It was between classes and I was moving through the crowd of students with as much speed as I could. Junior high was a lethal time for me. The bullying was worse than I could have imagined and the safe places for me were nonexistent. The pushing and the slapping and the name-calling and the tripping down the stairs and the shoving into walls never stopped.
You see, I swished when I walked. My hips moved and my wrists dangled and my voice was pitched far too high for a boy. People were angry at me almost all of the time. What I was ignited hatred and a thirst for revenge in total strangers. And there were people in the hallways who made it their life’s work to ensure I knew it.
I was transgender before we had the word.
Breathing heavily and sighing, I finally made it to my art class. As the bell rang, I turned the corner to enter the classroom. It suddenly felt as if I had stepped into the shower, fully clothed. The smell was potent. Looking downward, I saw three to four dead fish lying at my feet and a large, round, empty blue tub next to the door. The room erupted in laughter and shocked silence. The teacher told me to go to the principal’s office.
I waited in the lobby to his office for almost 20 minutes, soaked in filthy water and stinking of dead fish. I sat frozen in a state of fear and deep shame. As I was led into his office, I was finally given a roll of paper towels to clean myself up. I took a seat across from him and told him what had happened to me. And without a breath, without any hesitation, he perched his glasses on the end of his nose and asked me very directly:
“Well, Scott. What exactly did you do to provoke this kind of behavior?”
Recently, Jeffrey Tambor, with whom I have acted side by side on the Amazon Prime hit series “Transparent” for four seasons, sat down with The Hollywood Reporter and began to talk about the sexual harassment allegations against him.
When former Tambor assistant Van Barnes came out publicly with her story of what had happened to her, Jeffrey’s first statement called Van a “disgruntled employee.” Later, after actress Trace Lysette went public with her accusations as well, he acknowledged he had “anger issues, but that was all.”
He never once admitted to sexual harassment.
This is the crux of this article: two cisgender white men sitting at a table, slut-shaming women who faced sexual harassment, except this time the women happen to be trans.
In the Hollywood Reporter article, the author describes Jeffrey as “freshly shaven” and wearing a “pinstriped shirt.”
And that is all. Nothing further about his appearance is mentioned, and the only background we really get involves his stellar career as an actor of so many decades. He is described with reverence and respect.
However, when the reporter, Mr. Seth Abramovitch, speaks of Ms. Lysette, he brings up her “fair skin and aquamarine eyes” and closes with a history of her attempted suicide and her stint in a mental health facility.
Ms. Barnes doesn’t fare much better. She is apparently known as “the dirtiest fucking talker in the world.” As if her language were some sort of gateway to vile and sexually charged behavior.
While Jeffrey is lauded with praise for his artistic work and his bravery in enduring these accusations, through stalwart texts and tearful mini-breakdowns in front of the reporter, Lysette’s decadelong professional acting career is erased. The fact that she took a one-off walk-on job on “Transparent” and turned it into a recurring guest star role as one of the only two trans characters on a critically acclaimed, groundbreaking show is treated as secondary to her stripper life. And Barnes’ ability to assist Mr. Tambor, do her job, be punctual, responsible and, above all, private, is overshadowed by the reporter’s quoting unnamed sources about her off-color sense of humor (which by the way, we’d all indulged in).
This is the crux of this article: two cisgender white men sitting at a table, slut-shaming women who faced sexual harassment, except this time the women happen to be trans. And these comments about and this treatment of two accomplished humans is not only biased and unkind; it is blatantly transphobic.
I was reminded of the slut and shame game used against professor Anita Hill and the words of journalist David Brock, who famously coined the phrase “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.”
You see, if we discredit the victims, there simply is no crime.
What did you do to provoke this? What exactly did you do?
When your whole life is about running down the hallway before the bullies can catch you ... you develop survival techniques. You laugh. You leave. You freeze.
The first time I heard any inappropriate comment or witnessed any inappropriate behavior on the set of “Transparent” was a statement made by Jeffrey to Trace in Season 1 as we all sat around the kitchen table. He turned to Trace, who was in costume in a bathrobe and pajamas, and said, “God, Trace. I just want to attack you. Sexually.”
I laughed. And then Trace laughed. And then the three of us laughed. But Trace and I knew this was wrong and this was a line that shouldn’t be crossed. If we’d all worked in an office and the boss (which the lead on a TV show certainly is) said something this inappropriate, we’d have gone to HR.
I was terrified, exhilarated and excited to be living a dream I never thought possible. For a trans person and an actress at age 51, this chance was truly a miracle. But you see, when your whole life is about running down the hallway before the bullies can catch you, when it becomes a constant search for a safe place to land, and then when you realize even those safe places remain inhabited by dark sentinels intent on accusation instead of healing, you develop survival techniques. You laugh. You leave. You freeze. You make another joke. But many times, you do not speak.
Although he has left “Transparent,” Jeffrey Tambor is now starring in Netflix’s new season of “Arrested Development.” In the Hollywood Reporter article, the author relates Jeffrey’s tears of gratitude for his new job and his utter bewilderment about how this whole thing was blown out of proportion by both Van and Trace.
I want to be very clear about this, and let me state this without any equivocation whatsoever: I believe every single word that both Ms. Lysette and Ms. Barnes said in their public statements about Mr. Tambor’s vile and abhorrent behavior. They are not the ones who are lying. That is what I believe to be true.
So now, there are people involved in Jeffrey’s new gig who are coming out in support of him. I don’t know of any other man who has been accused of these charges and yet who is simply moving on to the next job. Not one other man. But you see this man harassed transwomen, and that makes a difference. This man treated these transwomen the way most males treat us: like a fetish. Disposable. Amusing. Sexy. Replaceable.
Remember it wasn’t just the young boys who doused 13-year-old me with dead fish heads who were responsible. It was the ones who laughed, it was the ones who supported them and it was the ones in charge who blamed me.
If Trace and Van were cisgender women, and Jeffrey Tambor had been accused of sexually harassing them, what would be different?
I believe people change. I believe people are good. I believe that those humans who did that to me later found a sense of the divine in their lives and are now trying their best to do good in the world. I have to believe to that, because if I don’t, I am stuck, frozen in my own past, not able to move down the hallway.
And I have seen other humans reach out their hands in support of those who have been harmed. I have borne witness to great kindness. I know it’s here. I know it exists. Sometimes, in the ones we least expect.
The stranger in need of the most healing is usually the one closest to us. And so we must try our best to understand, to forgive and to continue. I do know that. But that can’t occur unless we recognize exactly what is going on, name it, admit it freely, acknowledge the wrongdoing, and then ask what can be done to heal.
That didn’t happen here. Not with Jeffrey Tambor, not with The Hollywood Reporter and not with some of the cast of his new show.
Take our history out of this situation. Separate our transness from the harassment. If Trace and Van were cisgender women, and Jeffrey Tambor had been accused of sexually harassing them, what would be different?
I am not asking to be carried through this nightmare of healing. I am demanding to be heard. And all of my trans brothers and sisters are rioting as well. We will not be discounted anymore. We are not a punchline and we are not a target. Not anymore.
And so no matter what happens with Jeffrey, a man I admired, loved, laughed with and stood next to for four years, my community will survive. This is how we were born, from the center of the universe and the edges of infinity. We have lasted and we will continue. And this time, as the revolution swells, we will do it with grace, with compassion, and with as much noise and righteous anger as we always have.
For we have done nothing to provoke this. We are done running down the hallways ducking for cover.
We will face this thing and the humans who ignite it.
And we shall do everything in our power to finally end it.