EXCLUSIVE: Jill Soloway and Alexandra Billings Discuss How Far-ish Transgender Storytelling Has Come

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Soloway and Alexandra Billings Discuss How Far-ish Transgender Storytelling Has Come

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I’m glad you brought that up, because I felt like that was another theme.

Soloway: Just the feeling of having to perform and not really getting to be yourself. For Davina, her transness is more about how much freedom she wanted and didn’t have, it was an the economic issue. And then we also had this very tiny little theme running through the season that we in the writers room were aware of in that moment when Davina — she was David then — didn’t necessarily have the choice to get up and leave [when the man she’s dating wants to have unprotected sex]. How that was connected with her HIV status, what consent actually means, when there’s that moment where her boyfriend and benefactor Roland says, “Come on, baby.” Can you consent if somebody else is paying your rent? We tie that in with Josh and Rita’s consent story and that moment of Shelly getting pregnant by accident. This is who I live with, this is who is in charge of me, these are my options.

And this is my financial situation…

Soloway: Yeah, we just wanted to draw those little connectors because what I realize [is] we’re always taking about the notion of intersectionality, which as far as I can tell means because of our intersections regarding race, gender and class, we do and don’t have things in common some of the times, and others, we don’t. It’s so broad, but it doesn’t mean solidarity, which people think it means. So that little thing of those two threads is an intersectional storyline, because it asks, what do we have in common here? What does a Jewish woman in the suburbs of L.A. have in common with a little trans girl getting HIV, and the biological results of that, the biological emanations of inability to consent? And for us, we try to weave these things into the background for those who are watching it closely or maybe for a class that people teach. We’re looking for those little sparks of connection to suggest sparks of solidarity within intersectionality.

Transparent has moved from telling a narrative to depicting a revolutionary trans nude scene as just another woman lying in bed with her boyfriend. Alexandra, considering your history standing up to the Curb Your Enthusiasm team, who wrote a hurtful scene where a transwoman bails on the line to the ladies’ room for a urinal in the interest of time and you said, ‘I refuse to read for this part and you should change it,’ do you think America has moved past the point of trans people being the butt of the joke?

Billings:  Yeah, ish. I think that we have taken a step in the right direction, though we’re at a pause right now with the current government. The people who have kept their true selves silent because they know within themselves what they believe isn’t true, right or kind, have been given permission by all the white cis heteronormative men in power. They are blossoming in this really big way. I’m now a drama professor at University of Southern California, where I’ve been misgendered three times on campus in the three weeks I’ve been there.

How can they misgender you when you’re on a very popular TV show?

Billings: I’m walking down the main path on campus, and one of the buildings I teach in is where all the jocks hang out and also where I teach theater to the masters students. It’s a very long walk past some field — I don’t understand sports — and these two very large gentlemen are coming toward me. My sense is really good, so I knew something was going to happen. So I stopped, and I’m very much owning my own space, and they say to me, “That’s a guy,” one of them said. “That’s a tranny,” and they passed by me, laughing. It was horrible. I took all of that into the classroom, and luckily I am helped by these students in this university in a way that’s really extraordinary. We had a really beautiful day, strangely, but the gift was, this show is reaching the people whether they like it or not. The people who feel like they’re now getting bigger are getting bigger because of this government, they know who I am. I had to bless them and thank them because you know what? 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have known who I was. So, are we the butt of jokes? Yeah. Are we still in the center of violence? Oh, yes. Our suicide rate is 82 percent, we don’t survive. However, the glimmer of light is the fact that the portal is open and everyone is going through it, whether they want to or not.

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