Jeffrey Tambor has received praise and critical acclaim for his role as Transparent’s Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman and parent, becoming the first actor to win an Emmy for portraying a transgender character. Sadly, it seems Tambor’s sensitivity may not extend to his real-life interactions, as he has now been separately accused of sexual harassment by two transgender women attached to the show.
Earlier this month, Deadline reported that Amazon has launched an investigation into Tambor’s behavior in response to a leaked Facebook post from his former assistant Van Barnes which was circulating within Hollywood’s transgender community. In the post, Barnes, who is transgender herself, wrote about the sexual harassment she had endured at the hands of a former boss who had repeatedly groped and propositioned her, suggesting that sleeping with him would earn her an industry-appropriate pay grade. She accused her employer of making lewd comments, playing pornography at loud volumes, and threatening to sue her if she spoke up. Transparent’s writers have since been contemplating whether the fifth season can go on without its star.
Now further allegations have emerged, this time from co-star Trace Lysette, who plays yoga instructor and transgender woman Shea on the show. In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, Lysette described an incident in which Tambor made sexually charged remarks and pressed himself against her between takes. “He came in close, put his bare feet on top of mine so I could not move, leaned his body against me, and began quick, discreet thrust back and forth against my body. I felt his penis on my hip through his thin pajamas,” she wrote.
Each revelation of Hollywood harassment is harrowing in its own unique way; in the case of Tambor, it is particularly upsetting to hear of his treatment of transgender women given the role he played—that this was happening to transgender people at the hands of someone responsible for portraying their experiences. As with Louis C.K., there is a presumption of enlightenment to actors who take on such subject matter, and it’s shattering to hear that such an important show is at risk because its star may turn out to be the opposite of a “good guy.”
Tambor has denied all claims, agreeing that he can be difficult to work with but stating that he has never been a predator. In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, Tambor wrote that he was sorry “if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone as being sexually aggressive or if I ever offended or hurt anyone.”
Multiple projects have been canceled in the wake of the avalanche of sexual harassment allegations rocking Hollywood, but Lysette called for the show to go on without Tambor:
My hope is that Amazon can find the good in this, and use this as an opportunity, a teachable moment to re-center the other trans characters in this show with the family members instead of just pulling it. Let our brilliant writers continue to craft something that is entertaining and creates a social change the way they know how. Don't let the trans community suffer for the actions of one cis male actor. Transparent has been a guiding light in the industry, by employing more trans people in Hollywood than any other production in history, which made it even more difficult to speak out. As trans-women and survivors we have often felt we never had the power of the voice to speak out on our personal and collective pain. I am so proud of my work on Transparent and its "trans-affirmative action" mission, as coined by its creator Jill Soloway. And I call on Amazon to make another bold affirmative move to our communities: Remove the problem and let the show go on. It's vital that the show's creator, showrunner and its studio re-center the narrative of Transparent on the experiences of the other trans characters and family members audiences have grown to love on the series.
Our Lady J, a writer on the show, threw her support behind the alleged victims on Instagram. She thanked Lysette for her suggestion that the show continue, writing, “You are right—we cannot let trans content be taken down by a single cis man.”
(The above statement is from @tracelysette. The statement below is my response.) . My heart is broken. I’m struggling to put together words right now, as I’m flooded with emotions. Any abuse of power is inexcusable, but hearing the stories of Van and Trace have particularly shattered me. I honor the strength and courage that it must have taken for them to tell their truth. ... Thank you for your leadership, Trace. Thank you for speaking up. And thank you for your proposed solution at the end of your statement. You are right — we cannot let trans content be taken down by a single cis man. I’m sure I’ll have more to say, but this is as much as I can get out in this very emotional moment. .... My heart goes out to all victims of abuse, told and untold. I hope this is the beginning of our time to heal.
If Amazon does decide to cancel Transparent or remove the show from its platforms, there will be no easy way for fans to view it: It has only ever been available through the streaming service.