November’s Pigeonhole Transmission

Juliet Jacques photographed at the Close-Up Film Centre, East London by Pal Hansen for the Observer New Review.

November is going to be an exciting month at The Pigeonhole as we launch our serialisation of Juliet Jacques’ Trans: A Memoir. A few weeks ago, I raced through this unflinching look at what it means to be transgender in 2016 and the innumerable physical, social and psychological barriers people in transition have to go through to reach their long-awaited destination; a destination which, as the closing words of the memoir suggest, is less a destination than a starting point, from which life can then begin: ‘I let go of the mouse, drummed my fingers on my desk and then gently reclined into my chair, letting the day go by.’

Coming from a position of embarrassing ignorance on the myriad of debates and issues that buzz around the trans community in real life and on the Twittersphere, I found Trans as informative as it is engaging, with Juliet Jacques managing to commingle the personal with the more general, as well as drip-feeding a digestible amount of gender theory into the narrative in such a way that I could feel fully engaged with this body of new information.

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Juliet’s memoir is a contribution to the rising tide of trans visibility in popular culture. Throughout Trans, the reader is shown the sometimes positive – and the often very very negative – representations and discussions of trans-related topics in the media. Repeat offenders such as Richard Littlejohn and The Daily Mail rear their unwelcome heads alongside less likely suspects like the Guardian (which also published Juliet’s blog series), as do a range of radical feminist writers and groups who clash with the trans community in complex debates.

Another prominent trans narrative of recent years is the Amazon Originals television series Transparent. The show, which has a fourth season currently in production, charts the progress of Maura Pfefferman and family, as she, an esteemed political science professor born male, starts to live life as a woman. Many of the issues raised by Juliet in Trans are addressed in Transparent. When Maura attends an all-female festival in the woods having begun her transition, she is blind-sided by the only-woman-born policy, and ends up embroiled in a screaming match with a group of feminists.

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Another example is Juliet’s examination of Magnus Hirschfeld’s role in trans history. This revolutionary Jewish German doctor dedicated his pre-WWII practice to the investigation of homosexual and transgender issues. Transparent takes this investigation a step further by fleshing out a series of historical interludes that trace Maura’s heritage back to a great aunt who passed up the opportunity to escape the Nazis in order to live a free trans life in the relative sanctuary of Hirschfeld’s practice. Jointly viewed, the combination of fact and fiction in these two narratives foregrounds the heritage of a community that has had to spend so much time hiding in the shadows of the gender binary.

While it is largely a positive step for shows like Transparent to be winning awards and highlighting trans issues to mainstream audiences, at the core of the show mistakes remain. After collecting his Emmy award for playing Maura Pfefferman, Jeffrey Tambor said: ‘I would be happy if I were the last cisgender male to play a transgender female,’ referring to the huge underrepresentation of trans actors in Hollywood and the film industry at large.

And so it is that programmes such as Transparent play their part in this strange inverse campaigning, whereby the enduring scale of the prejudice and inclusivity issues facing the trans community is demonstrated by the lack of a leading trans presence in a show about trans identity. In spite of this, it is a sumptuous and nuanced series that – alongside Jacques’ memoir – will keep you entertained and will give you an insight into the humanity behind what is an overly politicised issue.

We launch Juliet Jacques’ Trans on 7 November in collaboration with the wonderful Verso Books. If you’re quick, you might be lucky enough to land one of our exclusive free slots. Over the last few days, I’ve been adding all the extra content – from Talking Heads songs to film posters to rare photographs – so I can say with authority that this is our most interactive and immersive title yet. Don’t miss it.

Sign up to our serialisation of Trans here.

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