In a political and cultural moment in which many were concerned America might grow colder and less inclusive towards the trans community, Transparent stars Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light say they believe they see plenty of hopeful signs.
Attending the GLAAD Media Awards in Beverly Hills on Saturday, Tambor – who’s won multiple Hollywood awards for his portrayal of the Amazon series’ central character, the late-in-life transgendered Maura Pfefferman – told PEOPLE that despite fears that a less tolerant tone from both the Trump administration and lawmakers countrywide might signal dark times ahead for trans rights and acceptance, he has reason to feel “heartened.”
“Things are changing because the noise and the hatred seems to be coming down a bit,” Tambor explained. “On the one hand, you open the paper and there’s North Carolina [and its controversial bathroom bill]. On the other hand, you turn around and here’s the GLAAD Awards. On the other hand, there’s Orange Is the New Black. On the other hand, there’s Transparent.”
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“I think we’re gaining on it, and I think we just have to go to work every day with a mission and a statement and a cause,” said the actor, 72, who’s found hope in a noticeable shift in the kinds of personal stories viewers want to share with him since the November election. Rather than more senior-oriented true-life trans anecdotes, “people are starting to tell me about their kids who are transitioned. I hear that story more and more and more. Maybe that had been going on and had been kept in secret, but I seem to be hearing it more and more and more, and I couldn’t be more heartened by it.”
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Tambor says portraying Maura’s ongoing journey has “made me a better Jeffrey. Forget the career, forget the show – I think it’s allowed me to be more me than I’ve ever been. I know it’s made me a better parent. It’s made me a better citizen.”
For Light, who plays Maura’s longtime spouse Shelly, the encounters with viewers has been equally heartening, noting that they see in Shelly a reflection of the confusion, love and hope for acceptance that can accompany a trans loved one’s own journey.
“They don’t always come up to me and say they’ve had the same story, but what they say is, ‘I know her. I know who that is. She’s like my aunt, she’s like my mother, she’s like somebody that I know,’ ” Light told PEOPLE. “What they invariably say is – and I know that this is their experience in their life, too – ‘I feel like I cannot stand her because she’s so crazy out of the box, but I love her so much because she has such a poignancy about her.’”
“They’re along the ride with her,” says Light. “And also, it’s like, you want to see her win, and that’s what I think people want to feel about themselves.”
The acclaimed Transparent returns for a fourth season next fall, and Tambor is already hailing it as “the best season, I think, so far. It’s an amazing season … Maura couldn’t take certain steps because of the doctor warning her. It changed her, and the ramifications are now being felt in season four, and stay tuned about how she reacts. Yeah, it was very hard for her to get that news.”
Shelly, too, is facing an increasing complex path forward, says Light. “We’re talking about somebody who’s finding their voice, but is finding it in ways that are a little bit different, and not so necessarily in a path that would be linear that people would expect…You’re going to see expansion in different ways, and there will be secrets that will be revealed, and things that, some of the things that the family don’t know, and they will find out about.”