Transparent Episode S02E09 “Man on the Land”, aired Dec 11, 2015.
In this episode, mainly set at a women’s festival in the woods, Maura, a transwoman, has a difficult experience when she finds that the festival is supposed to be for “women-born-women” only, and her adult daughter Sarah hooks up with a kinky woman named Pony (played by Jiz Lee).
BDSM and transwomen have both been sites of controversy in women-only spaces over the decades. (I find it implausible that Maura would have registered for this event and travelled to it without knowing about the no-trans policy.)
Sarah wanders around the festival, seeing a wide range of women from granola hippie types to nudists to leather dykes. She stops outside a tent for a shamanic ceremony, led by a white woman named Ashley, aka “Crying Bear”, in Native American dress. “You might experience some deep emotions. Laughter, uncontrollable weeping is not uncommon,” she says in her New York accent.
Sarah: “I think I have the wrong tent.”
Sarah instead turns away in favor of a kinky couple she sees going by. Pony, wearing leather pants and open vest and a rope harness around her (?) bare breasts, leads another woman on a leash and whacks her own thigh with a studded strap.
Sarah watches Pony and her sub from a distance. Pony lightly taps her sub with the strap. Sarah follows them to a gathering of leatherwomen (of varying body types and gender expressions) engaged in BDSM, including spanking and flogging. There’s also a drummer. Unlike the tent, this is in the open and in plain view of everyone.
Sarah talks to Pony.
Sarah: “Did I just see you walking that woman around on a leash?”
Pony: “Yeah, she’s my naughty doggy. It’s a play scene.”
Sarah: “Play scene.”
Pony: “Yeah. You know, consensual power exchange. Roleplaying. You interested?”
While Maura searches for her daughters and has panic attacks, Sarah (in her underwear) is bound to a tree and flogged by Pony. This sequence shows some actual impacts on what I would guess was a body double, intercut with Sarah responding with pleasure.
At another gathering attended by Ali and Maura, the conversation turns to the festival’s controversies like the S&M camp being too big, which leads to the “women-born-women” policy. After Maura outs herself as a transwoman and leaves, Ali searches for her and has a vision of her ancestors in 1930s Germany. At Magnus Hirschfeld’s institute, their party is invaded by brownshirts, who burn books in the street and drag people off to be arrested.
“Man on the Land” shows how utopia can flip to dystopia in an instant. The initially welcoming experience of the festival quickly becomes tense and conflicted, and Maura is left stumbling around in the dark, searching for her family and surrounded by potentially hostile strangers. I draw on a lot of ritual theory in my view of BDSM and, like any subculture, that “communitas” feeling of belonging after initiation can be powerful. So can the alienation of feeling that you don’t belong here, if and when it stops working.
Sarah turns down “Crying Bear’s” ritual in favor of Pony’s. Arguably they both do the same thing of emotional release (though one has less cultural appropriation), but Pony makes no claim of therapeutic value.
Transparent Episode S02E10 “Man on the Land”, aired Dec 11, 2015.
After the women’s festival in the previous episode, the characters deal with new relationships and new identities.
Sarah meets with Pony in a playroom, presumably owned or rented by Pony. All we see is Pony spanking Sarah barehanded. As usual, we don’t see their negotiation. Afterwards, Pony runs Sarah’s credit card through her phone’s reader. (Wouldn’t this leave a trail someone could follow?) They talk about Sarah seeing Pony next week, presumably a regular appointment.
Later in the episode, Sara reconnects with her ex-husband.