When cisgender actors win acting awards for playing transgender characters, there can be a sense of dread as they approach the microphone. Will they pull a Jared Leto, who, when he won a Golden Globe in 2014 for playing Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club made what my colleague J. Bryan Lowder described as a “self-centered and juvenile” acceptance speech, focusing on his own bravery in taking the role? Or will they show humility and gratitude and bring the plight of trans people to the attention of millions of viewers around the world?
Fortunately, Jeffrey Tambor has already established that he belongs in the latter camp. Last year at the Golden Globes, when he won for playing Maura Pfefferman in Transparent, he dedicated his performance and the award to the transgender community, saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for your courage. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for your patience. And thank you for letting us be part of the change.”
Tonight, when he took to the stage to accept the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series*, he once again thanked his “teachers,” notably the trans artists who have helped him bring Maura to life.* And, noting that he was repeating himself, he once again thanked the trans community for their patience, courage, inspiration, and for their stories.
It’s too bad that Tambor’s classy speech came after an awkward, bordering on rude “bit” from presenter Jimmy Kimmel, who committed the ultimate award presenter mistake of thinking that people were there to focus on him. Having cut the name of the winner off the announcement card and chewed it up—it really isn’t worth my explaining why—he noted that he could name any of the nominees as the winner, then he pointed out that no woman has ever won a best actor Emmy and mumbled something about “not a man, not a woman.” As Tambor’s name was finally called, the actor seemed a tad miffed. It’s possible that was because of all the business Kimmel got up to, but he might also have been put out by Kimmel’s gender japes.
Tambor’s speech came right after Transparent creator Jill Soloway won for best directing of a comedy. Soloway, too, ended her speech with a sharp political observation. After thanking her own trans parent, she noted that her moppa’s application to rent an apartment could be denied in many states simply because she is trans. Soloway then called for a national trans civil rights act. That’s how you accept an award.
* Correction, Sept. 21, 2015: This post originally misstated the name of the award Jeffrey Tambor won at the 2015 Emmys.