it too, enjoying the fruits of the ‘transgender moment’ without actually being challenged by having any real genuine live trans people present. Tambor got to be all magnanimous about how gosh, they should really include trans people in casting calls, ignoring the fact that he is playing a role he should not be playing, a role that he got because people don’t give a fuck about trans people in Hollywood.
If I sound hot under the collar, I am. I’m over seeing cis people praised for playing at being transgender, and I’m over people refusing to acknowledge and understand why this is a problem. This should be self-evident, and it’s not. Trans people have been struggling for years for social, political, and cultural recognition, and society is happy to throw us little scraps, but not to actually include us as whole human beings. So cis actors get awards over and over and over again for playing trans roles, while trans actors bust their asses trying to get a foot in the door, and are usually turned away. Jen Richards, an actual trans lady, has been told that she isn’t ‘trans enough‘ for a part. Because she doesn’t ‘look trans.’ Because in the eyes of Hollywood, trans women are men in dresses.
Speaking of Jen Richards, if her name sounds familiar, it should: She’s one of the incredibly talented trans women behind Her Story, which is trans media about trans people made by trans people with trans people. (Cis people can watch if they want I guess.) If Her Story sounds familiar, it should: One, it’s excellent and you should watch it, and two, it was nominated for an Emmy. Which it lost. While actual trans women playing actual trans women were up for Emmy contention, two cis men won Emmys for playing women — Tambor in drag as a trans character in Transparent, and Louie Anderson in drag as a cis character in Baskets.
Like really? REALLY? You are so terrified of trans creators that you will reward a man for playing a trans woman, and then you’ll award another man for playing a cis woman, just because? Are we living in an era when the stage is so scandalous and terrifying that women cannot be allowed to set foot on it? Because I kind of thought that was behind us, but apparently I am wrong. These roles are being presented as groundbreaking and progressive, trenchant commentaries on gender, but what they really are is regressive. There is nothing new and novel here, other than the bloated egos of the actors and creators who think they’re doing something mighty new and nifty with themselves.
If Tambor and Soloway and their ilk really give a flying fuck about trans people in Hollywood, he’d do the right thing and walk away from that Emmy. He could have refused it, but he didn’t. He had to take it and get up there and make a nice little speech and get praised for it. He could have sent an actual trans woman to accept it on his behalf, akin to Brando’s move with Sasheen Littlefeather, but he did not. He has too much ego and too much self-satisfaction to be willing to turn away from an award he doesn’t deserve to make am actually meaningful commentary about a transphobic, self-obsessed Hollywood that won’t give trans talent its due.
Image: Jeffrey Tambor, Jennifer Bradford, Flickr