Who Needs Primetime? Transgender TV Shows are Welcome on the Internet

On <em>True Trans</em> and <em>Transparent</em>, transgender stories find their voice

Even in the “golden age” of television, when there are more outlets than ever for creators to show their work, finding nuanced depictions of LGBTQ characters is rare. Netflix made a star of Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox, but viewers have recently been gifted with two new shows starring transgender characters.

The AOL Originals web series True Trans, which debuted on October 10 (the day before National Coming Out Day), offers the most accurate peek inside the transgender psyche. That’s because it’s not a work of fiction; it’s a docuseries that chronicles the very real story of rocker Laura Jane Grace. Born Thomas James Gabel, she suffered from a lifetime of gender dysphoria, often turning to drugs and alcohol to suppress the pain. After years of masking her struggles with ambiguous song lyrics, Grace, the lead singer of punk band Against Me!, announced in a 2012 Rolling Stone interview that she would be transitioning to female. In the four under-10-minute episodes that have so far been released online (eight more are on the way), Grace and several of her transgender friends reveal how they came to terms with their true selves.

Online megastore Amazon’s first foray into the content biz is Transparent, which has been earning heaps of praise since it debuted on September 26. The show stars actor Jeffrey Tambor as Mort Pfefferman, who unbeknownst to his three self-absorbed adult children has been living as Maura for quite some time. Set in Los Angeles (you’ll see a lot of Silver Lake), Transparent was written and mostly directed by Jill Soloway, who was inspired to create the show by her father’s transition from male to female. In the series, Maura struggles to come out to her children, each of whom is dealing with his or her own romantic and emotional confusion. Despite Maura’s drastic physical change, she’s the most levelheaded member of her family. The show is warm, witty, and very L.A. And the characters, whatever their gender or struggles, feel authentic. It probably helps that they’re portrayed by comedic standouts including Tambour, Judith Light and Gaby Hoffmann.

Through different lenses and perspectives, both True Trans and Transparent thrust gender issues into the spotlight. Grace’s real memories and Pfefferman’s fictional flashbacks convey the unhappiness of being trapped in an identity that doesn’t suit you. Grace describes it as “a feeling of misalignment between the way you feel and the way other people perceive you.” Pfefferman, when asked by one of his daughters if she plans to dress up as a woman every day, says, “All my life, my whole life, I’ve been dressing up as a man.” It’s these admissions and moments of vulnerability that ultimately make both shows resonate with viewers, wherever they might fall on the gender spectrum.