'Transparent' Season 2 And 'The Danish Girl' Have A Tragic Historical Connection
Major spoilers for "Transparent" Season 2 -- and "The Danish Girl" -- lie ahead.
One of the most fascinating and emotionally powerful elements of "Transparent" Season 2, which is now streaming in its entirely on Amazon, is its flashbacks to the Pfefferman family's semi-hidden roots in Weimar Berlin. The moody, nostalgic scenes highlight Maura's (Jeffrey Tambor) mother, Rose (Emily Robinson), who is connected to the city's vibrant LGBTQ scene via her sister, Gittel (who is played by real-life trans actress Hair Nef).
The scenes largely work because they tie in to Maura's fear of coming out to her mother in present-day -- and since Rose can no longer speak, we fully see how sad it is that these two women will never get to share this history -- but they're also notable in that they have a direct connection to one of this year's awards favorites, "The Danish Girl."
In "Transparent," Rose and Gittel (who was biologically born male) are seen dancing and boozing the night away to "Someone to Watch Over Me" under the loving eye of Magnus Hirschfeld, played by Bradley Whitford. Hirschfeld, as it turns out, is a famous historical figure -- a Jewish figure, who coined the word transsexual -- who also supervised Lili Elbe's (played by Eddie Redmayne in "The Danish Girl") first of four sex reassignment surgeries in the early 1930s. (Hirschfeld does not appear in "Danish Girl" -- one of his contemporaries, a doctor named Kurt Warnekros who later joined the Nazi party and performed involuntary sterilizations, was featured instead.)
Of course, since Gittel is an LGBTQ Jew in 1930s Berlin, her story ends tragically. In one of Rose's last scenes before she emigrates to America, we see the siblings looking on in horror as the books from Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science (Institut für Sexualwissenschaft), a real-life private sexology research institute that helped trans women like Lili and Gittel, are burned by the Nazis.
This not only really happened on May 6, 1933 -- causing Hirschfeld to go in exile for the rest of his life -- it also, according to UCLA grad student and trans advocate Aubrey Sassoon, severely made things worse for the trans community in the decades following Lili's transition.
"They very purposely destroyed all the records from the doctors, so many of those medical techniques, the way they had been doing them exactly, were lost and had to be reinvented -- or redesigned, at least," Sassoon told MTV News over the phone. "Europe was experiencing this great rise of doctors and surgeons treating people... So it was fine, or at least tolerated and accepted to some degree."
Losing this work was a huge blow for the trans community, and it later became "up to American doctors to redevelop those techniques."
None of this is actually mentioned in "The Danish Girl," though through the burning of the books and the tears of the stunned faces in "Transparent," creator Jill Soloway and her celebrated cast get through just how special of a time this was for the LGBTQ crowd in Berlin, and how horrible it is that all of it was lost. The show is never afraid to "go there" when it comes to the shared experiences of the Jewish and the transgender community, which is basically one reason out of 1000 why you should absolutely stop reading this and run to watch "Transparent" Season 2.