Back in October, things got a bit testy between Jill Soloway, the creator of Amazon’s wonderful series Transparent, and Jenji Kohan of Orange Is the New Black during a New Yorker Festival panel on the state and future of LGBTQ TV. At issue was the question of whether one’s identity necessarily had any connection with one’s skill at producing art related to that identity—a rather ancient bugaboo in art criticism, but one made newly relevant by the sudden (and greatly welcome) advent of transgender characters in the media. Soloway insisted that she could not imagine continuing to make a show about a trans woman (Maura, played by Jeffrey Tambor) without having a trans woman on the writing staff, arguing that “it’s absolutely necessary, and it’s gonna change the show.” Kohan, while valuing diversity in the writers room, bristled at the idea of hiring a writer because of her identity rather than her skillset: “What you are in life shouldn’t automatically make you what you do in your art. It doesn’t necessarily translate,” Kohan said.
Soloway remained steadfast in her view; however, finding a trans woman who was also qualified to write for prestige television was apparently not easy—unsurprisingly, discrimination seems to have greased that particular career ladder as much as any other. Soloway complained to the audience that she had been unable to identify anyone thus far, so she announced she planned to create an affirmative action program of sorts, soliciting short stories from trans writers and then working with them to develop scripts. The hope was that out of this outreach effort, Soloway would be able to conjure the writer she was looking for.
According to a great post by Mey over at Autostraddle, the effort has succeeded in the person of Our Lady J, a trans performer and pianist:
Our Lady J announced on Instagram and Facebook, “I’m so happy to announce that I’ll be taking the next year off from touring to dedicate my life to the Pfefferman’s as staff writer for season two of #transparenttv. Thank you for having faith in me, @jillsoloway. The world is beginning to see us as we have seen ourselves.” Although the show did have trans consultants helping on the scripts for the first season, Our Lady J will be the first trans woman who is a full-time writer for the show.
Mey adds that, based on social media posts, Jen Richards, Reina Gossett, Julia Serano, Shadi Petosky, current show consultant and associate producer Zackary Drucker also seem to have been part of the training program.
It’s difficult to predict how having a trans woman not just commenting on but actually making the scripts for Season 2 will advance Soloway’s wish to “change the show.” Transparent is already so sensitive to Maura and the challenges of her transition that I’m not sure it needs help in that regard; if anything, one of my (minor) quibbles is that Maura is almost too sympathetic in comparison with her awful children. Perhaps having a trans person involved in the writing will help the team feel authorized to complicate the character further. Soloway and her team have given us a humane sketch of a trans woman; now it’s time to shade that character in with a little more humanity, which is always a mix of darkness as well as light.
*Correction, Dec. 3, 2014: This post originally misspelled Shadi Petosky’s last name.