Transparently Love

People Holding Hands

I am not a fan of the Amazon series “Transparent”; I live in a country whose government is presently going through a nervous breakdown, so watching the neuroses of others played out on a screen is an unlikely form of entertainment.  Also, the revelations about Jeffrey Tambor’s conduct towards women makes the programme less than comfortable viewing; I’m also uncertain that a non-trans actor should be playing a trans role.

Nevertheless, there is one part of one episode that I saw which deserves praise, because through words and acting it captures something increasingly rare: genuine tenderness.

In Series 3, in an episode entitled “The Open Road”, the son of Jeffrey Tambor’s character is on a road trip with a trans woman (played by Trace Lysette) of his acquaintance.  They are on a strange sort of pilgrimage: the son has a son of his own, whose mother just committed suicide.  He’s going to break the bad news.  Ms. Lysette’s character is there to provide moral support. 

During the journey, they tire and pull over to swap places.  As they do, they spot a disused playground in the distance.  They quickly decide to break in. 

Chemistry and sexual tension between the two characters had been on a low simmer to that point, but it is in the playground that it begins to boil and overflow.  The two characters, who are ostensibly on a very serious and grave mission, play like children: shouting down slides, running with abandon through sandboxes, climbing monkey bars.  The regression into childhood perhaps is what uncorks the potential for tenderness.  Adults grow a thickened skin, become wary of sentiment, often lose the ability to play, and thus find it difficult to shed enough reserve to be genuine.  In this era, perhaps we are too baked into our shells to be childlike and surrender to wonder.  In this scene, the actors do so.  In particular, it is obvious in Ms. Lysette’s longing glances at her counterpart, the innocent smiles, and then eventually their shared kiss, hesitant at first, and followed by shared looks of revelation and joy.  In that all too fleeting moment, it’s clear: the characters feel for each other.

Of course, this being “Transparent”, the scene is entirely ruined.  Ms. Lysette’s character is the much braver of the two; she confides that she has HIV but there is medication available for those in long term relationships to mitigate the risks.  It’s clear that her prospective partner is too neurotic and squeamish to countenance the possibility of something long term, and certainly not something short term with someone who has a disease.  The delicate moment shatters, the mood is lost, the two break apart, ostensibly never to come back together.

What makes the writing and acting particularly beautiful – and this is a word I use advisedly – is that it shows something about love.  Not just how delicate it can be, but also, how at its core is the concept of acceptance.  Ms. Lysette’s character bared all her secrets; what the character of the son couldn’t do is see that as a way of saying “I love you: I accept you as you are, neuroses, sadness, and all.  Please accept me as I am: love me too.”  The scene disintegrates because the son lacks the perspicacity or maturity to do so.  

Nevertheless, it is instructive: so much of romantic writing in books, plays and movies, focus on a magic moment: somehow a realisation occurs that the other is the right person, the intended one.  However, perhaps “Transparent” can teach us that romantic scenes should be focused on the acceptance of another, which is a far greater statement.  Acceptance means that the other is taken wholesale, with their virtues and flaws: dressed to the nines, and in a t-shirt with holes in it, stumbling unkempt to the bathroom at 3 AM.  It means one is accepted for remembering to bring flowers home for an anniversary, and for forgetting to pick up milk from the corner store on a regular day.  It means that in good health or ill, the person is accepted: whether their nose is running, or they just completed a run. 

In just this brief scene, “Transparent” brought this to life: it was daubed in the vivid colours of an afternoon underneath the western sky.  It was beautiful writing and acting, and for a shimmering moment, it showed what a glow of romantic hope in a weary world can look like.  For that, the cast and the producers should be complimented.

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