‘She Wants It: Desire, Power, and Toppling the Patriarchy’
By Jill Soloway
Sometimes, coming-out memoirs are so predictable, you can recount them in your sleep. Especially, if show business, queerness and gender are involved.
This isn’t the case with “She Wants It,” the new memoir by Jill Soloway, the Emmy- and Golden Globe Award-winning creator of “Transparent.” Even Hollywood couldn’t have predicted Soloway’s account of personal and professional transformation and the way they’ve turned the complex mosaic of their life into art (Soloway identifies as non-binary and prefers the third-person plural pronoun).
“She Wants It” is an account of coming out, gender shifting and making art. Soloway’s story begins on a Sunday a few years ago. Soloway, then identifying as straight and married to her husband Bruce, is sitting at the kitchen table with their 3-year-old son Felix. Soloway’s father calls and comes out as trans over the phone.
This revelation was a catalyst for Soloway. Before their father came out, Soloway had been successful in show business as a writer and producer for “Six Feet Under,” “United States of Tara” and other TV shows. In the 1990s with their sister Faith, Soloway created “The Real Live Brady Bunch,” a loving spoof of the beloved 1970s show that developed a cult following and ran in Chicago, L.A. and in the Village in New York.
Yet Soloway felt that they’d spent too much time developing empty story ideas and being enmeshed in hetereo relationship drama.
“So much wasted energy, all of those stories and plots, poofed into the ether, belonging to any man who came through — that’s mostly what I was doing instead of making art,” Soloway writes.
After the shocking Sunday afternoon phone call, Soloway began to get in touch with their body and their creativity, falling in love with a woman, identifying as queer, then, non-binary and creating art.
“Now that I have a queer parent, getting my body in line with my mind was no longer just a flight of fancy,” Soloway writes.
“She Wants It” takes you along on Soloway’s journey from identifying as straight to non-binary to working to create a safe space to make art and to fight for social change. Soloway cuts off her long hair, stops wearing make-up and undergoes breast reduction surgery. Along the way, Soloway lets you in on how intricately art and their life are intertwined.
Soloway, never one to feel relaxed when not working, gets through emotional crises by plunging into work.
“There was only one way to get through this. … I pulled out my laptop and began working on ‘Transparent,’” Soloway writes, “The script came out so easily, like a slippery baby.”
“Transparent” was based on the author’s family experience of their father coming out as trans. Things became even more meta when Ali, a character on the show based on Jill Soloway, falls in love with Leslie, a professor, based on queer poet Eileen Myles. In a twist stranger than fiction, Soloway meets Myles when they’re on a panel. You guessed it: they fell in love.
“This is what’s wrong with writing a TV show about people who are all fragments of you,” Soloway writes. “You can never tell what comes first, the fiction or the reality.”
The vibes of gender studies and privilege in “She Wants It” are a bit much. Even if you’re a card-carrying feminist, the name checks of queer, feminist intellectuals and writers from Susan Sontag to Maggie Nelson in this memoir can be tiresome. At times, Soloway’s life seems overstuffed with perks, from having an always-sensitive therapist to going to Paris for Christmas, unattainable by lesser mortals.
Don’t be put off by this. Soloway, who grew up in an upper-middle class family in Chicago, is aware of how privileged their life is. The memoir candidly addresses issues raised when Jeffrey Tambor (a cis man) was cast as Maura in “Transparent” and, later, fired for incidents of sexual harassment. To increase Hollywood’s representation of queer people, people of color and other marginalized groups, Soloway co-founded 50/50 by 2020 Time’s Up’s activist arm.
With the Trump Administration attempting to take away the civil rights of transgender people, it’s easy to despair. “She Wants It” gives you hope that human dignity will prevail.