Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Why I Began Watching Transparent (Finally)

I've read a few back issues of Harper's Magazine while watching the still lake waters last week. In the April 2016 issue, a review of Transparent by Emily Witt spoke directly to the world I want to see: a post-religious world in which individuals must come to terms with identity and sexuality (their own and other people's) based on personal, owned values.

That world doesn't look as idyllic as we might hope.

Witt writes, "If Maura is an exemplar of self-actualization -- the person who, after suffering for so long, finally expresses her true self -- her children represent the dark side of a world in which existential decisions are no longer scripted by religious doctrine and social custom but must be discerned through personal exploration."

Maura (Jeffrey Tambour) is the main character, a father of three named Mort when we first meet her. Each of her three children have their own sexual awakenings on the horizon.

Sarah (Amy Landecker), a mother of two, leaves her husband within the first few episodes, to reignite a flame with her college girlfriend. We learn that Josh (Jay Duplass) is still in a relationship with his babysitter from childhood, although the family doesn't seem to know it. Ali (Gaby Hoffman) has an interest in sexual escapades, mostly with men so far, that I suspect serve as a distraction to some deeper desire or knowledge.

While the world without religious doctrine and social custom is still an imaginary future world for me (and most Americans born outside of our major cities), I believe it exists. Seeing Maura's secular children playing out their existential woes in the face of their parent's transition, however, isn't pretty.

Where religious doctrine may condemn and social custom may shame, the secular response seems to be a dive deep into personal neuroses.

Without religion to lean on, I'd hoped their wrestling would be more nuanced, vulnerable and insightful. There's still time for that.

I'll be tuning in for the characters -- they're likable even when they're careless or clueless.

I'll also be tuning in to watch the characters' relationship to religion. The characters are Jewish and there's an emerging rabbi character (Kathryn Hahn), who is present immediately following Josh's discovery of Maura's true identity.

If there's any religion that can overcome the desire to oppress, perhaps it's Judaism. Witt writes, "Now that we are all free to be you and me, [the director] Soloway suggests, perhaps it is worth consulting religion, which may have more than oppression to offer."

I'll try to keep that in mind on Saturday, when Sonia and I will sit through my cousin's Catholic wedding with full mass. It will be the first time I've brought Sonia to a formal event, although she went to a picnic with most of these folks last summer.

The event snuck up on me. We just got back from vacation; there hasn't been time to send off the "We've moved in!" postcards as I'd hoped, so we're going in armed only with one another and the power of repetition.

When I told one of my aunts that my girlfriend, Sonia, and I had moved in a few months back she asked, "Oh, into a two bedroom?" Her voice was hopeful, as though she could still call Sonia my roommate, if only I answered "yes."

"Nope," I replied. "Just a one bedroom. She's my girlfriend."

Such is the power of religious doctrine and social custom. Anything that doesn't fit, does not compute.

My cousin has promised, unsolicited, that we will not be the only gay couple at the wedding. As my brother would say, "If the kids are okay, then the old ones have done enough." Let's hope so.

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