Transparent

*I have an important test coming up this Saturday, and I haven’t had time to make mental health related posts for this week, so I will show you one of my unpublished TV reviews. It’s for the Amazon show Transparent

Transparent season 2 opens with a new set of family dilemmas, gender identity issues, and sibling love. Maura, formerly known as Morten, is discovering that being a female is more than just changing your sex. It’s about understanding gender norms, societal expectations, and privilege. For instance, there is one scene where Maura is with her transgender friends Davina and Yorna at a nightclub. While her friends get chosen by men to dance with them, Maura is left to dance by herself. Her friends are seen as prettier by society’s standards, while she is seen as older and unattractive. Another scene is when Maura is in her room at Davina’s apartment and Davina’s boyfriend comes and suggests modifications she can do to be more “womanly.” She is shocked and offended at a number of beauty expectations. Not only does she receive criticism from males, she also receives criticism from females. At the Idyllwild Wimmin’s Festival, she feels unwelcome by the other women festival goers because she is not a “natural born woman.” She is attacked around a campfire when she tries to understand from the other female festival goers why being a transwomen is considered offensive to them and seen as not being a “true” woman.
Maura’s has learned the hard way that being a woman is more than just dressing up, wearing cosmetics, having hips and breasts. It’s about acknowledging the male privilege she took for granted when she was male, and realizing that society has expectations on what it means to be “female.” It comes to as a shock to her because now she’s in a gender identity crisis. She’s not male but she’s not necessarily female either. Who exactly is she?

Josh is beaten up by life this season. His son, Colton, (that he had with his teenage babysitter, Rita) is staying with him and his pregnant girlfriend, Rabbi Raquel. All seems hunky-dory until his son reveals that his adoptive parents want to visit him. This gets Josh nervous because his son’s parents are popular conservative, Christian televangelists, the complete opposite of him. To get ready for their arrival, Josh persuades Raquel to wear his Grandma Rose’s ring and say they are engaged so they make a good impression. She grumpily agrees to it because she doesn’t understand why they can’t be truthful to them, but for the sake of Colton, she does it. The day Colton’s parents arrive, it’s a disaster. Morten has a surprise visit wearing a dress, his parents find out Raquel is pregnant, and his father admonishes Josh for getting her pregnant because of what happened with Colton. Morten comes to the rescue and defends Josh by replying that they donated a huge sum of money to Colton’s family ministry in return for adopting him. After this scenario, Josh decides to let Colton go back home and Raquel has a miscarriage. Unfortunately, their relationship does not last, and Raquel leaves.

I sympathize for Josh this season. He lost his biological son, his potential son, and his girlfriend in a domino effect. That would make anyone feel destroyed. Even though I sympathize, his reactions to these events are a product of his upbringing. As great as his father Maura and his mother Shelly are, they allowed a teenage Josh to be abused by his babysitter and they coddled him by keeping it a secret that he had a child. It doesn’t help that Josh is unaware of how his behavior and how his actions affect others.

Sarah is a mess. In the first episode, oldest sibling Sarah breaks up with her wife Tammy after the wedding because she was afraid of reliving the same, boring life she had in her first marriage. Things go downhill after that event. She is jealous that her ex-husband has a new girlfriend and accidently breaks his girlfriend’s expensive eyeshadow palette. During Yom Kippur, she apologizes and asks her ex-wife Tammy for forgiveness, in which Tammy rebukes it. As all of these events are happening, she smokes a ton of pot and hooks up with her dealer. The positive growth that Sarah experiences this season is discovering her sexuality, specifically her preference for BDSM, and realizing that no one really cares that she called her marriage off to Tammy.

I like that the writers show Sarah’s flaws in all its messy glory. For some people, watching Sarah is like watching a car crash happen. For me, it’s watching someone fall and be reborn again. Even though there are ways that she could have been proactive in preventing the events that happened to her, it had to happen in order for her to grow.

Ali is at her strongest this season. She is taking gender studies classes and is considering getting her Masters at UCLA. Also, she is exploring a romantic relationship with her best friend Syd. Despite all the positivity, she is unsure whether she wants to be in a monogamous relationship and has an increasing attraction to her mentor, Cherry, a poet/women’s studies professor. In the first season, Ali was a loose cannon. She threw tantrums about her parents allowing her to cancel her Bat Mitzvah when she was younger, she didn’t take responsibility for her actions and unknowingly used people. Now she has a focus, she wants to finish her schooling and she takes responsibility for herself and other people. I’m glad that her character is maturing because it’s a definite difference from last season.

A unique aspect of this season is the introduction of Grandma Rose, the mother of Maura and the grandmother of the three Pfefferman children. We see her life as a young girl with her transgender brother, Gittel, and her mother, struggling to live under Nazi rule Germany. Rose is a curious, free-spirited girl who looks up to her older brother, a product of the liberal Weimer Republic. Together, Rose and he perform abstract, controversial (for the time) plays with his friends and explore the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, an early private sexology research institute in Germany. Despite the fun times, Nazi rule is growing, and Rose’s mother is pressuring her and Gittel to leave for America.

This story arc fascinated me because I was able to see the beginnings of the Pfefferman family lineage in action. Furthermore, it connected how the past affects the present and suggests a possibility on how Maura is the way she is.

Season 2 is too short. It furthered explored issues that transgender people face such as gender dysphoria, depression, and anxiety. I’ve heard about these issues, but I’ve never seen them played out until now. I highly recommend watching this season if you watched the first season, and if you haven’t watched the show at all, to start. It’s tender, poignant, and funny at the same time.

Photo Courtesy: By Mingle Media TV [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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