In this episode the Pfefferman clan worked on reforming their lives. Shelly made one more attempt to rebuild an intimate relationship with Maura, while Maura moved further along her trans journey and began to cut ties with Shelly. Sarah having detached herself from seemingly everyone floundered and was tossed about as if a shipwreck in a storm. Josh and Rachel continued to build a relationship between themselves and as a family with Colton. Ali and Syd moved closer together as Ali came to explore her immigrant ancestors and Berlin in 1933. Lastly, as was usual for this series the episode title has significance though it was not revealed until toward the end. So, don’t forget cherry blossoms, when the Pfefferman’s were explained.
Do I make you happy?
This episode began with Maura and Shelly in the same bed at Shelly’s condo. Maura got up and Shelly trailed along behind at first hectoring and then becoming gentler and seemingly understanding. Maura began to use a power toothbrush, as Shelly began…
“Don’t think I didn’t notice your coming and going. Staying out all night.”
“I stayed at my friend’s. I can come and go as I please,” Maura replied sounding somewhat like an aggrieved teenager.
Shelly came back with, “I’m not asking to be velcroed to your hip. I just think it would be nice to go out together in public once in a while…..” Then with a hopeful expression she added, “Do I make you happy?”
While never moving the toothbrush from her mouth, Maura half –heartedly mumbled, “you do.”
Do yourself a favor and get to know your body
Later that day, Maura took a huge step toward realizing the woman that she
felt she was. She was at a LGBT health clinic to begin HRT (hormone replacement therapy). She sat in front of the doctor and began with…
“People in my group say you need like a letter to…” Before she could finish the doctor inserted, “we don’t do that any more.” The traditional approach to getting hormones involved psychological therapy for the formal diagnosis to qualify you for hormones and then the therapist would write a letter to confirm the diagnosis for the doctor to prescribe hormones for you. The newer approach is called informed consent in which you are basically warned of all the risks involved and then you can be prescribed the hormones without going through therapy. To most in the transgender community this was a great step forward and away from people who were seen as gatekeepers to hormones. As Maura noted, “well, that’s progress.”
It soon became apparent that Maura was amazingly uninformed about hormones and the transition process. Presumably, this was so as to allow a bit of education for the audience, not to be a realistic portrayal of someone who is transgender.
“I would like to begin you on a low dose of a testosterone blocker,” said the doctor.
“Not the Lupron?” pleaded Maura
“Medicare may not cover Lupron,” explained the doctor.
Maura quickly stated, “I have Blue Cross. I told the person at the desk.”
To unpack this exchange a bit. In one way, Maura was very up-to-date because she knew of Lupron, which is a prostate cancer drug, rather than an anti-androgen such as Spironolactone, which has been commonly used in the US for decades to begin HRT. The use of Lupron is off label for HRT, but is generally given to delay puberty in adolescents.
“Are you sexually active?” asked the doctor. At this point Maura was clearly in the dark as to why this was being asked. Hesitantly and a bit embarrassed at the question, she answered,
“Yes. Somewhat. I would like….I want to do more.” Then Maura’s naiveté was really exposed.
The doctor inquired, “What kind of sex do you have?” “Are you a top or a bottom?”
“Doctor, I don’t understand. What do sexual positions have to do with my health?” Maura inquired.
“Hormone treatment may prevent you from sustaining an erection,” the doctor said bluntly.
A now somewhat puzzled and crest fallen Maura said a bit quietly, “I didn’t know that.”
The doctor continued, “Do you plan on getting breasts.”
“Two please,” in a more lighthearted manner, replied Maura.
Then came a truly big question, “do you plan on undergoing GRS?”
A somewhat stunned and perplexed looking Maura began by nodding her head up and down as if digesting what had just been said before she dryly said, “I’m going to have to get back to you on that one.”
To close out the session, the doctor advised, “Mrs. Pfefferman. Do yourself a favor and get to know your body.”
A few observations about the exchange that was just recapped. It is standard
for doctor’s to ask about the patient’s expectations when beginning HRT. And HRT does affect sexual performance and even desire. Then the issues of breast enhancement surgery and GRS were raised. Hormones alone rarely give a transwoman large breasts, which some urgently desire. And last GRS or gender reassignment surgery, which is the genital surgery. Frankly, I prefer the term gender affirming surgery because it presumes that you were always a woman and that fact is merely being affirmed. And besides, that makes the surgery a GAS.
I got it
Maura was next seen seated at a bar. An attractive 30 something professional woman came in talking on her phone and sat down across from Maura. What followed was a truly sad effort by Maura to strike up a conversation and even an effort to pick up the stranger. Based on the phone conversation, Maura deduced she was a lawyer. Maura ordered another Sancerre and “one for the lawyer.” Then Maura began trying to engage the woman in conversation. “What kind of lawyer are you?” “Let’s get some tapas.” The young woman hopefully asked the bartender, “is there a table. I need to spread out.” It took a few requests but finally Maura understood that her attentions were not welcome, preparing to leave she said, “I’m going….I got it.”
Make yourself happy
In the final appearance for Shelly and Maura they were eating dinner at Shelly’s condo and then decided to watch some television, which raised the problem of what to watch. In her co-dependent way, an unsure Shelly kept asking Maura if this show was ok with her. Finally, Maura moved to sever the umbilical cord and said, “stopping worrying about what is good for me. I’m fine, make yourself happy.”
Wacky Hair Day
Sarah delivered her children to Oak Leaf Elementary in the midst of students milling about with wacky hairdos. Her son was giving her down the road for not doing wacky hair for them. Sarah offered she had brought along a topper for each to wear. Her son dismissfully shouted, “it’s not stupid hat day!” Sarah soon spotted a friendly face, Hoppy, and began to complain about wacky hair day and all the other heedless complexities of current day parenting. “I’m barely hanging on,” pled Sarah. Hoppy asked if she was O.K., Sarah replied, “no.” Then, it got worse, Hoppy reminded Sarah of the impending school gala; to which, she mostly to herself exclaimed, “oh, fuck!”
The raffle of relationships
Sarah walked into the gala and attempted to check in with the person checking off the names of people who had paid to attend. There was no Sarah Pfefferman on the list. She then tried her old married name of Sarah Novak. There was a Len Novak, but they had already arrived. Sarah looked up to see Len and his current squeeze Melanie standing a few feet away. Hoppy outfitted Sarah with a bucket and raffle tickets to sell at $25 each. Melanie spoke to Sarah and a brief conversation ensued. Len asked if Sarah had seen an eye shadow palette when she was at the house last week. As we all recall, Sarah had made a mess with it and tried to cover it up. Confronted with her deed, she claimed not just innocence but total ignorance. She denied every having heard of such a thing. Len added it cost $485, to which Sarah could only wish them well in finding it and quickly left to get a drink.
Sarah was an abject failure at selling raffle tickets as the long stream of them trailed from her hand. It was announced there were only two minutes left to buy the tickets. Sarah looking as if she was dying on the spot with her droopy body language found herself saying that she would buy all of the tickets with her credit card.
A drunken Tammy suddenly swooped in to save Sarah, the damsel in distress. Tammy began her effort to safe Sarah, as she said, “you don’t have to do this. You can just totally hang out with me.” Sarah noticed some tattooed words on Tammy’s neck. What were they? “I am coming. It’s like a double entendre,” Tammy explained. Sarah merely observed Tammy was drunk. “Take my balloon. You’ve got to come with me,” begged Tammy.
They were in a classroom, as Sarah asked what Tammy wanted to tell her. Tammy went for it and made her effort at kissing and seducing Sarah. Sarah pushed her aside and announced, “Stop. I can’t do this.” Then they heard the raffle was beginning. And the winner of the big screen TV was…wait for it…Sarah Pfefferman. She came forward and tried to not accept the set, but finally relented. The next drawing was for sessions with a life coach. And the winner is…. Sarah Pfefferman. To which Tammy exclaimed, “this is so rigged.” Sarah again tried not to take the sessions, though it would be hard to think of someone who was more in need of some life coaching. Len in the distance lowered his head and intoned, “just take the life coach.” After shouting that she was fucking not taking them, she relented and took them.
In her final appearance in this episode, Sarah was standing naked in her kitchen eating a nuked microwave dinner and feeling sorry for herself.
A spiritual practice
Meanwhile, back at the old Pfefferman house, Josh and Rachel continued their efforts to create a family, which included Colton and also could handle the often-childish nature of Josh. Too often Rachel had to be the grown-up in the room and the one holding things together.
Josh walked into Colton’s bedroom to see if he was ready to go, and saw Colton kneeling besides his bed with his hands folded and his head bowed. Josh quickly ran to tell Rachel. Colton was “like one of those Precious Moments things.” Rachel answered, “I pray.” Josh was all sure, you’re a rabbi and we need to get you the whole set-up. Colton was greeted by Rachel, “Great! That you have a spiritual practice and so do I.” Josh moaned that that made him the heathen in the house. Rachel immediately assured them that he was a spiritual person that just didn’t have a spiritual practice.
I got a Rita in my life
Josh and Colton had gone to the beach and were riding surfboards, as if they were buddies. As they dried off behind the car, they discussed Rita becoming a part of the family. Josh suggested they could have her over for dinner. . Just a refresher, remember when Josh was a teenager, Rita was the adult nanny that he slept with which resulted in Colton.
The subject clearly troubled Rachel as was shown in a meeting between Sarah and Rachel. Sarah had come to the rabbi’s office for advice and help. She complained about her place in the world after having separated herself from others. She complained that at school, “they don’t know what to do with me.” Rachel assured her that she was not the only one who felt like an outsider. Sarah then started to talk about how happy and easygoing Rachel was. Rachel interrupted her; “I need to talk to you as a friend.” Sarah graciously said, “oh, yes, please.” Rachel said, “I got a Rita in my life. Becoming obvious if he wants, uh, we want Colton in out lives. We also get Rita.” Clearly Rachel was not comfortable with the inclusion of Rita
Rita arrived for dinner and everyone quickly sat down at the table. Rita began talking about something in her kitchen that she thought might be black mold, and suggested that it would be good if Josh came over and had a look at it—wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Josh said they could call someone to have a look. Colton then offered to have a look only to be pushed aside by Rita saying, “you don’t know anything about black mold.” Rita then suddenly began to sing Sly and the Family Stone’s, “It’s a Family Affair,” which she explained she had heard on the way over. “One child grows up to be somebody, another child grows….it’s in the blood. It’s a family affair…” Josh interrupted that was enough. Rita answered, “o.k., party pooper.” The camera revealed a downcast Rachel and an uncomfortable Colton. Josh announced it was time for dessert and he and Rachel went into the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, Rachel gave her opinion, “she’s fucking crazy.” Josh agreed and said, “we’ll never do this again.” And tried to reassure Rachel by saying, “It’s just for Colton.”
Grandmother Rose and the past
Ali and Syd were on the train on the way to see grandmother Rose Pfefferman at the nursing home. When they walked into her room, Rose was seated in a wheelchair close to a window. She was slumped down and her face was bland and expressionless. Her room was filled with a lifetime’s worth of memorabilia. Ali leaned over and said, “Hi, Rose. It’s Ali, your granddaughter.” Rose looked at her with a blank stare. She then misidentified Ali as Gershon by saying “Gershon you are here.” Gershon was Rose’s brother.
Ali and Syd were seen walking into the Malibu Library so that Ali could work on her essay for her application to graduate school and talking about where her family was from. Syd’s was Latvian. Ali stated hers came from Germany in 1933. Syd quickly picked up that that was the Weimar Republic, “like Cabaret.” As the conversation concluded Ali exclaimed that “I need to knock those boxers off of Leslie.”
The next scene was a flashback to Berlin in 1933 as a young girl, played by the same actress who plays Ali, walked into the Institute für Sexualwissenschaft, (founded by) Magnus Hirschfeld in 1919. The young girl was Rose. She bought a ticket and entered. A guide was giving a tour of the institute and saying that “here we believe a wide range of sexualities are normal.” The guide continued by saying “crossdressers, transvestites, hermaphrodites. Everyone is welcome here. You can understand the need for a safe haven for those of us who are neither male or female, as you understand them.” While pointing at a picture, “this is our fearless leader Magnus Hirschfeld, the Issac Newton of sex.”
The walls were covered with black and white photos of assorted queer folks of every sort and type.
Rose walked into another room and there was Gershon smoking a cigarette in a long filter. She was talking to another trans woman, who got up and left. Rose sat down and explained to her brother Gershon, a trans woman, that she needed money. Dad had gone to the US and mom wanted to go find dad in the States and they needed money for tickets and for a bribe for a visa. Ah ha! So the family secret was out—Ali’s granduncle in German had been a transwoman back in Berlin in 1933 just as the Nazi’s would move to assert control.
In a return to the present, Ali and Syd were in the stacks reading. Ali was holding a book and began reading aloud. “Did you know we can have trauma in our DNA?” A study had been done with rabbits who suffered a trauma, while smelling cherry blossoms, and that their descendants were all afraid of cherry blossoms. It was called “epigenetics.” With that discovery Ali thanked Syd for being her “study buddy” and they were soon kissing.
The big deal about cherry blossoms; no wonder the Pfefferman’s were such a mess. They had been traumatized in Germany and it was in the DNA of Maura and her children. Of course, they were stuggling in life, they had trauma in their DNA, thanks to Nazi Germany that had ended the freedom of the Weimar Republic.
TRANSPARENT recap: "A New World Coming" (season 2 episode 3)
TRANSPARENT recap: "Cherry Blossoms" (season 2 episode 4)
TRANSPARENT recap: "Mee-Maw" (season 2 episode 5)