Ali experiments with her gender expressions in several ways throughout the seasons of Transparent, but it’s especially present in the fourth season (which mainly takes place in Israel). Ali’s personal journey towards finding her true ‘self’ becomes a big focus point in the fourth season of Transparent, where Ali’s trying to put her frustrations and thoughts regarding her journey towards understanding her gender identity into words:
[Maura:] What’s going on? [Ali:] I don’t know, I just – I don’t, I don’t feel right. I don’t feel good. [M:] I understand… I felt that way (…) I understand [A:] I just don’t feel good in my body. (…) I don’t feel.. in my body… [M:] Do you think you’re trans? [A:] I… I… I don’t know. I don’t know if I… feel like a woman. Whatever that means
(7:23 i Babar the Borrible)
Ali’s uneasiness of being ‘that kind of woman’ society wants to define her as comes from her having seen Maura being treated very unfairly by society (See The bathroom problem,She’s a woman right? Well he said he has a penis (said posts are underway)), simply because she does not meet the current discourses (defined by the patriarchy) that dictates how one should look and who to love in order to be accepted as a ‘woman’. Ali starts to question everything she knows and becomes more and more aware of how forced we actually are when it comes to “choosing” (well, conform to) certain categories based on binary understandings:
Seems like it’s about human rights to me (…) the arabs and jews. Just blacks and whites, men and women. Fucking binary. Everywhere you look, screwing things up
(13:28 in I Never Promised You a Promised Land)
Ali is therefore to be seen as a representative for the many people, who identify as in-between the narrow identity-/gender- and sexual categories which society is currently founded on. Ali, as well as Transparent in general, tries to break with those neither-nor categories:
In another attempt to stir the pot and challenge traditional binary separations of ‘men’ and ‘women’ (et al.), Ali goes to the ‘men’s’ side of the Wailing Wall in Israel, since, as she points out, this separation gives more power to ‘men’ as a category (they have three times the space ‘women’ have), which she refuses to accept:
This act might not just be because she is in a state of rebellion, but also because she questions her own gender identity, which means that she can, the same way she could when she wore the strap-on (Strap-on, strap-off) come to feel the privileges that comes with being a ‘man’ and only by doing this, will it be possible to dismantle the master’s house – not with the master’s own tools of course (oh, how we LOVE Audre Lorde). Since the core project of Transparent is to challenge patriarchy’s dominant societal position – and the suppression it causes.
As shown in What is normal? // Nomi, Nomi represents an example of a transwoman, whose storyline isn’t based on the fact that she is not cisgendered. Maura (Jeffrey Tambor – buhu), on the other hand, is an example of how Transparent has embraced the fact that she is a transwoman, making it central to her storyline, since she starts transitioning late in life, and we, the audience, is invited to join her journey towards finding herself and becoming an ‘intelligible’ woman.
The first time we are introduced to the woman Maura, who was previously shown as the male ‘Mort’ is through an establishing shot of Los Angeles’ LGBT(Q)-center. After, we are further invited to participate in her life. We are presented with a big, more or less empty room. At the center, 10-15 people are gathered in a circle, which suggests they are all participating in a support group:
In the following shot, we see a close-up of some of the people at the meeting, which creates a feeling of actually being present and participating, not just looking at the people present. With this, we are in feeling with the characters via a subjective camera:
The camera continues to pan, shedding light to the very different faces of the participants who all make up a diverse group of individuals: young and old, different skin colors, men and women.
In relation to this, it is important to note, that Transparent portrays the LGBTQ-environment, and especially trans* people in a relatable and diverse way, and that all trans*, queer (people who belong under a much broader umbrella than the one provided by the heterosexual matrix) characters are played by people who lives these life in real life (the only cisgendered to play a transwoman is Tambor as Maura) This is definitely part of creating credibility in the storylines and stories that Transparent are portraying (Soloway in Moylan 2016).
Then we hear a rather deep, ‘maskuline’ voice telling us about an episode in Target, while the other people (and their reactions) are still in the frame:
(21:29 in Pilot) (21:39 in Pilot)
While telling the story, the camera reaches the person talking. The viewer meets Maura for the first time (before her children):
Maura, who we were previously introduced to as ‘Mort’ has long, dark brown hair, earrings, make-up and a purple dress. In other words, she looks different from the first time we saw her. “Thank you for your share, Maura” (22:24 i Pilot), says the woman who is leading this support group. ‘Mort’ is Maura – and we have been invited to her support group for trans* people. This is a very welcomed first!
The fact that we, the viewers, are introduced to the Maura before her kids can be seen as a well planned strategy by the creator. This is a tool that, according to Mittell, creates a relation between the viewer and the protagonist/character since ‘we know something others don’t’. Furthermore, Maura opens up and talks about very personal feelings and experiences in a fragil (and realistic) situation, which underlines this potential character engagement that occurs when we are given access to her thoughts, feelings and conceptual universe (Mittell 2015: 129).
In relation to ‘queer gaze’, Soloway explains:
“I can tell a woman directed this because I feel held by something that is invested in my feelings. In my body. That my emotions are being prioritized over the actions”
(Soloway 2016: 19:23)
This quote makes clear exactly what is happening in the abovementioned scene with Maura in the support group and her ‘self outing’ to the viewer. The subjective camera opens up a space for us to enter her thoughts in a brilliant way. This is an act of trust that trusts in ‘I see you seeing me’ and in this way the viewer becomes part of the journey that Mauras has just started. Which, among other things, includes ‘coming out’ (see our post on ‘Coming Out’ which is underway) to her children.
This very intimate insight into Maura’s thoughts (in the very first episode) is part of creating an understanding of as well as empathy with Maura as a person. We are part of her most vulnerable journey (‘transition’) away from a life dictated by the heteronorm. We see Maura. We are not looking at her. This is an extremely important difference. Maura continues:
(…) One more thing. I made a commitment here last week that I was going to come out to my kids and I didn’t do it… Because it just wasn’t time, you know? But I will and it will be soon, I promise you. I promise you. I promise you [raises her right hand]
(23:07 in Pilot)
The same way Maura opens up to the viewer about her being Maura and not ‘Mort’ as her children wrongfully believe, she also promises the viewer that she will reveal her true self to her children and the rest of her family. We are therefore in on her secret. This effect (operational reflexivity mixed with intertextual references) appeals to a:
(…) til et præeksisterende kulturelt fællesskab, hvor referencerne giver mening for tv-seeren, fordi de er genkendelige og har en funktion. Mittell opfatter den operationelle refleksivitet som selvbevidste virkemidler der indbyder seeren til både at engagere sig i og værdsætte fortællingens udformning
(…) to a preexisting cultural community, where the references makes sense to the viewer, since they are recognisable and has a function. Mittel(l) sees the operational reflexivity as conscious tools that invites the viewer to engage in – and appreciate the way the story is being told
This means that the viewer engage with the series on a deeper level which works to make sure that we potentially feel ‘obligated’ to continue to follow the Pfeffermans and their lives to know what happens to them. At the same time, this means that the viewer feels compassion and empathy for Maura as a character (Mittell 2015: 50).
This scene helps the viewer to get an insight into the division Maura feels – both when it comes to family and society – who expect her to be ‘Mort’ (which means death in France). It is made clear here, that Maura lives two different lives – and has done for decades, which becomes more and more clear throughout the series.
Very early on in the show, Transparent portrays gender as being everything but pinned down- it is performative (as Butler talks about). The division Maura feels is further substantiated in the following frame:
The tiles in the background looks like bars and might therefore symbolize imprisonment (something the series continues to do throughout). This can be seen as a symbolic imprisonment of Maura and other trans* people caused by a cisgendered society that constantly punishes those who do not fit the frames of a heteronormative society. They become the opposite of ‘intelligible genders’.
Exactly because trans* people are forced to be aware of the necessity of performing ones gender a certain way according to which community/space they are in (not to say, cisgender people don’t perform their gender – but they are under less societal pressure) – and the expectations towards gender of that space, the LGBT(Q)-center is an example of a safe space, where the frames are wider – and the tables have turned. In here, for a little while, they are not the minority.
This might also be a reason why some trans* people choose only to live ‘openly’ in closed spaces as fx in this support group.
Both Nomi and Maura are presented as complex characters who are not solemnly defined by the discrimination that is often used to portray trans* people in the medias. An examples is Boys Don’t Cry (1999) that is one of the most acknowledge film about a young trans man’s tragic destiny (based on true events). Hilary Swank’s oscar nominated portrayal of Brandon Teena’s fight for love and a life as the boy he is ends brutally when he is raped and killed by his girlfriend’s brothers.
Soloway, Jill (2015-): Transparent. Pilot, Amazon
Moylan, Brian (2016): Transparent’s Jill Soloway: I was ignorant about trans politics.The Guardian. Found here
Haastrup, Helle Kannik (2014): Blog: De nye tv-serier. Udfordring og fordybelse. Rusk. Found here
Mittell, Jason (2015): Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York University Press. ISBN: 978-0-8147-7135-8
Soloway, Jill (2016): The Female Gaze. Master Class, TIFF 2016. Listen here
The reason we focus on the importance of a new and different form of representation in the media (‘queer gaze’) is articulated very precisely by Hernando Fuentes (Alfonso Hererra) – a supporting character in Sense8. During an art-lecture, he questions some of the things we normally accept as truths. One is that there are many different races, where he points to the fact that there is only one: the human race. Other examples are of so-called truths are: cisgenderness, heterosexuality, and patriarchy as the ‘normal’, as well as the structures that are part of otherising minorities.
Very explicit and boundary-crossing pictures of Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) and Hernando having sex have been published. This means Lito has been ‘outet’ (forced to ‘come out of the closet’) as homosexual by the media. Hernando realizes what has happened during a lecturer because one of his students makes sure the image is casted on to the big screen.
Rather than panicking, Hernando chooses to use this opportunity to point to some important issues when it comes to art, objectivisation, fetichising, and ‘the gaze’: “Art (…) is a language of seeing and being seen…” (12:59 in Happy F*cking New Year).
This means, Hernando, a homosexual man, gets a voice. He talks about how making art to make one’s own story heard is not necessary received with positivity by the receiver, since this person will always view the art from their own point of view.
(…) this is where the relationship between subject and object reverses. And what was seen… now reveals the seer. Because the eyes of the beholder find not just beauty where they want but also shallowness, ugliness, confusion… prejudices. Which is to say the beholder will always see what they want to see (…)
(14:27 in Happy F*cking New Year)
Otherizing isn’t just about the fact that there are people who fit the category “the Other” (Hall 2013: 247), but the fact that this way of ‘thinking inside of boxes’ (boxes we are all part of reproducing) makes them ‘the Other’, simply because the boxes are not wide enough.
(14:54 in Happy F*cking New Year)
In this way, he doesn’t just get to defend himself and thereby receive a voice, he gets to expose the ones who are not able to look beyond prejudice created by the heterosexual discourse: the cisgendered, heterosexual man as the definition of human. Because of this discourse, other categories such as women, trans* people, homosexuals are produced in his image – and treated accordingly:
[w]hereas someone (…) with a set of eyes capable of seeing beyond societal conventions, beyond their defining biases, such a beholder might see an image of… two men caught in an act of pleasure. Erotic to be sure. But also… vulnerable. (…) both of them connected to the moment, to each other. To love. And as I have suggested before in this class… art is love made public
(14:13 i Happy F*cking New Year)
In this way, he address why art that breaks with the structures of heterosexual matrix is extremely important. A matrix that permeates society and defines us all – even the white, cisgendered, heterosexual man – and keeps us captive in those subject positions that patriarchal discourses offer. By doing that, we become able to embrace the collapse of society (and of the world as we know it). (For more examples of that check out the post on Pride, which is in production right now).
The above mentioned spells out why these progressive tv-/streaming series are so important to the social debate. They break with ‘naturalized truths’, that maintain peoples in stages of otherness. Through characters that represents this otherness an opportunity for engagement is created so that even a cisgendered, heterosexual, (white) male is able to get a glimpse of what those ‘dangerous’ lives that threatens us and ‘life as we know it’ are like.
Straczynski, J. Michael, Wachowski, Lana & Wachowski, Lilly (2015-): Sense8. Netflix.: Happy F*cking New Year
Hall, Stuart (2013): The Work of Representation. SAGE Publications. The Open University, London. ISBN: 978-1-8-84920-547-4
Since gender is constructed, equality is about transforming culture in a way that does not limit nor dictate either boys or girls to do their gender in a certain way. We therefore find, that it is crucial to involve men and masculinity in the fight for gender equality. Not just as advocates, as many have been, but also on a theoretical level. Because, if hyperfemininity is unhealthy for girls, how healthy is hypermasculinity for boys (and women)?
The Masculine Identity
Kimmel thinks, it is crucial to involve masculinity in the feminist approach to gender. This, because masculinity should be redefined in a way, that dis-associates it from violence, power, and entitlement, so that we as a society can protect both men and women. Political researcher and teacher Dr. Caroline Heldman supports this in the documentary The Mask You Live In (2015) (Looks at how our limited definition of masculinity hurts boys, men, and society at large)
We raise boys to become men whose very identity is based on rejecting the feminine and then we are surprised when they don’t see women as being fully human (…) we set boys up to grow into men who disrespect women at a fundamental level
(Heldman i Newsom 2015: 27:35)
Kimmel points to the fact, that the debate about masculinity already exists, the problem is, that it is invisible. He emphasises this by asking:
(…) what gender comes to mind when I invoke the following current American problems: “teen violence,” “gang violence,” “suburban violence,” “drug violence,” “violence in schools”? And what gender comes to mind when I say the words “suicide bomber” or “terrorist hijacker”?
(Kimmel 2017: 9)
The answer is simple: men. Young men. From lower social classes. Trouble is, according to Kimmel, that the debate surrounding this fail to mention that the idea of masculinity is an important factor (ibid.). Especially the hegemonic definition of masculinity is a problem for men’s self-image:
(…)young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant, father, of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, a recent record in sports … Any male who fails to qualify in any one of these ways is likely to view himself – during moments at least – as unworthy, incomplete, and inferior
Kimmel argues that the media reflects gender identities that already exists in society today by having ‘his’ and ‘her’ media (Kimmel 2017: 352). In relation to this, he points out that women can read and watch ‘his media’, but men perceive ‘her media’ as degrading and as a thread to his masculinity (ibid.). Language too, is a factor that creates inequality between genders, since role models such as parents or coaches use phrases like ‘You play like a girl’, ‘Don’t be a girl about it’, ‘Man up’, og ‘Soft crap’? (Newsom 2015: 43:25). Serano supports this, since she thinks true equality can only be achieved, when boys learn to embrace ‘girl’s stuff’: “Because male pride is not really about pride. It’s about fear – the fear of being seen as feminine. And that’s why “girl stuff” is so dangerous” (Serano 2016: 316).
Newsom, Jennifer Siebel (2015): The Mask You Live In, The Representation Project.
Kimmel, Michael (2017): The Gendered Society. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN: 9780190260323
Serano, Julia (2016): Whipping Girl – a Transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Berkeley CA, Seal Press. ISBN-13: 978-1-58005-622-9
First Wave Feminists were inspired by the early fight for women’s rights in 1770-1850, that included a spirit of resistance and rebellion in the fight for independence from Great Britain (which resulted in the Declaration of Independence in 1776) – fought by men and women. It also included the release of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Thoughts on Education of Daughters (1787) in England and the French Revolution (1789) (Chakravarty and Mortensen 2016: 9), and the abolitionist movement in the States, in which African Americans fought for liberation from ‘white supremacy’ and racism from the 1830s to 1870. From theabolitionist movement emerged prominent Women’s Rights activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) og Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) who became prominent figures within the Women’s Rights Movement (Web). One problem within the movement was:
[w]hile men led antislavery organizations and lectured, women were not allowed to hold these positions. When women defied these rules and spoke out against slavery in public, they were mocked
By the end of the 1830s many women had achieved experience as leaders, organizers, writers, and public speakers, despite the discrimination they were met with. These experiences became vital when it came to creating a new movement that fought for women’s rights (Lange(a) 2015).
First wave (1848-1920)
This lead to, among other things, The Seneca Falls Meeting in 1848, which has later been considered the meeting that sparked life into the women’s movement; The Suffrage Movement, whereby the fight for women’s rights reached both a national and international level of organizing. The idea for this convention already occured in 1840 at the World Anti-Slavery Conference in London, where Americans Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott participated (early American and British activists continued to stay in touch and be inspired by eachother) (Web).
Women were still being discriminated against at that time since they had no rights to economy, children, nor property and still did not have equal opportunities for education (Lange(b)).
Subsequently, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was founded in 1869 (Web). The fourteenth alteration in the constitution guaranteed the protection of the rights of all citizens and the suffragettes therefore believed that women had the right to vote. They tried to register as voters for the 1872 election. Susan B. Anthony succeeded in voting but was later arrested because of it. Her unsuccessful defence was to argue that she was put in front of a judge based on laws made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, for men, and against women. This was evident, she argued, because of the fact that women were not considered citizens, since they were not allowed to vote (which was the right of any citizen) (Susan B. Anthony).
Sadly, they did not win the right to vote and therefore had to develop other strategies (Lange(c) 2015). They spoke in favour of birth control, education for African American children, laws for the protection of women in the workplace and so forth (Lange(c) 2015).
After 1913 the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) (an organisation formed in 1890 by the merging of NWSA og AWSA) broke up since a small part of the organization wanted to follow the methods of the militant, British suffragists (Lange(b) 2015): The National Society for Women’s Suffrage (NSWS) founded in 1871 (Andersen 2016).
By 1916 most suffragist organizations were in favour of a change in constitution that allowed women the right to vote. In 1920, the League of Women Voters was formed (Web) and women in States was granted the vote the same year (Chakravarty og Mortensen 2016: 40).
In 1923 suffragist leader Alice Poul suggested an alteration in the constitution, ERA, that would guarantee legal equal rights for all: “Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” (Web) – Once again, with no luck!
The participation of African American women in women’s movements is often devalued (Lange(d) 2015). Dr. in English Literature, writer, feminist, and activist, bell hooks, elaborate on this, when she points out how former slave, abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) addressed the double standards imposed on African American women in her 1867 speech. This was in large due to the fact that the African American fight for equal rights ultimately was the fight for African American men’s rights. On the hand, working with white feminist organisations meant tolerating and accepting their racism (hooks 1990: 3). White feminist also saw African American women as a threat to their own womanhood (hooks 1990: 130). At the same time, white women’s fight for work opportunities did not include African American women, since they were seen as competitors. White women did not wish to compete against – or work with – African American women (hooks 1990: 132).
The Time In Between 1st and 2nd Wave
After winning the vote, a backlash happened. One De Beauvoir questions in 1949:
Enough ink has been spilled in quarreling over feminism, and perhaps we should say no more about it. It is still talked about, however, for the voluminous nonsense uttered during the last century seems to have done little to illuminate the problem. After all, is there a problem? And if so, what is it? Are there women, really?
(De Beauvoir 1997: 13)
De Beauvoir points to the fact, that women are ‘the Other’, since she is the opposite of man, the subject, the absolute (De Beauvoir 1997: 16). She wonders why women continue to allow for a continuation of being seen as ‘the Other’, when they are in fact the majority.
She finds, that one explanation is, that women had not been able to gather as a group since they lack their own history, religion and work/interest community. This, because women live of and with the man – and hence; separated from her sisters. Women were depended on man because of abode, economic interests and (man’s) social position.
De Beauvoir, Simone (1997): The Second Sex. Vintage Classics, London. ISBN: 9780099744214
Lange(a), Allison (2015): Women’s Rights Movement Emerges from the Abolitionist Movement. Found at
Lange(b), Allison (2015): Suffrage and the Seneca Falls Convention. Found at
Lange(c), Allison (2015): The Legal Case of Minor v. Happersett. Found at
Lange(d), Allison (2015): National Association of Colored Women. Found at
Mortensen, Hanne & Chakravarty, Dorthe (2016): De danske kvinders historie. Aarhus C, Systime. ISBN: 978-87-616-5846-3