Jill Soloway Is a "Weird Girl"

Writer and director Jill Soloway on weaponizing weirdness through their work.

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I was sitting on a pier in Provincetown the day I first read the script for "A Short History of Weird Girls." My feet were in the water and the pages got all wet in my hands. I was reading on actual paper because I was in the middle of a month off work for the first time in about four years. I was on a tech hiatus — no devices, no Wi-Fi, no Internet for 30 whole days.

The previous few years had been a ferocious tsunami of ambition that started when my parent came out. My work was a perfect escape hatch from the tumult of my personal life. After multiple seasons of my career at the speed of flapping hummingbird wings, it was finally my intention to take time off and "enjoy life," as I hear people do.

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But the soul of "A Short History of Weird Girls" really fucked me up. It was the fifth episode of the first season of I Love Dick, our new series that just came out on Amazon, and it's about the sexual backstories of four of the show's female characters. The script took me straight out of vacation mode (honestly, who ever thought I could do it anyway? I have an idea for a bumper sticker that says DOWNTIME MAKES ME ANXIOUS; it's an idea I thought of during supposed downtime). I immediately called Sarah Gubbins, my collaborator and the showrunner of I Love Dick, on the ye olde flip phone I had bought for the month.

"I HAVE TO DIRECT 'WEIRD GIRLS'!" I told her. She said she couldn't hear me well and asked if she could text me later, but my phone didn't receive texts so I just moved closer to a beached rowboat in the hopes that she might hear me better. I said it again, only louder.

"OK, OK," she said. "But you're supposed to be taking a break. What's gotten into you?"

"I love this script. I love weird girls. I am a weird girl. I've always been a weird girl."

OK, yeah, less so now that I identify as nonbinary, but whatever.

***

I think I felt pretty normal up until around the age of ten. It's odd that I don't have any memories of not fitting in before then, considering that my sister and I were the only white kids in the school. We were lucky enough to live in a fantastic Chicago neighborhood called South Commons that was an urban experiment in integration. The air we breathed was a larger calling for one and all to be a living testament to the power of peace, love, social justice, civil rights, and the ERA, somehow mashed up into one big stew of purpose.

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Around middle school, though, we changed schools, to a tiny Jewish day school. I was confronted with mean girls for the first time. Our fifth-grade class had five boys and four girls. I was the new fifth girl. That made us ten kids.

This should be easy, I thought — for the first time I was around people like me. Everyone was Jewish and from liberal families in Hyde Park, which was one neighborhood to the south and would ultimately become the home of one Barack Obama. But these girls, the Rachels and Debbies and Miriams, they straight-up hated me. They hated the fuck out of me. These nine kids had been in a Jewish day school from the age of zero and had been learning Hebrew, Holocaust, and upper-level science with real dissection in locked arms ever since. I was lost, but I didn't know it.

Until one day a girl named Suzy took me into a classroom to tell me that she couldn't be my friend. Well, OK, she could, but only if I promised never to tell anyone else.

My work was a perfect escape hatch from the tumult of my personal life.

I still remember that moment. Alone in a classroom with the alpha. Like Comey at dinner with Trump, it took a turn. I was now the Other. There were no other girls to turn to, considering that there were only three of them and they all belonged to Suzy. There was something wrong with me, and I didn't know what it was.

For some odd reason, I followed up this awful year by going to a sleepaway camp with another set of ten girls who had known each other since forever. They also hated me. Note to self, parents, and parents of all young people looking for a Self — middle school is not the time to change friends. Middle school is the time to strengthen bonds with kids you already know so that you can make other people feel odd.

For an unknown reason, we switched neighborhoods and schools yet again, moving to the Near North Side of Chicago, a few blocks from Rush Street, where locals and yahoo tourists go to "do Chicago." The kids in that neighborhood were fine. I had friends now. Seventh and eighth grade were better.

We used to do that thing where your best friend calls the boy you like and you listen in on the other line. Someone asked Scott if he thought I was cute, and he said I looked like a turtle.

I'm not saying I'm tortured by that, but I am looking for that moment where I started to think there was something really wrong with me and soon everyone would find out. I guess it's as simple as saying it was a birth, of sorts, of Shame.

***

Somewhere early in high school, I realized I had a body that guys were into, with gigantic boobs and skinny the rest of me. By gigantic, I mean outsize, I mean completely unreasonably connected to my body, I mean men honking as I walked down the street.

Transforming from a weirdo into an object that boys and men of all ilk wanted did not help my shame. In fact, it might have made it worse as it all went down below. Most people thought I was happy because I looked like the idea of whatever cute looked like then. But the acting had started.

I think all girls feel weird. Actually, so many people of all gender identities feel odd and weird, don't feel natural about sex. The script became an idea for me, like an entering-into-evidence in the court of public opinion, like testimonies.

They're saying, "This is where my shame comes from." That's what I wanted to film, and I wanted to obliquely treat each image as if it were a photograph dropping onto another photograph in a courtroom, maybe a courtroom of the world. I hope it feels like a ride where every time you want to stop and see more, you can't because we're moving so fast.

In a way, all of us are on trial for being weird. Directing the episode felt like the making of a document, with a sort of weaponizing feel, something zealous meant to raise hackles. I always wanted to be a lawyer but as a little girl felt too dumb. The bar exam seemed impossible. I always wished I could just be a part-time guest star, like doing closing arguments in a sex-crimes court, when I had spare time. But this piece of film feels like an argument to me, doing all of the things with TV that you aren't supposed to do. Propagandize. Teach. Be didactic. Sedition.

Although I never made it to law school, I did get lucky enough to land in this place where I get to use the framework of a TV show to delve into my own emotions, my own shame. Make things better, for me, and hopefully for the people who find the show and find a place to feel less odd and more proud of their own inner weird girl.

Jill Soloway is an artist and filmmaker who created Transparent and co-created I Love Dick, both on Amazon. They live in Los Angeles, have two kids, dream about being a part of a global movement to dismantle patriarchy, and are totally exhausted.

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