An Interview with Creator of "Transparent" TV Series, Jill Soloway

Writer's note: Jill Soloway is not only the creator of the award winning series "Transparent," she is also my extremely talented and loving aunt.

What inspired you to write "Transparent"?

"A few years ago my parent (who I formerly knew as Dad) came out as trans. As I watched that process and all the feelings it brought up in my family, I knew I had to turn the experience into art. When one person in a family makes a huge life change, everyone else in the family starts to wonder, “Am I who I want to be? What changes would I make?” Then it’s up to them whether they answer that call. Every character in "Transparent" is going through a 'transition' in some way or another and the initiating incident is something we hadn’t seen on television before. It was a story that needed to be told."

Did you think it would be as successful as it is? And how do you see the public reacting? Is it more positive or negative based on the topic?

"It’s already a tough sell, trying to make film or television that doesn’t focus on straight, white, cis men. Amazon took a chance on us and gave us the creative freedom we needed, but at the time, they weren’t the streaming television powerhouse they are now. Who knew what was going to happen? All we knew is that we made something, we loved it and we stood behind it. We had faith in the human-ness and relatability of the show and that somewhere out there, there were people who wanted to watch something different. Turns out we were right!

There will always be negative reactions when you’re perceived as 'pushing an agenda,' which of course, we are, and we’re not sorry about it. But the more important reactions are the positive ones. Especially the positive ones from people you’d never expect. We’re not just preaching to the choir of young people who 'get it,' the show is presenting the human side of being transgender to people across generations. It’s educating and changing minds that wouldn’t have even considered changing before. I keep meeting people who say they came out because of the show, or that the show inspired them to reconnect with someone trans in their family who has been ousted. I know the show also saves lives, just by allowing the trans folk in the "Transparent" universe to be part of the fabric of something bigger. Not to be victims or villains or punchlines. That’s the true success of "Transparent.""

How do you feel about representation of the transgender community in the media and in Hollywood? In your opinion, why do you believe the LGBTQ+ community is so underrepresented?

"Representation of the transgender community in the media is getting better but it’s still far, far away from what it should be. You could probably count the number of TV shows out there with a major trans character on one hand. Trans people aren’t as uncommon as Hollywood seems to think they are and, surprise, they’re not all sex workers. We need to do better. Not only in regards to onscreen representation but behind the scenes as well. At "Transparent," we always hire trans applicants in preference to cis applicants. We’re trying to make a change and help more trans people find their way into the industry so that this lack of representation can become a thing of the past. Cis, white, straight men are used to finding and promoting storytellers and plots that resonate with them – more and more movies about people like them. They unconsciously want to be surrounded by people who make them feel safe – that means people similar to them. But we want everyone to have access to protaganism. Protaganism is a privileged generator!"

 Could you discuss the importance of proper pronouns?

"When you use the wrong pronoun or name for a trans person, whether you’re talking to them or about them, that’s you saying, 'I don’t respect your gender and I don’t respect you enough to get it right.' Using the right pronoun and name for a trans person is an incredibly easy way to make them feel safe and show them that you care. There was a great article in the New York Times recently that helps us all understand how the “they” pronouns are something we use all the time anyway without thinking about it. It’s actually a perfectly reasonable, accessible way of speaking about someone without gendering them."

What is your advice to those who want to be allies?

"It’s not about you. You are certainly doing the right thing by allying yourself with an oppressed group, but when it comes time to talk, your voice is not the important one. You should be listening to the people you want to support, not talking over them and telling them how they should go about things. 'Ally' is a support role, not the center of a movement."

How have you become more educated and achieved a better understanding of what is means to be transgender?

"I listened. I hired a trans writer and trans producers for "Transparent" because we are telling their story and, obviously, they should have a say in it. I didn’t just read a few articles and think 'Yeah, I pretty much get what it’s like to be trans.' I met face to face with trans people and heard what they had to say. If you want to educate yourself, talk to a trans person! When you do, don’t poke and prod and ask a ton of questions about what’s in their pants. Don’t treat them like an oddity. Have a genuine conversation with a trans person and you’ll be surprised how much you learn."

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about the transgender community? What do you want people to know the most about the transgender community?

"The trans community is much bigger than most cis people think. Trans people aren’t rare and mythical; they’re your neighbors, your friends and your family. You might be acquainted with multiple trans people and not even know it, for one reason or another. The community is incredibly diverse as well. Not every trans person has the same opinion on trans issues. Not every trans person wants surgery. Not every trans person is tragic. Every trans experience is an individual one and it’s a disservice to the community to act and think otherwise."

How do you identify/what is your sexual and gender identity?

"I identify as a queer cis woman but I have definitely been reimagining my gender presentation lately! I think that maybe in a few years if I keep evolving, I could see myself wanting to identify as gender nonconforming."

What is it like to have that identity and be in the spotlight?

"So far it’s been totally normal. I don’t really get that much negative feedback - a few folks on Twitter - but for the most part life is more or less the same!"