Jill Soloway

by Lenny Spruce

Let’s Mix Up these Rochdale Principles with a Little Matrixial Trans-Subjectivity
Judith Butler presupposes, “Gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original; in fact, it is a kind of imitation that produces the very notion of the original as an effect and consequence of the imitation itself.” Philosopher Simone de Beauvoir theorizes, “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.” And we live in a society that is slowly, hesitantly, ready to agree: Yes, gender is ambiguous, open to interpretation, occupying a paradoxical border space in which there exists a lot of wiggle room. It is a kind of game we play; this conflict, a muddle between self-perception and self-projection. Though, lest Judy judge gender constructs too harshly, we’d like to believe it’s called “gender practice,” after all, because no one has gotten it perfect (yet).

But for now, Macho Princesses and Officer Sweet Slutty Bear Captains, come forth and receive eternal life via the electronic impulses of our devices, live on eternally, through Jill Soloway—comedian, playwright, director, polymath, and mother of two—as she tackles gender and queer identity in her new Amazon series, Transparent.

The theme of this issue is games and sharks, the two of which are arguably inseparable. Some have described Hollywood as a shark pit, and no one would contend it’s not without its games. Can you speak to this metaphor within your creative community, and whether you feel it’s a sustainable sea? Games and sharks was once the perfect metaphor for Hollywood, but I think there’s been a tremendous change within the industry in the last few years. There are still plenty of sharks in suits cruising the waters, but the rise of streaming content and on-demand viewing has provided the creative community with the perfect jolt we need to sustain ourselves. With Transparent, Amazon is my network, producer, and studio, which has afforded me an unprecedented amount of freedom to express my vision. The vibe would’ve been unheard of five years ago. Sharks be damned!

What were some of the games you liked to play as a child? Do you employ similar gameplay strategies in adult life, perhaps in managing the writing room, or pushing projects to fruition? I can’t say I think of creating as a game because games employ competition. But I do think of it as play. The first thing I tell my cast and crew on every project I have ever worked on is that we are here to have fun. In the writer’s room, my writers know that our rallying cry is “Yes, and…” We play off each other’s unique sensibilities to create something wholly singular. It’s amazing where you end up joining hands and jumping into insanity, together. As a director I do that same thing. I’m obsessed with giving my actors the freedom to approach and cross over into their risk spaces. Rather than tell people what to do or get my way, I try to create a crucible for magic.

Some might suggest the expression of sexuality, be it physical or visual, is game-like. Would you agree? Are your characters in Transparent in competition in any way, or subject to a game they may not want to be playing? I don’t think the characters in Transparent are in competition, necessarily. But I do think that the way the gender binary has been expressed in the past can be troubling. Light vs. dark. Brain vs. Body. Love vs. Sex. These kinds of binaries have, for eons, informed the Male vs. Female dynamic. Transparent stands for gender freedom for all, and within that freedom we can find grays and muddled purples and pinks, chakras that bridge the heart and mind, sexiness that depends on a masochistic love or a sweeping soul dominance. In particular, Transparent wants to invent worlds that bridge the binary: Genderqueer, Boygirl, Girlboy, Macho Princess, and Officer Sweet Slutty Bear Captain are just a few incredibly confusing, gender-fucking concepts that come to mind. The rest should roll [off] of our tongues and [out of our] computers and into your T.V.s as the rest of the season writing unfolds.

Metaphor keeping, it could be said that Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix are new games to play. Did you, or do you still have, resistance to these new and unpredictable platforms? These metaphors are getting pretty straitjacket-y, but I’ll stay with them if you insist. Perhaps viewers are now the voracious sharks craving new content, and it’s up to Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix to provide them with awesome, bloody chum. That’s the game. The socialist in me welcomes the kind of democratization these platforms are bringing to our creative community and the viewing public. I feel like I’m part of this creative revolution, like an Arab Spring—but let’s call it an Auteur T.V. Spring—sweeping across the land.

How has the Transparent process been different from previous work? It felt different from the usual pilot process because I didn’t have the people at the studio saying,“Gosh, I hope the people at the network like it,” and the people at the network saying, “Gosh, I hope the ad buyers at the upfronts like it.” It was just me—looking at this heartfelt material—with the question of, how do I craft it in a way that’s enticing, alive, scary, and exciting?

What research was asked of you and your team in preparation of the show and its continued creation? Our work has been influenced by our consultants, well-known transgender cultural producers Jennifer Finney Boylan, Rhys Ernst, and Zackary Drucker. On our coffee table at work we have the Trans zine Original Plumbing, as well as every book ever written about being trans. My favorite is Whipping Girl by Julia Serano.

Why do we as people love to play games, or do we? Because games are fun! Any time people come over [to my house], our whole family likes to play Sardines. There’s nothing like hiding, squeezed into a teeny tiny dark place with people you don’t know, out of breath and hoping you don’t get found.

 

Photographer: Graham Dunn for iheartreps.com. Stylist: Olivia Purnell. Hair: Castillo for TheMagnetagency.com. Makeup: Kristee Liu for Tmg-la.com.