There’s an enlightening profile of “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway in the New Yorker today. Writer Ariel Levy followed Soloway in October after she won the Emmy for outstanding directing for a comedy series. The result is a dive into Soloway’s life, from her childhood in Chicago to the different ways she and her sister Faith dealt with their moppa, Carrie Soloway, coming out as trans. Moppa, a portmanteau of “mom” and “poppa,” is how Soloway refers to her own trans parent, who serves as the inspiration for Jeffrey Tambor’s character, Maura Pfefferman, on the show.
The second season of “Transparent” is available for streaming beginning Dec. 11 on Amazon. (Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, is the owner of The Washington Post.)
It’s worth reading the entire piece, but here are some of the best bits:
Women are a natural fit for directing
The profile serves as a roadmap to Soloway’s thoughts on gender and how she arrived at them, but there’s a point where she addresses the paltry number of women who direct. Her words were reminiscent of an oft-repeated observation about the way certain activities that are typically associated with women, such as teaching or cooking, become less valued. And yet, the same occupations take on an aura of prestige when they’re dominated by men as professors or chefs.
Soloway makes a similar argument about directing and women, given that the number of women directing films and episodes of television is so paltry it’s under investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“We all know how to do it,” Soloway said of directing. “We f—ing grew up doing it! It’s dolls. How did men make us think we weren’t good at this? It’s dolls and feelings. And women are fighting to become directors? What the f— happened?”
Soloway couldn’t find any television writers with a “trans-feminine perspective” so she instituted her own training program
This season, singer and writer Our Lady J joined the show. She had no previous experience as a television writer. Soloway created an essay contest to solicit submissions from trans writers, and then taught them script-writing along with “Mad Men” veteran Bridget Bedard, the only writer on “Transparent” with previous television-writing experience. Soloway told her nascent television scribes, “It’s easy — I could teach you in a weekend.” She calls it her “transfirmative action” program.
“I was teaching people from ground zero how television works,” Bedard told Levy. “I actually think it’s much harder than Jill says, but I also appreciate her attitude, because it’s so inclusive. It’s not precious. Nobody came in here saying, ‘Oh, we can’t do that.’”
Many of the networks have programs that are aimed at funneling more diverse voices into writers’ rooms, but their results are woefully mixed. Part of the problem is that the situation has devolved into a system of tokenization, where requisite “diversity slots” on many writing staffs have become not only de facto ghettos, but end up enabling a one-and-done approach to hiring minorities. The awesome Aisha Harris has explored this in-depth at Slate.
Soloway basically hyper-accelerated the process, and didn’t worry so much about outsiders unfamiliar with the ways of Hollywood. And the reason she was so comfortable with doing that probably lies in the fact that Soloway still thinks of herself as an outsider.
She wishes magazines and newspapers would use “they” and “them” as singular pronouns
“A really interesting thought exercise is to say ‘they’ and ‘them’ for all genders,” Soloway told Levy. “If you said, ‘I have to go pick up my friend at the airport,’ I could very easily say, ‘What time do they get here?’ So there is a structure for talking about your friend and not knowing their gender—and it’s perfect English.”
Levy pointed out that ‘they’ and ‘them’ are plural pronouns. She thought the practice was grammatically awkward. Many trans people have created thier own gender-neutral pronouns, such as as ze/zir/zirs/zirself or bun/bun/buns/bunself.
“All of the magazines and newspapers need to begin to do this,” Soloway told Levy. “The language is evolving daily — even gender reassignment, people are now calling it gender confirmation! The promise of this revolution is not having to say, ‘Men do this, women do this.’”
Soloway is on to something. The New York Times recently used Mx. instead of Mr., Mrs. or Ms. as a gender-neutral honorific. And The Washington Post recently updated its own style to include singular usages of “they” and “them.”
Shonda Rhimes fired her. And Ryan Murphy refused to hire her because he heard Soloway was “difficult.”
Soloway encountered some really rough professional circumstances, including a painful period when she said “Girls” creator Lena Dunham was being held up as the new Jill Soloway, only “younger and better” and somehow vastly improved.
She revealed that “Grey’s Anatomy” showrunner Shonda Rhimes fired her because she “doesn’t really feel like you’re giving it your all.” What’s worse, an opportunity with HBO that could have served as a rebound disintegrated because, well, HBO had Dunham. She had a promising interview with Ryan Murphy to work on “Glee,” which fell apart about a week later because, he told her, he’d heard she was “difficult.”
Perhaps the best part of the whole article is that Soloway’s current office on the Paramount lot is Murphy’s old one from “Glee.”