It’s hard to imagine that Jill Soloway would have to tiptoe along the tightrope between a Jewish and LGBTQ identity. Even before they came out as nonbinary, their series Transparent brought the circus of a queer and shmear-obsessed family into the limelight, establishing the most Jewish of LGBTQ storylines the public has ever seen. However, nothing is as simple as it is on-screen.
“You definitely have to walk a line if you’re going to be Jewish and queer,” Soloway tells The Advocate.
The last season of Soloway’s funhouse mirror to their own family life to air (and to feature Jeffrey Tambor prior to accusations of sexual misconduct) takes place in Israel. However, except for inserts shot by a skeleton crew, production did not occur in Israel. In She Wants It, the showrunner’s new memoir that catalogs bringing their series and nonbinary identity to life, Soloway details how difficult it was to reconcile being a member of the Jewish and LGBTQ communities, to a point where it was impossible to shoot on Israeli soil without it being seen as a betrayal to anti-Israeli activists within the queer liberation movement.
“It’s too dangerous right now to use words like Zionism,” says Soloway when asked about the Jewish state.
Even though the Emmy-winner opposes the occupation of Palestinian lands and the current Israeli government, Zionism isn’t a dead or disgraceful concept in their mind. Soloway is inspired by religious leaders who advocate for “reclaiming the word Zionism and not having it be about the current state of Israel, which is patriarchal and militarized. Instead, this other dream of Israel would be about love and peace.”
Even expressing an interest in reshaping or even alluding to the self-determination of the Jewish people is a risky business in LGBTQ spaces. In fact, controversy arose in 2017 when queer Jews at the annual Chicago Dyke March were booted from the activity for holding Jewish Pride flags, which resemble those that are hung in Israel.
“I think you can have dreams for the Israel that you imagine without giving any credence to the way that Israel is being run right now,” explains Soloway, who has every intention of being the person who builds a Jewish nation rooted in progressive and humane values. “Sometimes I have these ideas like, Wow, Trump, who hosted a reality show, dreamed about being president and then became president. I hope that can happen for my dream. You know, like being chief rabbi of Israel.”
For many, Soloway becoming the head of Israel’s religious branch is even more absurd that the election of Donald Trump. Chief rabbis, who are elected for 10-year terms, have power similar to that of Supreme Court justices – making landmark decisions regarding immigration, marriage equality, divorce, and essential standards regarding Jewish life in Israel.
They are also Orthodox – and therefore can only be men.
Being nonbinary has totally changed the taking photos thing. I created a mood board to share with photographers to help them see how I want to be seen. I’m grateful to @ryanpfluger for working with me to capture me where I live, somewhere between the binary of male and female.
But Soloway is not a man or a woman. As a nonbinary person who lives outside the rules of gender, the showrunner is gender-flexible and goes by “she/her” and “they/them” pronouns. However, Soloway still finds their name on the lists of “most powerful female showrunners” or “top women in Hollywood” roundups.
“I wouldn’t be on any lists if I wasn’t. You know there aren’t any lists of like the 51 powerful nonbinary showrunners,” says Soloway, who recently spoke at The Wrap's Power Women Summit, where 1,000 of the most influential women in entertainment, media, tech, sports, and entrepreneurship were gathered to inspire and empower one another. “I feel like in some ways my nonbinary identity has turned me into a little bit of a sacrificial — a diorama.”
But Soloway uses feminist origami to fold invitations into the girls’ club into opportunities to discuss the nonbinary experience. At the summit, that meant requesting that Rebecca Sugar, the nonbinary showrunner of Steven Universe, share the stage.
At a conference where hundreds of women showed up to discuss girl power, the audience witnessed two people who are not girls discuss the nuances of living without gender.
So grateful to be in public conversation with another nonbinary person— a first for me. Thank you to The Wrap and the #PowerWomenSummit for the opportunity. ・・・ #Repost @5050by2020 ・・・ The Road to 5050by2020: @jillsoloway and @rebeccasugar talk nonbinary inclusion onstage at the #PowerWomenSummit today! #womenpower #powerwomen #feminist #feminism #nonbinary #gendernonbinary #gender #nonconforming #metoo #timesup #genderparity #5050by2020 #tgif #friyay #thewrap Photo courtesy of #melaniewagor.
“We really need gender to talk about the past, and we often think of an ungendered future, where you would be able to say the 50 most powerful showrunners and there’s a bunch of women at the top and a bunch of nonbinary people and a bunch of trans people and queer people,” Soloway notes. “We need identity politics to bring us into movements, but I think the dream is to exit and come out of these conversations with less rigidness.”
She Wants It is saturated with these dialogues, as is Soloway's conversation. They say that when cis white men paint diverse voices as difficult they are “creating propaganda for their own ability to thrive," which Soloway believes is a product of centering the privileged players who have a monopoly on wealth. Soloway also fully acknowledges that hiring Jeffrey Tambor to play a transgender woman was a mistake.
“Now I realize having a cis man play a trans woman wasn’t correct. But it was also the first time I got something made,” says Soloway, whose talent — even though they won the highest directing honor at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival — was not widely recognized before Tambor signed on for Transparent. “Patriarchy means that we’re always prioritizing men, we’re always prioritizing the people with the biggest salaries. I mean, patriarchy and capitalism are totally linked.”
Now an established creator whose series will no longer have a cisgender man at its center, Soloway doesn’t just embrace wild dreams but vocalizes them.
When it comes to American and Israeli politics, Soloway adds that no hope is too absurd: “I imagine a queer White house; I imagine a feminist Israel. And when I imagine those things, I think, How do we get there? And we get there by naming our dreams, and by believing anything is possible.”