Why Jeffrey Tambor’s Emmy Speech Fails Trans People

Tambor1Honestly, I’d been dreading watching Jeffrey Tambor’s Emmy acceptance speech. Not because I didn’t enjoy Amazon’s production Transparent, but because of the standard in Hollywood which consistently gives roles of trasnsgender women to cisgender men. I understand that they needed a “big name” to try to attract viewers, but many in the transgender community are simply fed up with this practice.

That being said, I seriously almost didn’t make it past Jimmy Kimmel’s introduction. I found his eating of the card and implication that he could then arbitrarily choose whomever he wanted to win unfunny and distasteful. It seemed to de-legitimize the award itself. Furthermore, I was more than a little angry about his remark that maybe “it’s time a woman won this (the Best Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy).”

That introduction was a slow build-up to a carefully crafted joke where trans women were essentially called “men in dresses” and were (again) made the punchline to a joke for millions of people to laugh at. I am not okay with this. If you call yourself an ally to the trans community, you need not be okay with it either. It was offensive to the nth degree.

But I wasn’t asked to document my reaction to the introduction, I was asked for my reaction to the speech itself. Tambor said: “I had a teacher who used to say, you know, ‘When you act, you have to act as if your life depends on it.’ And now I’ve been given the opportunity to act because people’s lives depend on it.”

Okay Jeff, here would have been a good time to state very clearly a few of the struggles that transgender people –trans women in particular– face. It was the perfect opportunity to throw out a few numbers, such as the fact that over 40% of trans people will attempt suicide at least once in their lives; that we’re less than 1% of the population and yet 26% of us have lost our jobs because of our gender identity. A golden opportunity was wasted to ask people not to be bigoted assholes towards us… to show trans people everywhere that you had taken something more than an Emmy away from your experience playing a trans woman. But you blew it.

After the customary thank-you’s Tambor said: “And I’m going to wrap up by saying, not to repeat myself, but to specifically repeat myself: I’d like to dedicate my performance and this award to the transgender community. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your stories. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for letting us be part of the change. God bless.”

It was nice of him to dedicate his performance and award to us. However in the end, it’s only lip-service to the most marginalized minority in the world. One percent of the population can’t really change anything, unless we’re speaking about the super-rich. The average trans woman makes less than $10,000 a year. We needed Jeffrey Tambor to do more for us than say thank you. Cis people have been taking from trans people since the Stonewall Riots. So Tambor gets the Emmy, and trans people get the shaft.

Tambor2“Thank you for your patience…” Patience never got us anywhere. “Thank you for your courage…” We wouldn’t need so much courage if the world would let us simply be who we are without prejudice. “Thank you for your stories…” Stories that are now profiting cisgender people while most of us are on the edges of society living in poverty. “Thank you for your inspiration…” Obviously we didn’t inspire you enough, or you would have drawn attention to our struggles beyond the lights of what Hollywood portrays. “Thank you for letting us be part of the change.”

Okay, yeah. Whatever Jeff…. Thank you for at least being honest in your role. But at the end of shooting, you take off the makeup, and the wig, and the dresses, and you go back to your real cisgender life. Well, we as trans women simply can’t do that, Sir. We’re in out in the world every day having slurs shouted at us, working in sex work because we can’t find jobs elsewhere, and living in fear for our lives because we’re seen as less than human by so many other people.

On some level, I think he gets that. I could tell by his tone that he had some clue about our plights. He made it clear in his speach that trans lives are on the line. What he didn’t say, was that trans lives matter, and society needs to treat us better. That’s what we needed from you Jeff, and you failed us.

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