LOS ANGELES - Amazon's new TV show "Transparent" aims to do for transsexuals what "Modern Family" did for gay parents - bring them firmly into the mainstream.
"In terms of changing the conversation, these shows have an immense amount of reach," said Jay Brown of the Human Rights Campaign, which supports the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities.
Produced by Jill Soloway and with Jeffrey Tambor in the central role, the show reflects a "cultural shift," added Larry Gross, professor of journalism at the University of Southern California and author of a book on the subject.
The online series, released Friday, is far from the first to depict transgender characters. Hilary Swank won an Oscar in 2000 for "Boys Don't Cry," and other big-screen examples include 2003 movie "Normal." More recently, "Orange is the New Black" broke ground when Laverne Cox, its transgender star, made the front cover of Time magazine in May, under the headline "The Transgender Tipping Point." But the depiction of transgender characters remains relatively rare, and they are in general portrayed as victims or in "oddity" roles, said Brown.
The first season of "Transparent," on the other hand, "looks like a fairly accurate portrait of transgender parents," said Kim Hutton, head of an association for parents of transgender children.
Brown, who is himself transsexual and a father, stressed: "We're brothers, sisters, lawyers, doctors, in every facet of human lives. But the media pictures only our transition." "When I wake up every day I don't think of being a trans person. I think of making my kids breakfast or taking them to school," he added.
Roles reflecting their lives
Hutton said the TV show "Glee," which includes an adolescent transgender character happily interacting with schoolmates, is "probably the most important thing that happened" for transsexual youngsters.
"Orange Is The New Black" is also widely seen as a key model in changing the image of the LGBT community.
While Cox is herself transgender playing a transgender role, casting decisions have sometimes raised eyebrows.
"There is a long tradition for straight men" playing gay characters, said Gross.
In 2008's "Harvey Milk," Sean Penn played the gay activist, for example. The real "change in acceptance and visibility of minorities is when they get to play the roles reflecting their lives," he said.
"Every day we see gay actors playing straight characters but they don't come out because their managers tell them that if they do, they won't get lead roles especially romantic or action ones," said Gross.
Of "Transparent," he commented: "It remains to be seen how successful," adding: "The big question will be how do heterosexual people respond if they find out that their father is transitioning." Brown was philosophical. "I look forward to the day we are just characters of a larger story and being transgender becomes the least interesting thing about us," he said.
The comments echo a recent cover story in New York Magazine, which depicted Martine Rothblatt, head of pharmaceutical group United Therapeutics.
"Futurist, pharma tycoon, satellite entrepreneur, philosopher. Martine Rothblatt, the highest-paid female executive in America, was born male. But that is far from the thing that defines her," the magazine wrote.