The time has come to say a fond shalom to “Transparent.” The Amazon series concludes this Friday, with a special musical episode that wraps up the tale of the Pfefferman family without its central character, Maura, who began the first season as Mort, a grumpy Jewish patriarch with a big secret. Jeffrey Tambor, who played Maura with an appealing grimace, was fired from the show last year, after allegations that he had sexually harassed transgender women on set. (Tambor responded, in a denial, that the Amazon Studios investigation into the accusations was “deeply flawed and biased toward the toxic politicized atmosphere that afflicted our set.”) The show joins a trio of high-profile TV series, including “House of Cards” and “Roseanne,” that has had to scoop out its protagonists after its stars were dropped because of objectionable behavior. In all three cases, a fictional sudden death did the trick. Rest in power, Frank Underwood, Roseanne Conner, and Maura Pfefferman.

With or without Maura, it’s worth taking stock of the changes that have occurred during the lifespan of “Transparent.” It premièred in late September, 2014, four months after Time announced a “Transgender Tipping Point,” on a cover featuring the actress Laverne Cox, from “Orange Is the New Black.” “Transparent” was part of the onrush of trans visibility that followed, in which Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, “The Danish Girl” went to the Oscars, Hari Nef became the first openly transgender model to sign a worldwide contract, and Ryan Murphy created “Pose,” which tells the story of the New York ball scene in the late eighties and early nineties, featuring the largest cast of transgender performers in television history.

The pop-culture milestones came alongside more frustrating—and often deeply disheartening—fits and starts when it came to legal recognition for everyday trans Americans living their lives and exercising their rights. President Obama ended the ban on transgender people in the military, only for President Trump to reinstate it once in office. North Carolina’s discriminatory “bathroom” bill was signed, then blunted in the courts. And the transgender murder rate in the United States, especially for trans women of color, remains dangerously high—homicide has claimed eighteen victims so far this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Just this week, the actress Patricia Arquette, whose transgender sister, Alexis, died in 2016, spoke in her Emmy acceptance speech about her sadness that “trans people are still being persecuted.”

Perhaps the most profound shift is in the way that mainstream America talks about gender. Since we met the Pfeffermans, “cisgender” has moved from tongue-twisting gender-studies jargon to a common descriptor, like “straight” is to “gay.” The gender-neutral pronoun “they/them” went from a grammarian’s nightmare to a relatively unremarkable presence in Twitter bios and even in the Associated Press style book. Gender-neutral bathrooms are more frequently in use (including here at Condé Nast), and the angst they once inspired now reads as Fox News-addled fulminating. And the concept of identifying as nonbinary seems to be second nature to everyone under twenty, with a growing number of celebrities (Sam Smith, Ruby Rose, Jonathan Van Ness) announcing their gender nonconformity.

“Transparent” has kept pace with the evolution, in its blithely idiosyncratic way. In the finale, Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), the youngest of the Pfefferman offspring, now goes by Ari and uses gender-neutral pronouns. “Whoever you are, thank God you’re here,” her mother, Shelly (Judith Light), says at the funeral home. It’s a natural progression for the character, echoing that of the series’ creator, Jill Soloway, who has come out as nonbinary in real life. (Maura was based on Soloway’s parent.) But “Transparent,” to its immense credit, never saw itself as a teaching tool, hewing instead to the hyper-specific milieu of progressive Los Angeles Jews with boundary issues and tasteful homes. As Emily Nussbaum wrote in her review of the second season, the show “would have won polite praise even if it were merely a piece of well-made agitprop—a TED Talk on trans identity. Instead, it dived, quick and confident, into murkier waters, exploring themes less comforting but more interesting than ‘love makes a family’ sloganeering.” As it happens, “love makes a family” sloganeering is an unfortunate hallmark of “Pose,” which frequently veers into teachable, after-school-special territory.

“Transparent” did address hot topics in queer culture, including Israeli pinkwashing and the exclusion of trans women from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. But it did so in an understated, free-associative comedic style. None of the Pfeffermans ever flew into a transphobic rage, only to have an inspiring change of heart. When Maura came out to her breathtakingly dysfunctional adult children, in the first season, they more or less shrugged and proceeded to demolish their own marriages and romantic relationships. Soloway’s political agenda was more pointed off camera, with a “transfirmative action” program aimed at nurturing trans writers and directors. Trans actors—notably Alexandra Billings and Trace Lysette (one of Tambor’s accusers)—also became more prominent. Five years after its première, the fact that Tambor was even hired to play Maura, rather than a trans actor, is passé, and it’s hard to imagine the next “Danish Girl” starring a cisgender man. (Or not so hard. We’ll see.)

At the start of the third season, Maura connected with a young black trans woman while volunteering at a suicide hotline, and it seemed possible that “Transparent” might shift its focus to a cross-section of trans characters, in the way that “Orange Is the New Black” used its privileged protagonist as a gateway. But the show stuck with the oblivious, self-destructive Pfeffermans, and it expanded on its own terms. Judith Light grew Shelly, Maura’s ex-wife, into a full-bodied creation, and she pretty much owns the finale, in which she sings a number called “Your Boundary Is My Trigger.” (The fact that this phrase is even remotely comprehensible is another testament to how the world has changed since 2014.) “Transparent” stretched back in time, to Weimar Germany, and across borders, to Israel-Palestine. Its warped beauty was in its peculiarity, which had as much to do with Judaism as with gender. No other show I can think of has understood the exact ways that Jewish families drive one another crazy and spin trauma into shtick. The final scenes of the finale make use of the terms “bart mitzvah,” a gender-neutral version of the coming-of-age ceremony, and “joyocaust,” a concept of Shelly’s creation, a kind of reverse massacre that involves singing and dancing and brightly colored costumes. That was “Transparent”: zany, cringe-y, daring, and queer in all possible senses.

Sourse: newyorker.com

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