The Pfeffermans are ripping open old wounds in the second season of Amazon's critically acclaimed "Transparent," and things get expectedly messy.
While Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), Josh (Jay Duplass), and Sarah (Amy Landecker) struggle with their meandering questions of self-discovery, Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) grapples with her own sexual awakening. For the show's first transgender writer, Our Lady J, this was a chance to sexualize trans characters in a way that has never been seen before on television.
"What does love look like for trans women when you feel like the pickings are slim because of social stigmas?" Our Lady J told MTV News. "What sacrifices do you make in relationships? Why do you accept things that are unacceptable because of social pain? For men who date trans women, there's a lot of shame and stigma around that, and that creates a lot of unhealthy dynamics in relationships."
Our Lady J joined the writing staff in Season 2, but she's no stranger to the entertainment industry. She's a classically trained pianist and singer-songwriter, even putting her musical talents to good use in several pivotal scenes in the show's second season. But her greatest contributions to the writers' room were her real-life experiences of pain -- both self-inflicted pain and the pain brought on by toxic misogyny -- as a trans woman.
Here's what Our Lady J had to say about some of the season's most impactful moments, what she learned from creator Jill Soloway, and the real-life decision that inspired one of this season's most heartbreaking moments. (Warning: Spoilers for "Transparent" Season 2, streaming now on Amazon, lie ahead.)
MTV News: You joined the writing staff in Season 2. What was that experience like? Because it sounds like "Transparent" is one of the most wonderfully inclusive places to work.
Our Lady J: Jill [Soloway] creates such a warm and loving environment, and the entire writing staff really embraced me and taught me how to write for television. I had never done it before I took a workshop with Jill, and everyone was not only patient, but was also really generous with their time to catch me up to speed so that I could write my own episode. It's not only writing that's required in a writers' room. It's being able to pitch and being able to vocalize your ideas, and knowing when to talk and when not to talk.
When I had an idea, everyone would listen -- not only listen, but they would put them into the stories. So I never really felt tokenized by the room. I feel like an equal.
MTV: This season finds Maura exploring what it means to be feminine, both physically and sexually. Was that something you championed in the writers' room?
Our Lady J: I'm really proud of Maura's sex scenes in this season. It was really something that I brought up with the other writers that was well-received. The Pfeffermans, they all behave really badly -- everyone, except Maura, behaves very badly in Season 1. And also, everyone is getting f--ked in Season 1, except Maura. It was really my plight, in some way, to sexualize our trans characters this season in a way that's not reducing them to just being sexual fetishes.
I'm really proud of how not only Maura, but also Davina and Shea have their own love lives this season -- and I say love loosely.
MTV: We really dive head first into the Pfefferman family's neuroses in Season 2. It feels like the story lines get a bit broader. It's not just about Maura's journey any more.
Our Lady J: The way we write the story is we treat Maura, Ali, Josh and Sarah as equal protagonists, and each of them have their own story. Perhaps in Season 1 Maura's story stood out more because it was such a unique story of transitioning, but in Season 2, she's just another Pfefferman now. She has her own journey, just like Ali and Josh and Sarah have their own journeys.
MTV: Being the only transgender voice in the writers' room, do you approach your trans characters any differently that you do your cisgender characters?
Our Lady J: I feel a lot more responsibility when it comes to those characters because we've never seen people like Maura, Davina and Shea on television before. So I am very thoughtful and present when I think of their stories. I do place a lot more gravity on those characters in making sure that we get their stories right and authentic, and at the same time, not cliché. We really go into the nuances and details of their lives, rather than just saying, "Oh, these are the people who are trans."
MTV: The scenes between Maura, Davina and Shea are some of my favorites this season. There's one in particular I want to discuss. It's when Davina checks Maura on her privilege of living an upper middle class life. It's an important conversation, especially in the wake of Caitlyn Jenner and "I Am Cait."
Our Lady J: Yes, and it's a conversation that's being had in the community because we do transcend boundaries. There are trans people in every economic sector and every race and every religion -- there are trans people everywhere. We don't always have everything in common, and some people like to lump us together and think that we have the same experience. We don't. And something that we really need to acknowledge within the community is our privilege, so that we can help those who weren't born into the classes that are the most privileged.
MTV: I don't think Maura really understood that until Shea opened up to her about how she wanted to kill herself when she was younger. How alone she felt.
Our Lady J: Absolutely. Maura has been very protected in this bubble in the Palisades, and now that she's in the community, she's taking her place in the community. She makes a very pointed decision to leave Shelly and to leave that bubble. And as a result, she does turn into a bit of a mother figure for Shea.
MTV: We also see Maura explore her past this season. I really loved the scene in which she receives a photo book of re-gendered childhood photos. Where did that idea come from?
I was doing some inner child re-parenting therapy, and I took a picture of myself as a four-year-old and just set it as my wallpaper on my phone, so I could walk through my day and take care of that person. Something that I know from myself, and a lot of trans people feel as well, is that we were never really taught as children with gender diversity or gender nonconforming children to revere ourselves and our bodies. So I was just looking at that child and saying, "What do you need today? Are you hungry? Do you need a nap?" It's a very basic, therapeutic tool.
The one thing that I saw in that picture is how uncomfortable I looked. I was uncomfortable with what I was wearing in that photo. It was a very clear memory. So I just Photoshopped the picture, and I showed my co-workers and everybody thought that it would be a great thing for Maura to do, something that would not only be therapeutic but also something that would get her to look at her past and kind of re-gender her memories.
MTV: I think a lot of people are going to talk about Episode 9 because it deals with an issue we don't really talk about and that's feminism's exclusion of trans women. Is that something that you've experienced first-hand?
Out Lady J: I have, actually. I've experienced hostility in women's spaces, feeling like I'm less of a women because I'm trans, and being talked down to. Everything that Maura was feeling, even acknowledging your privilege -- there's a line that Maura says, she was in too much pain to see her privilege -- that's very real. It's something that's controversial as well. When you have a group of otherized people, as women, and then you have a group within that that are otherized as well, a lot of the conversation is, "Who is in more pain?" And there really is no answer to that. We were are all in pain. I think the important thing to focus on, moving forward, is fighting the real enemy, which is misogyny. Trans women suffer from misogyny the same that cis women suffer from misogyny, and I think that's where the conversation should turn to.
MTV: One of the more tragic story lines in Season 2 is actually a flashback to Maura's mother and her transgender sister Gittel coming of age in Germany and exploring their own sexuality. That pre-WWII time is so vibrant for the trans community and then it turns into something so heartbreaking with the rise of Hitler. Why was it important to tell this story of the Pfefferman's tragic family history?
Our Lady J: The idea is that there's this war wound that reverberates all the way down to Maura. Something I realized when we were discovering all of this is if Hitler had not wiped out the queers and the Jews, if Hitler had not come to power, I would have been born into a world where transness was not an issue. And how would that have affected my life? I wouldn't have been in the closet for the first 27 years of my life. I wouldn't have internalized shame and transphobia and misogyny. So what would that have meant to Maura? So we really wanted to show how Maura's wound in Season 2 is not really something that she owns. It's historical. And we still don't know if the family ever knew what happened to Tanta Gittel, and that's something that is to be revealed.
MTV: And it doesn't just affect Maura. It impacts the entire family.
Our Lady J: Exactly. It's this wound that reverberates through generations. If Hitler hadn't destroyed the queer culture in Germany, and if Tanta Gittel had actually been given the chance to be an aunt to young Maura, then maybe Maura would have transitioned young and she wouldn't have had to have kept these secrets. And the secret that comes out in Season 2 with Josh, and how that really had such a horrible effect on his life. He behaves in reaction to that wound. And it's all of these characters reacting to these wounds that we see in Season 2. We understand why they are reacting the way they are. They aren't really terrible people; they're just in a complex, and difficult life.