The Small Screen: Transparent

By David-Elijah Nahmod, Sept. 11, 2014.

When Mort (Jeffrey Tambor), a long-divorced man in late middle age, asks his grown children to come see him, they all assume he’s going to tell them that he has cancer.

It turns out Mort wants to sell the house. He professes to love his three children and appears to be in a great deal of pain. After the kids leave, Mort steps into his bedroom, and when he steps back out a moment later, he’s wearing a floor length woman’s housedress.

Mort, we find out soon after, is about to become known as Maura. At a transgender support group she bemoans the fact that she was unable to come out to her children.

As the story progresses, the revelation that Maura is transgender turns out to be a defining moment for the family, and Maura’s life is not the only one that changes.

“One family, no apologies” is the tag line printed across Amazon’s promotional poster for the series of 10 half hour episodes that make up the show’s freshman season.

Transparent is written and directed by Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under) and is being described as a “dark comedy.” Judith Light, fondly remembered for her roles on One Life to Live and Who’s The Boss, co-stars as Shelley, Maura’s long-suffering ex-wife.

Light, who was recently seen on the TBS reboot of Dallas, is well known for her support of the LGBT community — a stand the actress took long before it was safe or “cool” to do so. Light spoke to Echo about Transparent and about her unparalleled support for equality.

Echo: What inspired your early support for the LGBT community?

Light: My friends were dying. When I saw the homophobic, bigoted response to AIDS, when I saw how my friends were being treated, I needed to say something. What was happening was unconscionable. I wasn’t a lone voice: other people like Elizabeth Taylor were also speaking up very powerfully and helping to heal the community.

Echo: Were you ever concerned, back during the ’80s, that taking this position might hurt your career?

Light: We form our own families. This was my family, and they were being treated reprehensibly. People wrote to me and said, “we’ll never watch you again.” So be it; I did this for my soul.

Echo: What does the LGBT community mean to you?

Light: I want to be a caregiver, like them. I want to be like the people who inspire me. I look at the lesbian community — how present and powerful they were in caring for gay men with AIDS — they were remarkable, I’d never seen anything like it. This is my truth; it’s my experience.

Echo: Can you describe Transparent?

Light: It’s really out there! You’ll love the people. Jeffrey Tambor is amazing! Amazon is taking a big chance, but people are going to end up loving this family. What’s universal about the series is that everyone has an issue in their family. Maura does something courageous that changes everyone’s lives. Everyone can change to live an authentic life.

Echo: And now you support the trans community?

Light: Absolutely. This is the LGBTQ community, the queer community. Transgender people are teaching us to investigate and study what real gender identity means. The world has never looked at this before. The trans community [is rife with] role models, they are teaching us about that.

Echo: Can you tell us about your character Shelley?

Light: She’s somebody [who] wants to be heard. She wants to be understood, she wants so much for her own life to be different. She still loves her ex-husband, and is now with a husband who has dementia. She’s trying to get a different life and doesn’t know what to do. At times she’s very lonely and deeply sorrowful.

Look for all 10 episodes of Transparent on Amazon Prime Instant Video beginning Sept. 26. –E

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