At this point in the series, it’s time to talk about masculinity. The obvious focus of Transparent has been on the definition of “a woman,” through the eyes of Mort, now Maura. But in light of that transition, what does it mean to “be a man”?
A few episodes ago, Josh told his sister’s friend/his sometimes lover Syd that being seduced by his 25-year-old babysitter when he was 15 was “every boy’s wet dream” and peacocked about how cool the experience was. But in the moments we’ve spent with Josh alone, we as an audience know that Josh has never gotten over his rape. I call his “relationship” with Rita a “rape” because that’s what it was: a statutory rape of a minor by someone in a power position who should have known better. Like Syd tried to explain, had the genders been reversed and a grown male caretaker of an underage girl had taken advantage of her, he would be in jail or, at the very least, her parents wouldn’t have passively tolerated what was happening.
But Josh is a man, and obviously men want sex all the time and boys drool over older women — tropes that are born of patriarchy and gender norms, and that screw up our young men. To each other, they brag and boast about conquests and sexual escapades, and there’s no discussion of feelings. Of being reluctant or hesitant. Of being children. This is how patriarchy fails men, too. Josh, and the ignorance, especially his own, surrounding his rape, is a perfect example of this. To Josh, being a man means fucking pretty women and never stopping to grieve what happened to him. Men are not viewed as victims in society, and so Josh reframes his assault as a victory. That, to him, is being a man. It is of utmost importance to Josh, otherwise he will have to admit a bad thing happened to him. And now his own father is rejecting manhood. Josh is not going to take it well.
Although Maura has yet to come out to him in person, Josh visits her at the Shangri-La to ask for money from selling the house to start his own record label. On his way up, he’s catcalled by a couple of older transwomen, and becomes visibly uncomfortable. Inside, he takes note of his father’s rather modest dress and pulled-back hair and is relieved. Yeah, his dad is wearing nail polish, but he tells Maura that his sisters made it seem like their father was “parading around in a dress.” “You look totally normal,” he says, to ease himself with no regard for Maura’s feelings. “Whatever people do behind closed doors” is fine by him.
Maura repeats the last two words, undoing her hair and letting it flow. Josh excuses himself to the bathroom and takes in his father’s makeup table, foundations, blush, wigs. Oh. OH. Maura says yes to the money but warns Josh not to tell his sisters about it.
What Josh does tell his sisters is that he thinks their father is “losing his mind.” He WebMDed the symptoms and he thinks Maura has dementia. He also claims she just wants to be the center of attention. “You guys think this is real?” he asks, and Sara and Ali say they do.
“It just means we all have to start over,” Ali replies. For instance, she is going to go back to school to study women’s and gender studies. Her siblings mock her for her flighty interests. Nothing Ali does is taken seriously. Sara throws playground balls at her and Josh laughs. Josh and Sara can be a mean team.
Flashback to 1994, Shelley and Mort are lounging in their home on “Sexy Sunday,” which I presume is the day the kids are out of the house and they can do it. They want to try something new. Mort suggests he wear his wife’s underpants because it’ll be kinky. She’s into it and they’re a cute couple. Where did they go wrong?
Ali talks manically to Maura about studying women’s and gender studies, and says she’s the inspiration for her to find some structure and to study gender, a topic she claims she’s always been interested in. Maura tries to relate by saying she saw a lot of herself in Ali’s “gender confusion” when she was a tomboy as a kid. “Some people say it runs in the blood,” Maura coos. Ali does not like that. Maura gives her the money to go back to school and tells her not to tell her siblings. Uh, whoa. Where is all this money going to come from?
At the old house, Sara explains Grandpa’s new look to her kids. Her daughter says people can change if they’re magic and asks, “Is Grandpa magic?” Sara tries to say she is, but Tammy wants to give the kids a real answer. The daughter isn’t interested: “Will Grandpa have pretty hair when he comes?” she asks, because this little girl knows what really matters is pretty goddamn hair.
Ali, meanwhile, is auditing a feminism course with Syd. It’s taught by Celeste (Jill Soloway), a professor Syd used to sleep with. Syd’s bi now, too? I want WE ARE ALL SYD on a goddamn T-shirt. Celeste preaches about how man is afraid of woman because he asks, “Why is she bleeding and not dying?” and she name-drops feminist icons like bell hooks and Audre Lorde. At one point, she describes exclamation points as “small rapes.”
“Have you ever been raped by an exclamation point?” Syd asks Ali. Ali replies that she was gang-raped by an exclamation point, question mark, and semi-colon. I don’t love this bit because as I just said in talking about Josh’s assault, I don’t take the word rape lightly. Maybe I’m a square.
The TA for the class is a mountain man named Dale (Ian Harvie) and Ali wonders why “Paul Bunyan” is teaching a women’s studies class. The answer? He’s trans. Ali goes over, flirts a bit, and talks about her dad. Everyone in the world is about to have a crush on Ian Harvie. Fuck, I have a crush on Ian Harvie.
Dale explains he is a “man with a vag” and laments what men talk about when they think a woman isn’t around. “I’m a double agent,” he says. Ali says he is “gender enlightened.” She wants to ask him a million questions. Now it’s Dale’s turn to be confused. He assumed Ali was a lesbian. She is appalled he thought she was so “boring,” though politically, she’s “basically a lesbian.” Dale says he’s usually attracted to super-feminine women. Ali looks a bit disappointed.
In flashback, Marcie and Maura go out for the first time and Maura is so excited to talk to people as a woman that she accosts a guy in the hallway. She is giddy. At lunch, the pair pores over a brochure for a crossdresser camp called “Camp Camellia,” but Maura can’t go because it’s the same weekend as her daughter’s bat mitzvah. When the waitress leaves their food and says, “Enjoy, ladies!” both Maura and Marcie look like it’s Christmas morning.
In 2014, Josh is alone and antsy, calling back what Syd said about how he can’t be by himself. He Googles “transvestite,” but it’s not enough. He goes onto a cam site and looks for trans cam girls. He finds one but instead of cyber sex, he wants answers. He asks when she knew she was trans. She replies, “I am all woman and I have the cock to prove it.” Josh shuts the laptop. He is freaking out.
For Shabbat dinner, Maura and Davina come over to Maura’s old house, which is now the official Castle of Lesbianica. Davina can’t believe Maura moved out of such a great home, but Maura dryly quips, “No one wants to live in the Palisades. They chase our kind out with a stick. They only recently started letting in the Jews.” Sara’s kids run in and hug their grandpa, telling Maura that Sara said she was magic.
Josh, of course, heads to where the nearest vagina might be and attends Rabbi Raquel’s Friday night service. He says he wanted to show her he wasn’t crazy and she gives him a tour of the synagogue. In a move fraught with symbolism, Josh gets in the empty “mikveh” or purifying bath. The mikveh is a big deal in Judaism; it’s where people can go for ritual immersion and to bathe away impurities in the past. With Raquel, Josh sits in the mikveh and they talk about how it may be too late for her to ever have children. She says she was probably with the wrong person for too long, and her fruitful years are behind her. They sit beside each other in the empty bath, confessing sins and asking from each other to be purified.
At Shabbat dinner, Maura takes on the matriarchal role of lighting the candles and saying the blessing. It’s the first time we’ve really seen Tambor play Maura “at ease.” She’s joking and being cute, announcing that she and Davina are doing a duet at the LGBT center and won’t Sara please come see it?
Then, Len shows up and is pissed the kids are seeing Mort as Maura. “I’m about to get into a car with two small children and I would like to know what they know about this,” he says, exasperated. Sara says she and Tammy talked to the kids, but Len wanted to be a part of that chat. In a high-pitched voice, he mocks Maura, “Would you ladies be more comfortable if you lived on an all-female planet? Maybe you could sail off on a uterus-shaped spaceship?” Tammy, because she rules, is like, “Uh, yeah.” He grabs a knife and threatens to cut his dick off.
Maura stands, and delivers a calming speech to Len: “I should have called you. Honey, I should have taken you out to lunch and we should have talked but I didn’t do that and I’m sorry about the Mort and the Maura and the he and the she. I’m just a person and you’re just a person and here we are. Baby, you need to get in this whirlpool or you need to get out of it.” Len stops, apologizes, and leaves. I don’t quite get Len. I should feel badly for him. He’s been cheated on and his kids are in this situation that is out of his control. But right now, he just feels like an interloper. He doesn’t fit, and maybe he should get out of the whirlpool.
After dinner, Sara and Maura smoke cigarettes and talk nail polish by the pool. Sara is worried about her kids, finally. Maybe her crazy selfishness is affecting them some? I don’t know. You think, Sara?! Maura asks if she only remembers the bad stuff from her childhood, but Sara says, “It’s all blended in with the good stuff.” Maura is relieved. She decides to give the house to Sara and Tammy, and tells Sara not to tell Ali and Josh.
In one episode, he’s promised the house to all three of his children. This whirlpool’s getting way too big.
- “I see male privilege everywhere.” —Ali on why she’d want to be a lesbian
- “No phones at Shabbat, sorry!” —Bianca, really getting into this Jewish thing
- “Does it have a vagina?” —Sara’s daughter about her teddy bear, and also her grandpa