Why 'Transparent' Should Replace Jeffrey Tambor With a Trans Actress (Guest Column)

The actor announced plans to exit his Emmy-winning role following sexual harassment allegations.
Jennifer Clasen
Tambor on 'Transparent'

How do you solve a problem like Maura Pfefferman?

You don't, you just recast her with a transgender actress.

Even before series star Jeffrey Tambor's sudden departure from Transparent over the weekend, questions had been swirling about what to do with his character next season. The actor is facing a series of sexual harassment allegations from trans actresses and co-workers on the series, who said he made numerous inappropriate remarks and also "got physical." Amazon has launched an investigation into the claims. (Amazon and creator Jill Soloway have yet to comment on Tambor's decision to exit the series.)

The upcoming fifth season of the series is already in production, with writers mapping out storylines as we speak. Reports have already surfaced that they are considering ways to refocus the series away from Tambor's character, and possibly even kill Maura off altogether.

While I think the show could work without Maura, it doesn't have to. The simplest and most just solution would be to simply hire a transgender actress to take over the role. You could say it would be a way for the series to finally come full circle on its mission of including and understanding trans lives and stories.

Since its inception Transparent has strived to showcase trans talent in front of and behind the camera. It has had trans cast and crew, and has had trans writers on staff since season two. But series creator Soloway's so-called "Trans-Affirmative Action" initiative never quite made it to the top.

For all its strengths, Transparent has always had one glaring, underlying weakness. That, of course, was Tambor's casting as a Maura Pfefferman. As trans visibility and civil rights progress in the public sphere, it has become less acceptable to celebrate — let alone cast — a straight, cisgender actor playing a trans role.

Just a month after Tambor debuted as Maura on Transparent in 2014, straight, cis actor Jared Leto took home the supporting actor Oscar for playing a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club. But since then the trans community and its allies have rightly spoken up about the need to allow trans people to tell their own stories.

The age of it being so terribly brave (not to mention Oscar-worthy) for a straight actor to play a gay, lesbian or bisexual character onscreen is over and it is overdue for the same to be true of straight, cis actors getting lauded for playing trans.

It should go without saying that a show called Transparent would be able to survive past its straight, cisgender star. In fact, it would add the ultimate insult to injury to allow Tambor's exit to end a series that has otherwise been a great expression and employer of transgender people. [Editor's note: Sources tell THR that season five will go on as planned.]

As Our Lady J, the first trans writer hired to write for the series, said in an Instagram post expressing support for the women who have come forward with allegations against Tambor, "(W)e cannot let trans content be taken down by a single cis man."

The reckoning we are in with Hollywood, and society at large, finally exposing the powerful men who sexually harass, abuse and assault women (and other men) has already had the unintended intention of sweeping away some historic trans.

Earlier this month trans actress Jen Richards tweeted about the far-reaching consequences of the sexual harassment and abuse scandal surrounding Louis C.K. She revealed her casting to voice a trans character for his animated TBS series The Cops. But the network has since halted production and released its cast and crew. What was that again about trans content being taken down by a single cis man?

Betrayals by men like Tambor and C.K. cut especially deep because of the false allyship they presented in their public personas. So then it would be particularly satisfying, not to mention well deserved and about time, to recast Maura with a trans actress.

Granted, recasting is always tricky and never seamless. Think the two Darrins of Bewitched and two Beckys of Roseanne. But in the case of Transparent, it would put the show firmly on the right side of history.

Indeed, recasting Maura Pfefferman could turn Tambor's own words into a form of prophetic karma. In 2016, when he picked up his second Emmy Award for playing her, the actor said in his acceptance speech, "Please give transgender talent a chance, give them auditions, give them their story. Do that. And, also, one more thing — I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television."

Well, Hollywood, you heard the man. Make him the last cisgender male to play a transgender woman on television already.

Dorothy Snarker is a contributor to Autostraddle and a former longtime writer for AfterEllen. Find more from her at dorothysurrenders.com or @dorothysnarker.

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