How Caitlyn Jenner Influenced the New Season of Amazon's 'Transparent'

At PaleyFest, Jill Soloway said the series has evolved to include even more transgender stories.
Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker, Jeffrey Tambor, Jill Soloway, Judith Light, and Jay Duplass attend PaleyFest New York 2015 (Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images)
Oct 20, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

When Transparent premiered on Amazon Studios in September 2014, a comedy about a parent coming out as a transgender woman to her wife and adult children broke ground on television. Nearly a year later, a parallel plot unfolded—this time on "reality" TV—as Caitlyn Jenner documented her new life as a woman and her relationships to her famous family on the E! docuseries I Am Cait.

Jenner no doubt helped familiarize mainstream viewers with a range of transgender issues, and as Transparent heads into its second season, which begins on Dec. 4, the fictional series is benefiting from the learning curve Jenner initiated.

"I think we felt like once Caitlyn came out, America kind of had its Trans 101 education," Transparent creator Jill Soloway said Monday during a New York panel at PaleyFest in which she touched on everything from feminist leadership to the importance of play at work. "We were really getting the opportunity in Season 2 to really go deeper into the stories of these people and really just let people know about a whole bunch of ways to be trans," she said.
The similarities between Jenner and Transparent's protagonist, Maura, played by Jeffrey Tambor, are not lost on Soloway, who acknowledged that both narratives encompass "the upper middle class white person transitioning with a whole bunch of privilege" and at a later stage in life. Pledging that the new season will involve a range of transgender characters from a variety of cultural backgrounds, Soloway said she hoped "to be able to sort of keep that going in Season 3, telling a whole bunch more stories from trans people."

Transparent, which is loosely inspired by Soloway's experiences with her transgender parent, initially caught some flak for casting a non-transgender actor for the role of Maura but has since evolved to include a range of transgender voices—not just in front of the camera but behind the scenes as well. In a June interview with TakePart, Transparent coproducer and transgender consultant Rhys Ernst said the show could well be the most transgender-inclusive production in Hollywood history, owing to Soloway's trans-affirmative hiring initiative—whose efforts have included recruiting transgender singer and scribe Our Lady J to the show's writing staff for the second season.

Still, Tambor, who in September won an Emmy for his role as Maura, said he hasn't lost sight of his responsibility to represent her as a complex and flawed human being. "I'm a cisgender male, and I have this huge portrayal to do, and I want to get it right," he told the audience at PaleyFest, tapping his chest repeatedly to show how the feeling of obligation to the transgender community tugs at him. "And the way to do it right," he said, "is to do it human and to make the mistakes that she would make. And that keeps me going."

Since Transparent premiered, transgender visibility in the media has skyrocketed, with several new shows featuring transgender actors and characters either in production or airing earlier this year. There's TLC's I Am Jazz, about transgender teen Jazz Jennings; ABC Family's Becoming Us, a reality show about families with transgender parents; Her Story, a forthcoming Eve Ensler–produced Web series about the dating lives of transgender women; and Transcendent, a Fuse reality series about five transgender women in San Francisco.

At the same time, 16 percent of Americans—or double the percentage recorded in 2008—now say they personally know a transgender person, according to a survey published in September by GLAAD. The advocacy organization's research shows that when people have a personal relationship with a member of the LGBT community, they're more likely to be accepting of LGBT people overall.