The tide is turning nationwide on transgender issues, from the Pentagon lifting the ban on transgender troops, to the passage of a transgender accommodations bill here in Massachusetts. Despite these advances, conversations between transgender people and their families represent a different struggle, something more intimate, potentially vexing, conducted an often fragile frontier.

For musician and writer Faith Soloway, that conversation began when her parent, then in her early seventies, came out as transgender to Faith and her sister Jill. “It did shock us, and I think it was something that I think Jill and I started to realize, ‘wow, how long has this been going on? Some childhood stuff makes sense, some of my own gender issues make sense… Jill’s gender issues make sense… it just exploded our worlds,” Soloway said in an interview with Boston Public Radio Wednesday.

The co-collaborator sister duo almost immediately got to work. Six Feet Under writer and producer Jill Soloway wrote and directed the pilot for Transparent, which was picked up by Amazon. “Amazon bit and Amazon moved quickly, and Jeffrey Tambour signed in, Judith Light wanted it, [and] Gaby Hoffman,” Soloway said. “This thing happened so quickly.”

“This thing” became a groundbreaking comedy web TV series that told the story of a Los Angeles family coming to terms with a discovery: The person they knew as their father was transgender.

The series, now renewed for a third season, has been picked up by Amazon for a fourth – even before the third premieres. The show, Soloway says, came at a turning point for trans issues in America. “The gate was just being pushed open on trans issues, and I thought a couple of people would really like this and get it and love the acting,” she said. “When Jill showed me the pilot I was like, ...this is not like anything I have ever seen on television.”

What Soloway did not anticipate was the strong reception the show would receive. “I thought there would be this great appreciation, but not this… geyser of interest and love and support and people, of course the trans community, almost 100 percent in support of the show,” she said. “We were part of something. Jill really opened up the atmosphere and the making of the show brought in trans people [from] all over, 360. From behind the scenes, producing, writing, directing… we had a trans advocacy going, people kind of picked up on that in Hollywood. There was a bit of a storm that we were part of.”

Soloway, who has written and acted in the show, said Transparent tells an unusual story that deviates from normative television. “It’s different when a parent is trans, as opposed to… where the culture is right now, it’s a little bit, almost, more accepting and we understand when somebody is young and is facing this,” Soloway said. “There’s such a struggle. There’s such a struggle and there’s such a privacy and there’s such a world that entombs you, and the sense of shame holds you in place, in your appearance.”

According to Soloway, that sense of shame comes from a cultural pressure to appear fully female, in accordance with toxic cultural and societal standards. “Women who transition, or who are feeling this transition and don’t want to go for the ‘femme’ …trying to pass. Really just trying to pass as a woman is a huge thing, and Jeffrey Tambour, as a man, we were doing flashbacks, and there are a lot of similarities to our parent, physically. It felt right,” Soloway said. “My parent is tall. That’s… that’s what our culture has to get better at. ‘Oh, look at how she passes, look at that, she looks great!’ and then there are trans women who just want to express themselves and just be themselves.”

Nationally, progress has been made on trans issues, at least in the public sphere, with speeches such as Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s DNC speech saying transgender troops can now serve in the military. According to Soloway, personal, one-on-one interactions are the next step. “People struggling with this,” she said. “‘I don’t understand! Tell me, I don’t understand! I can’t switch it up in my head!! That’s the next level.”

Here in Massachusetts, where Soloway lives, legislation recently passed that prevents discrimination against transgender individuals in public spaces, including movie theatres, courtrooms, locker rooms,and bathrooms. “It’s a huge deal,” Soloway said. “It’s the most basic right to your privacy to go to the bathroom. If it weren’t for bathrooms, this would not be an issue. If it weren’t for having to be naked with people in locker rooms—which is weird anyway— this wouldn’t be an issue. It’s so interesting that it’s about the right to go to the bathroom that has brought the entire trans movement to what it is. Think about it. It’s about the friggin bathrooms.It’s anxiety-inducing for trans people, it’s beyond anything that we can relate to. It’s very important.”

While her sister Jill took the Hollywood route, Soloway spent most of her life in improv troupes, including Second City in Chicago and Urban Improv, working alongside comics like Jane Lynch and Stephen Colbert. “We have very different interests,” she said. “I was very musical, musical theatre, musical comedy, Jill was ready to write her movie and write, write, write.” Soloway’s passion for musical theatre is illustrated in several “schlock operas” including The F Word and Jesus Has Two Mommies.

Soloway’s next step is to combine her love of musical theater with the story of Transparent, with Transparent, The Musical. “You guys have heard it first,” she said. “That would be my baby.”

Soloway will preview the first draft song from the upcoming musical at a fundraiser for Voices United Wednesday evening at Club Passim in Cambridge, in two shows: 7pm and 9:30pm. Backed by the Butterfly Music Transgender Chorus, Soloway will perform songs from her musical theatre repertoire.

To hear the full interview, click on the audio link above.
To purchase tickets for Wednesday night’s event, click here.