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How Transparent Became the Most Trans-Inclusive Show in Hollywood History

The Cast and Crew of Transparent

Photography by Emily Shur. Hair: Patrick Chai for Exclusive Artists. Makeup: Anton for Exclusive Artists. Photographed at Cactus Cube Studio on August 12, 2016.

When season three of Transparent returns to Amazon Prime on September 23, it will feature a new roster of talent spanning ages and races. That includes 12-year-old Sophia Grace Gianna, who plays a young Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) during flashback scenes set in 1958, and who herself transitioned over summer break, taking just a month with the support of her parents.

“We felt really strongly about casting a young trans actor,” as opposed to a cisgender boy, says Transparent producer Rhys Ernst.

 Gianna is but one member of a largely transgender cast. “Over the last three seasons of Transparent, we’ve employed over 50 trans and gender-nonconforming people as either crew members or as actors with speaking roles,” says Ernst. “On top of that, hundreds of extras. This is the most trans-inclusive production in Hollywood history.”

“Before Transparent, I heard so many stories about discrimination for people who transitioned on the job,” says Zackary Drucker, also a producer and actress on the show. One of those people was second camera assistant Cat Pontell, who, though she was in the union, stopped getting calls. “If we can change this one [industry], it has reverberations that reach around the world,” says Drucker.

The industry has certainly changed since Transparent first began production in 2013. Silas Howard, who has directed episodes of Transparent, The Fosters, and Faking It, has opted to tell queer stories throughout his career. Only recently have those stories gone mainstream and become profitable.

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“I’ve chosen to stay with queer stories when they really weren’t paying well at all, when being queer was just not an asset in this industry,” says Howard. To support his pet project he took jobs in construction on the side.

Actresses Alexandra Grey and Mariana Marroquin exemplify the new season’s diversity. “They’re showing what it’s like to be, maybe, a black teenager and to be trans, and what that world is like,” says Grey. Adds Marroquin, whose character Carmen speaks some Spanish on the show, “The character represents so many trans women, especially here in Los Angeles. I wanted my character to be someone that people can say, ‘That’s me!’ ” 

Like many of the trans actors working on the show, the characters Marroquin played early on were often victims of rape and murder. “Finally I can do a role that’s in daylight: a woman with a job, who’s trying, who’s been through so much, but a woman with hope for a better life.”

“The next frontier is trans actors not only playing trans but cisgender parts as well,” says Trace Lysette, who plays yoga instructor and Maura's house mate Shea. “A few years ago I was living this double life…I was dancing in gentlemen’s clubs in New York City to pay for my acting classes, and to provide me the flexibility to make all my auditions. I was stealth, where I didn’t disclose to anyone that I was trans. I think the revolution within myself was getting out of that lifestyle and embracing my ‘trans-ness’ and going out for trans roles, and then ultimately living out loud, unapologetically, for all that I am, and for all of my sisters that just want to be seen.”

The show supplies its own succinct explanation by way of Shelly Pfefferman (played by Judith Light), no longer the family’s sole matriarch. She says, “When one person in a family transitions, everyone transitions.” No doubt we’ll see similar evolutions toward acceptance reverberate off set, around Hollywood, and into the rest of the world.

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