I remember a long way back when a friend of mine used to get his hands on the printed program from Fantasia Fair, the trans event held every year in Provincetown since 1975. We used to go down the list of presenters and organizers and chuckle at what, at the time, seemed to us to be the overly-feminized names and odd spellings of traditional names (Riqqi, Dihanna, etc.) To us this smacked of trying too hard; the trans version of over-compensating.
Jeffrey Tambor (Maura) receives his name from Marcy (Bradley Whitford) in the Amazon series Transparent.
I hadn’t thought about those times much until i was watching “Moppa,” the fourth episode in the first season of Transparent, the ground-breaking series from Amazon Studios. The show revolves around Maura (nee Mort) the MTF college professor who has spent the first four episodes coming out to some of his offspring as Maura, interspersed with flashbacks of Maura’s dipping her toes in the trans waters for the first time.
At one point Maura is in a bookstore, still living as mild-mannered Professor Mort as Mort tries to surreptitiously return a trans publication to the magazine rack. It is there where he makes a chance encounter with another MTF (Mark/Marcy, played by none other than Bradley Whitford of The West Wing fame) whom he ends up rooming with (in a later flashback) in a hotel at a trans event where they present for the first time the outward representation of their true selves to one another in their hotel room. Maura is lounging and luxuriating as Maura in the bedroom of the hotel room while Mark is in the bathroom getting ready to unveil Marcy.
The encounter goes like this:
Marcy’s disembodied voice from another room: “No one has ever seen me but me.”
Maura: “No one has ever seen me except me.”
Marcy walks out of the bathroom, shyly: “Ta da.”
Maura, choking up slightly: “You look beautiful.”
Marcy, beaming, does a twirl and holds her hand out to Maura: “Hello.”
Maura, also beaming, extends her hand, “Hello”
Marcy: “I’m Marcy.”
Maura: “I’m Daphne Sparkles.”
Marcy frowns at Maura’s initial name choice.
Maura; “You hate it.”
Marcy: “No, no, no. It’s…it’s too … strippery. [pause} I’m sorry. [pause] But’s it’s not right. You need something … elegant. [eyes Tambor up and down] You’re Maura.
Maura, wide-eyed looking in mirror, as if having an epiphany, clutches her chest and walks over to Marcy, extending her hand: “What is your name?”
Marcy, with certainty: “My name is Marcy. What is your name?”
Maura, with certainty: “My name is Maura.”
With that scene it struck me how childish our laughter at the Fantasia Fair program names used to be.
Try to imagine someone coming up to you as an adult and asking you to pick out a name, based on all your years of experience and cultural biases, that embodies all that you see in yourself and all that you hope to be.
(I have an Asian friend who is going through something not nearly as wrenching as coming out as trans, yet he cannot decide which Americanized name he wants to choose because he is tired of people mangling is Asian name. I’m sure name choices in even that situation can seem over the top to some of us who have not gone through it.)
I’m sure on some level I could have figured this all out on my own. But sometimes it takes actors and a good script to bring alive situations that makes sense intellectually, but don’t touch you until the moment you see them dramatized in a movie or television role.
One other thing: We are taught that feminine beauty is the Cover Girl/Maybelline version of beauty. And as far as it goes, I don’t have any problems with that. But it is not the only way to be beautiful, and at that moment when Maura looks at Marcy and says with wonder, “You look beautiful” it’s hard not to look at them and think: “Ya know, they really ARE beautiful.”
Free to be, you and me. That’s what it’s all about, is it not?
I’m loving this series.