Before I even get started here, let me just quickly point out the fact that, as of writing this, Bruce Jenner has not, in any way, said he was transgender or that he was transitioning or anything. No amount of media speculation, obsession, or bullying can decide who Bruce Jenner is. Maybe he is trans. Maybe he’ll ask us to use female pronouns and we will welcome him to our community. Or maybe he’s not trans. It doesn’t matter. If there is something to tell, he will tell us when he is ready. His identity is his to share, not anyone else’s to determine.
That, itself, is an important enough concept to warrant its own post, but this post is about Jill Soloway, not Bruce Jenner. Everyone’s favorite cisgender (not-transgender) teller of trans stories. Jill Soloway, creator of Amazon’s Golden Globe winning Transparent. The show with everyone’s favorite “Moppa.”
I’ll admit it, up until yesterday, I was a big Transparent fan. When I first heard about the show, before it was available for streaming via Amazon Prime, I went through my normal reaction to a cisgender (male) actor, Jeffrey Tambor, playing a transgender woman. I was angry. Trans characters should be played by trans actors. And trans stories should be written and told by trans people. These are our stories to tell. Our lives and stories are not for cis entertainment or appropriation or profit.
But I watched Transparent anyway. I gave it a chance. And I liked it. A lot actually. I liked it not because of the trans story it was telling, but because it didn’t feel like it was telling a trans story. It was telling a cis story. It was telling the story of Maura’s family and how fucked they are. She was the grounded parent of three selfish adult children. Then the show won at the Golden Globes. Speeches were made by both Soloway and Tambor. Good speeches, actually, saying all the “right things.” They talked about trans people, mentioned Leelah Alcorn, etc etc. I overlooked the stuff that was problematic about the show and gave it a pass. I even vouched for it and recommended it to friends.
I regret this now.
The one time I’ve given a pass instead of sticking to my gut, I got burned.
Yesterday, Jill Soloway posted this gem to Facebook:
Yes, that’s ally-of-the-year Jill Soloway poking fun at Bruce Jenner’s gender and the speculation of him being trans. Using being transgender as a joke. Some ally. She should know better. She should be speaking out against others doing this. Instead, she’s joining in.
Now, I’m sure straight cisgender men everywhere will go ahead and break this down for us trans people that we have no sense of humor and she’s an ally and she has a trans parent whom she supports very deeply and blah blah blah, but the reality is this shit hurts. A lot. “With friends like these” and all that. If she truly cared about trans people beyond her own “Moppa,” this post never would have happened.
Trans people are constantly the punchline to jokes. In most cases, there isn’t even a fully formed joke. The formula is little more than “trans = lolz.” Why does this relatively tame joke hurt so much? It hurts because she was supposed to be our ally. She conned many of us into trusting her, albeit begrudgingly.
When you’re transgender, you go through every day of your life with the fear that all your friends, family, and coworkers who are nice to you and “completely support” you are actually laughing at you behind your back. You never truly shake feeling like you’re their joke. Jill Soloway’s post yesterday confirms all those fears and suspicions. They are talking about you and they are laughing about your life. You are their joke. It’s not just in your head, it’s real.
Is it really so much to ask to not be a punchline? To not have our lives be a joke? To be treated be as human? If even our “friends,” can’t resit, then I guess we are just asking too much.
I learned something from Jill Soloway. I will never ever trust or give a pass to a cisgender person telling trans stories. I will never say “but she gets it!” She doesn’t. And the next cis person who comes along won’t either.