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TV writer Jill Soloway talks new book, identities and the end of ‘Transparent’

Oct. 29, 2018

Everything started to change after Jill Soloway’s father changed, and came out as transgender.

The family first had to adjust to the oddly familiar presence of Carrie London, the identity their father took when he transitioned. She had his voice, but with a more distinct lilt. She wore pink nail polish, women’s loafers and strong perfume.

Soloway, an accomplished television writer with credits on shows such as “Six Feet Under,” took to the page to sort it all out, eventually writing a television script based on what was happening.

“It came out so easily, like a slippery baby,” Soloway writes in a new memoir, “She Wants It: Desire, Power, and Toppling the Patriarchy.”

That script was turned into a celebrated Amazon series, “Transparent,” which turned Soloway into an award-winning writer and director, who then turned into someone also examining their own identity. That search resulted in Soloway ending a marriage, dating women and identifying as nonbinary — not exclusively masculine or feminine, and preferring the pronouns “they,” “their” and “them.”

“I was writing a lot to get through these things,” Soloway said the other day from an office on the Paramount lot. While sorting things out for themselves, Soloway explained a lot to the reader, such as what it means to be nonbinary:

“It’s like being held in a moment. Hovering in that space when you go through a revolving door and stop halfway through and there you are, not out or in, just in between,” they write. “And if time froze, or if the revolving door got jammed for a second, right there, well, you could stand there, surrounded by glass, and see the busy inside of the warm yellow perfume of Marshall Field’s and the snowy blue cold Chicago street. Not having to be in or out yet. Not having to choose.”

Soloway is in the midst of completing the fifth and final season of “Transparent,” which will end with a musical episode.

The music is being composed by their sister, Faith, “Who has been writing songs about our family for years,” Soloway said. “We have always had a dream that we would do a Broadway play. Since we were kids, we’ve been coming up with crazy songs.”

One major change for the “Transparent” series: The absence of star Jeffrey Tambor, who was accused of sexual misconduct by two members of the “Transparent” team. Tambor has denied the allegations, but admitted to having anger issues and said that stress made him “difficult” and “mean.”

The book tracks Soloway’s growing up in Chicago with their parents and sister, two marriages and the births of two sons, all while working as a television writer and making a movie called “Afternoon Delight.”

Somewhere in the middle of it, Soloway began a relationship with a woman. It was painful to write about.

“I want to tread carefully that I am not glossing over the realities of life,” they said. “I feel very lucky that my family is still intact, where (their former husband) Bruce and I are really close, where Bruce has a new partner and I have a new partner. I am so lucky that things turned out OK. I felt like I was dying and then the marriage was over and I could breathe.”

That sensation brought with it stunning clarity: “In all heterosexual relationships, I was only sharing half of myself,” they said, “and making sure that my man felt like a man. I was keeping that separate.”

Soloway remembered dating men in college who would say “Wow, you sure think a lot.”

When they started dating women, it was the complete opposite. “Say more about that,” Soloway remembered being told by a former partner, the poet Eileen Myles. “Go on.”

“For a while, I felt like my mind was getting in the way of me being lovable,” Soloway said, “for heterosexuality, anyway.”

Those experiences led to exploring the theory of the “divided feminist”: The good girl/bad girl, madonna/whore split in which women live.

There is the dark half, the “degraded side,” Soloway said, which gives men an excuse to shame us.

“When we’re seen through their eyes, we have no rights,” they said. “We are to be used. We are not to be trusted. Our consent is not valued. We are half a citizen. We are constantly having to pick between this divide and don’t get to be inside of our wholeness.

“All these parts of us are divided by the patriarchy. We are constantly being seen by them.”

Soloway paused. There is so much to say in this time of #MeToo and #IBelieveHer, of the heated discourse leading up to the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“I am a TV writer,” they said. “But I am obsessed with this kind of philosophy. I like writing prose and I like dipping into the feminist philosopher think-piece vein. If I wasn’t a director, I’d be a feminist academic because my deep interest is getting into gender.”

I reminded Soloway of a line in “She Wants It”: “Women spend the first half of our lives afraid we’re going to get raped and the second half afraid we’re going to find a lump. Are we ever not afraid?”

Soloway laughed, a little ruefully.

“Yeah. That’s us,” they said. “I think it’s galvanizing. We’re not willing to listen to the fear anymore. It does feel different.”

 





 


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