Maura, Bruce and Me

Transgender-related stuff seems to be everywhere these days.  I used to think that I was just more in tune to it, but am beginning to realize that is not the case.  The campaign to increase the general public’s knowledge and understanding truly is everywhere.

As such, and a little late to the game, I finally binge-watched “Transparent” as the first of two blizzards in one week pummeled my house.  For those unfamiliar, it is a new series on Amazon which shares the story of a neurotic Jewish family[1] who are so self-involved as to be oblivious to the fact that their father is not who they thought he was. Mort, the family patriarch, after years of squelching his desire and need, is transitioning to a life as her true self – a woman named Maura.  As much as I love Jeffrey Tambor and his portrayal of Maura, I, the mother of a transgender child on an admittedly very primal and superficial level, felt broken-hearted watching this attractive-enough [2] man morph into a true meiskeit[3].  I wish it didn’t matter, but it does.


Despite the make-up, hair extensions and dress, Maura’s masculine features, from face to feet, make it impossible for her to blend in.  I don’t care that this woman has a penis.  Nor do I care that she has an Adam’s Apple and a face that needs to be shaven every day.  I do, however, care deeply about the very real challenges, as a physically unappealing, homely woman, that she will face in her quest to conquer the world, incredible fortitude on board notwithstanding.

And then we have Bruce Jenner.  While his transition has been widely speculated for years, it is now in both People and US Magazine: therefore it must be real.  Bruce, a man-made famous by his incredible athletic abilities and then his almost more incredible (with its most literal definition) role of Dad to the Kardashian brood is not content to officially embark on his journey with any semblance of privacy, rather he is (allegedly), wait for it…going to be the title character in a reality show tagging along for all to see.  It will create a circus setting him and his family up for ridicule and (harsh) judgment.  I don’t like it.  Not one little bit.

Back when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, gay was something we all knew about but it was never discussed.  What was there to talk about really?  File under: who gives a damn that he is sleeping with him or she with her?  Now we, as a society, having somewhat mastered the whole gay thing, are learning more and trying to navigate[4] the transgender paradigm.  And, while I have a (not necessarily equal) admiration for and great anxiety over Maura, Bruce and the scope of their reach, I fear that they are both[5]  in danger of becoming caricatures of themselves. By dint of their fame and notoriety, they are both so powerful in their ability to potentially sway the masses’ perception of the transgender path as to be dangerous.  In fact, for me, the Golden Globe wins (Jeffrey Tambor – Best Lead actor in a Comedy and Transparent – Best Comedy) are, themselves, teetering on a slippery slope having been nominated in the Comedy category.  Their voice is loud, but what is it saying?

It may be unkind of me, but I am just going to say it: neither Maura nor Bruce[6] present as attractive woman.  I would like to think that their physical appearance doesn’t matter.  But it does.  I would like to think that we are evolved enough in our society to overlook their unconventional look.  But we aren’t.  I would like to think that they will not be subjected to loud whispers, quiet harassment and general discomfort.  But they will be.  That frightens me and, if I am being honest, makes me uncomfortable.  And if I am uncomfortable, I can only imagine…










[1] Really, is there any other kind?

[2] …and that is a charitable and generous assessment

[3]  That’s Yiddish for: an unattractive woman

[4]  Some of us more out of necessity than others

[5] Yes, I am aware that Maura is a fictional character.  She is also a powerful one and her story is one that has legs, particularly on the heels of the show having won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical and Jeffrey Tambor for Comedy Lead Actor.

[6] I’ve not been made privy to a name change

28 thoughts on “Maura, Bruce and Me

  1. Very relevant blog to our current cultural need to be attractive. I respectfully disagree with you on this point. I don’t think the fictional character of Maura or the real person Bruce cares whether they are beautiful or attractive. They simply want the outside person to match the inside person THEY SEE in their mirror. Not everyone born a female is attractive, I have seen some butt ugly women carry themselves with more style and grace than a pretty girl. We all can’t be beautiful or attractive.

  2. hi Julie I hope you can see my e mail. somehow wordpress won’t allow me to post anymore. sending you happy new year wish and as always many thanks and kudos for your authentic, kind, and transparent soul- you are a hero in my book. Shelley Goldberg

  3. There are lots of conventionally pretty trans women out there in the media, too: Andreja Pejic, Jenna Talackova, Kim Petras, Harisu, etc., to name just a few off the top of my head. An honest representation of trans people should include both the pretty ones and the not-so-pretty ones.

  4. I think it is very difficult to control how the media presents trans women at this point. For every Janet Mock there will be a Bruce Jenner. And maybe there will be someone out there who has been sitting on the fence trying to figure out whether to transition in mid-life who will think “well even I’d look better than she does” and they’ll get off their ass and transition.

    It is a weird thing – when I go through my own questioning of binary vs. non-binary transition, I think – does the world really need another 5’4 bald nerdy middle age Jewish guy? In the long run, by trying to be authentic to myself, I appear to be choosing to be visibly trans, gender non-conforming, and not particularly pretty or handsome by American media standards. This makes me a role model for some, and an “avoid by any means necessary” for others. I can live with that because it is my choice.

  5. It makes me more than just a little uncomfortable, as well, Julie. Of course, we should all be subscribing to the “beauty is skin-deep” sentiment (see Laura’s comment above), but the problem is that most transgender women must develop a thick skin in order to even show their true selves to the public. Whether it’s the “first impression” concept or just plain prejudice, people are going to form an opinion before any inner beauty can be revealed. The insecurity that most of us (transgender people) have, especially in the beginning stages of our “coming out”, makes that inner beauty even more difficult to be recognized. Self-confidence can be so difficult to achieve for anybody, but I believe that, once found, it supersedes any outward appearance. Still, I do (at times) have doubts of whether my gender identity is being shown as an illusion or by delusion – but all I really want is inclusion. In this way, I think that I relate much more to the character of Maura than I do to Bruce Jenner, although they both make me look pretty good by comparison*. 😉

    *Perhaps I’ve become over-confident now?

  6. Older trans folk are at am extreme disadvantage when it comes to passing perfect.
    Years of physical changes brought on by testosterone are not easily overcome. There was so very little information, support and treatment in the fifties and sixties. It’s heart breaking to know the struggle older trans women have to face in order to ease the pain of gender disphoria. If you have the financial means you can correct many issues
    with your appearance if you not you out of luck. I takes extreme courage to live an authentic life against all odds. but live it we must

    • Exactly, but I would add that I can’t think of any of the trans* women I know who would trade FINALLY getting to be who they really are while not “passing” for staying in the miserable closet!

    • There’s a radio commercial directed toward older men that I often hear which claims that, after a man reaches the age of 30, he loses 3% of his testosterone each year. Hooray! At the age of 63, then, I now have only 1% left! But, you’re right. That does nothing to erase what testosterone had done to me earlier. I am one who has not the financial means to afford much “correction”, but even Bruce Jenner (who, I imagine has plenty of money) will never be, as you say, passing perfect. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, if he should start a foundation with proceeds from his upcoming reality show to help some of us who are more disadvantaged? I’d like to think that I would do that if I were in her shoes. Still, I would rather be me (enter Sammy Davis Jr. singing “I’ve Got to be Me”).

  7. This issue reminds me of my discomfort about media coverage of autism 15 years ago. I know it isn’t the same, but hear me out. ( I have a 22 y.o. son with high functioning autism, along with my trans teen girl). I so hated the misrepresentation of autism that I saw everywhere. If I had a dime for everyone who said to me, ” So, your son is like Rainman.” Uh…no. So many articles I would read and think, “This is NOTHING like the world of autism!” I have since, begrudgingly, come to realize that this is where the learning curve starts, as well as remember that no one, not autistic, not transgender, not anything, is the same. Ah yes, he diversity of humanity. Physically attractive or not, maybe it opens dialogue and learning along the way. The media fumbles and bumbles along on “new” issues, trying to figure it out as they go. The public does the same. Although often misleading, I hope it is progress. All those misrepresentations and misquotes about autism finally led to ‘Parenthood’ and a believable (if not universal) portrayal of autism I am hoping for the same for gender identity.

  8. Great comment and I believe very relevant to the blog entry. Attractiveness can never be defined because we are all attractive in our own unique way!

    • Laura, are you referring to me, or is it my big head that makes me think so? It is my literal big head, by the way, that will forever keep me from enjoying a true “passing privilege”. No FFS (Facial Feminization Surgery) will be able to fix that. I do, however, subscribe to my own FFS, which is a Fast, Friendly Smile. This has proven to be the best part of my beauty regimen. 🙂

      • Constance I absolutely was talking about you! Beauty, real beauty can only come with a genuine smile and a shimmer in one’s eyes. If you look in the mirror and see you, the you you were intended to be then that beauty comes out.
        I have seen and met many handsome men and beautiful women whose smiles were forced and unsure. I am sure they often wonder if people truly find them interesting or just be with them to be with a beautiful person.
        If we don’t love ourselves then who will?? And that my dear is not exclusive to anyone. You be beautiful just the way you are! 🙂

  9. It’s a complicated issue, to be sure, but I think the reality is that as long as all kinds of people come out into their own, whether they are considered “conventionally good-looking” or not, then we will as a society realize that looks aren’t part of the reason someone chooses to go through changing their gender identity. If you’re lucky enough to have won some prize in the looks lottery, good for you. If not, well, at least you’re really yourself… which is what those of us cisgendered folks who don’t win that lottery can choose to be.

    • Well, as they say, you can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket! Every time I buy a new beauty product I think it just may be the ticket, anyway.;) Sue, I’ve read some of your writings, and I can see the beauty in you there. Your entry, as a cisgendered person, does more for the “cause” than anything I can say (it doesn’t mean I’ll ever shut up, though).

      • Why should you shut up? Your voice is as needed as mine, beauty products or no. We all have our voices for a reason, even if we all make a racket so that we can’t hear each other easily. At least we’re still talking. The danger has always been in silencing too many.

  10. I guess I’m in the minority…or even alone here in the opinion that both Maura and Jenner are actually attractive, especially considering their ages. Jenner is 65 and Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) is 70. Even a cisgender 70 year old woman is not going to compare well to the likes of a Janet Mock and it’s not even fair to do so. Beauty is indeed only skin deep and no matter how beautiful or handsome someone is people can always find things to criticize about them. I see Jenner’s coming out as a good thing. The more the public gets to learn about us the better even though there will definitely be a lot of blundering about in the process.

    • I am in the minority as well. Being trans is an internal thing and our outside appearance may not match our inner psyche. Had you taken Jess to First Event in Waltham a couple of weeks ago,you would have seen hundreds of people whose outside doesn’t always match their insides but they are still great human beings no matter what. And we[all trans,of all ages] have in common is that we are uncommon and always need a thick skin to protect us from the world..But we develop that and stand our ground,proudly. Much the same as your new daughter…we don’t flinch. Sincerely,Rogina Bakey

      • I do believe you are in the majority who understands where true beauty comes from. If more heterosexual people understood the true finding of their inner beauty they would be so much more content with themselves.

  11. As a physician who is not trans (but sometimes cares for patients who are), I’ve been watching Bruce’s story. I don’t think he’s a beautiful woman but then I didn’t think he was a beautiful man either. He was an athlete, not a model, for heavens sake. I think what he offers is for the public to understand there is a huge spectrum of appearances of people who are cis OR trans. The more transgender people are in the media, the more people can see that spectrum and move away from assumptions. I agree with what Dawn said : autism can no longer be defined as a single disease; it has a whole spectrum of presentations and severity and impact on families. And identity isn’t a carefully defined thing but a whole range of stages of beliefs, acceptance, confidence, and outward physical appearance for all of us.

    • Gee, Dr. Katy, I used to think Bruce was kinda cute – until that first nose job, anyway.;)This, of course, goes toward your point. However, even if I think he was once a cute man, he does not present himself as a cute woman – to me. More importantly, I don’t think that she could ever “pass” as a woman, if only because of his fame, regardless of whether or not she were cute. (I’m sorry if anyone is upset about my mixing of pronouns, but he, herself, has never admitted to being a transgender woman, as far as I know)

      I have been called delusional, selfish, narcissistic, a whacko, sinful, a joke, and just plain gross. Alternately, I have been told that I’m cute, pretty, gorgeous, elegant, witty, classy and sassy. I guess that I bounce all up and down the spectrum, but only in the eyes of the people and their own perceptions. Fortunately, I know who I am, which may include all of those things in different degrees. I don’t get the feeling that Bruce can say the same thing yet, but I can only pray that his choice to put his transition on public display will not actually end up hindering his transition. He is taking on a responsibility for which he, and all transgender people will feel the effect. If it is positive and sincere, everyone will benefit. The way I see it, transition is not just a journey for the transgender person, but for all of us.

      • Well put, Constance. I have the sense (and I could be wrong) that the transgender community is very worried about how Bruce will come across because of the over-dramatic Karshidian/celebrity craziness. But honestly, I think every time he is in the media, he makes it a little easier, because people are talking and thinking about this issue and so it doesn’t seem so foreign and threatening–this is at least my hope. And yes, my daughter chastised me for saying “he” but I agree with your reasoning.

        There was also a recent and lovely article about how his mother reacted when she was told which was enormously lovingly and supportive. So just by nature of her speaking out publicly, she has modeled a way to be accepting for other families who may experience this. Maybe we could get rid of the Karshidian show and just put Bruce’s mom on TV. 🙂

      • Bruce on the podium/Mom on a pedestal: Gold metals all around! Bruce is lucky to have his mother still with him, and supportive too. Yes, let’s hope that Mom is involved in this public transition, because there are so many of us who never got support – transgender or otherwise. (Don’t tell Julie, but I secretly consider myself her virtual 63-year-old daughter sometimes,;-)

      • Oh, I did type “metals” instead of “medals”. Gold is a metal, though. I’m surprised I didn’t type “mettle” or “meddle”, as they could apply to the Bruce story too. Sorry, I’m being Lexiconnie again.

  12. “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

  13. I hope it pushes parents who are in the “I’ll let my mtf child go through male puberty because maybe it’s a phase” denial stage to say HELL NO and block puberty. (I say this as a parent of a 6yo transgirl.)

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