Over the weekend, Jeffrey Tambor, who stars in Jill Soloway’s fantastic traumedy Transparent as the series’ titular character, the trans parent Maura Pfefferman, announced that he was quitting the series in advance of its presumed fifth season. Tambor is being investigated by Amazon, the streaming service on which Transparent airs, for sexual harassment complaints brought against him by two trans actors. In his statement, Tambor denied “deliberately” harassing anyone but said that the atmosphere around the set had become too “politicized” for him to continue on the show. Rumors that Tambor was going to be written out of the series have been swirling since last week, so it is hard to assess whether he simply quit or quit to keep himself from getting fired. Either way, his assertion that “this is no longer the job I signed up for four years ago” is surely true: Transparent made the world too woke for Transparent.
That Tambor, a cisgender man, was hired to play Maura was the series’ good luck and its original sin. When Soloway created the show, casting a straight man in the role, particularly one of Tambor’s caliber, was relatively uncontroversial. While it is impossible to know what another performer might have done in the role, Tambor has been phenomenal. Transparent has done more than any show ever to dramatize and humanize the trans experience—and the very cultural changes the show and Tambor’s performance have wrought have made the cis male actor at its center increasingly problematic. While accepting his second Emmy for his performance as Maura, Tambor said, “I would not be unhappy if I was the last cisgendered man to play a transgendered woman.” Perhaps he did not think he would be the last so soon.
Transparent now finds itself in an odd position. Without Maura, Transparent is a show about the Pfeffermans, a group of self-involved, fascinating Los Angeles Jews who are sexually provocative and not always gender conforming but also—not trans. (Without intending to trivialize events, the circumstances of Tambor’s quitting seem like something that could have occurred in Transparent, a show about characters with nonexistent boundaries who are overly sexual with strangers and have even used trans women to inappropriately work out their own issues.) Even as it loses its major on-screen trans character, it is continuing to intentionally showcase trans voices and employ trans actors, writers, producers and crew members. As Our Lady J, a trans writer and producer of the show, put it, “we cannot let trans content be taken down by a single cis man.” Soloway is now in a position where she has to more or less rethink the show, embarking on a fifth season that continues to showcase trans voices but also new trans faces. Transparent has a tough act to follow, though: its own.