Jeffrey Tambor as a trans woman on Arrested Development

Arrested Development scraps Jeffrey Tambor’s transition storyline, cause awkward

I’m still celebrating Jeffrey Tambor and Eddie Redmayne losing for playing trans women at the still incredibly transmisogynistic Golden Globes last night (here’s my take on Jared Leto’s win a couple years ago). But that’s not the only recent trans news about cis men out of Hollywood.

In a conversation with Deadline, Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz said he’s scrapped a few planned storylines for the show’s upcoming fifth season, including one in which George Sr., the patriarch played by Jeffrey Tambor, comes out to his family as a woman (the original plan was to have Tambor as a “mute woman,” I guess to double down on the offense). The issue of course wasn’t the storyline’s transmisogyny, but the fact that a season about George Sr. coming out to his adult children would be too similar to Tambor’s role on his other popular show, Transparent.

I imagine now that Tambor is winning awards for being oh so brave and representing trans women – a group he’s not a part of – everyone involved would like us to forget that George Sr. already transitioned. The header image on this article is from episode 6 of Arrested Development‘s 4th season – not Transparent, though it looks suspiciously similar. In the episode, George Sr. experiences a hormonal imbalance, hides away in his room and starts presenting as a woman.

While people were praising Transparent and Tambor for representation, I always assumed Jill Soloway was inspired to cast him on the show as a result of this Arrested Development storyline. After all, season 4 of Arrested Development dropped in May 2013, and Tambor was announced as the star of Tranparent in August of that year. The timing of this was fairly perfect – Tambor’s transmisogynistic performance relegated to the dark days a year before TIME declared we were seeing “The Trans Tipping Point” – which happened shortly after Transparent‘s first season dropped, setting up the show to be heralded for “representation.”

Even without George Sr.’s transition it would be odd to see someone from Arrested Development held up as a representative of trans women – after all, this was certainly not the show’s first brush with transmisogyny. I can’t think of a single sitcom I’ve watched that didn’t rely on cheap, dehumanizing jokes at the expense of trans women. But Arrested Development put the rest of them to shame, which is really saying something. One liners at the expense of trans women are everywhere, and I didn’t consciously register them as a kid (rewatching Gilmore Girls recently I was taken aback by how consistently the show throws out tranny jokes – they’re nearly as plentiful as Stars Hollow festivals). But Arrested Development really committed in its second season, with a story about Steve Holt thinking Lindsay is trans. It was bad, even to me as a kid who didn’t yet know I was trans – in fact it’s one of a couple exposures to protracted, overt transmisogyny when I was younger that really sticks with me (the other was a science fair presentation at my actually great, progressive high school, where students, teachers, and administrators gathered around to gawk and laugh as one of my classmates did a “hilarious” presentation on sex reassignment surgery). I can honestly say the show taught me new ways to hate myself.

So I wasn’t at all surprised by another escalation of transmisogyny in the much anticipated fourth season, and I’m not surprised to hear there were plans for more in season 5 (I also won’t be surprised if Mitch Hurwitz finds plenty of other ways to insert transmisogynistic humor into the season, though maybe keeping it away from Tambor cause awkward).

Part of me is almost disappointed they’re not continuing forward with the transition storyline. With Eddie Redmayne, Jeffrey Tambor, and Ricky Gervais at last night’s Golden Globes, we’ve already got groups of white dudes playing out the media cycle of trans visibility and backlash I’ve discussed recently without needing the involvement of actual trans women. If this storyline had continued on, Tambor could have been recognized as a one cis man trans media circus, embodying both the visibility and backlash himself. Maybe this would have helped more people recognize the “trans tipping point” as a cis media fabrication that has very little to do with the realities of trans women’s lives. Probably not though.

But I haven’t forgotten about George Sr. transitioning in season 4. So Tambor will always represent cis media’s treatment of trans women to me.

Header image via Netflix

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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