Oppression in using transgenderism for comedy
August 24, 2015
We’re all familiar with the “man in a dress” comedy trope, whether it’s Mrs. Doubtfire or even just a silly Halloween costume. Much of our media features transgender women as the butt of jokes, with transphobic slurs such as “tranny” or “sheman” also easily slipped into conversations between our favorite TV shows and movies. While it may seem like there is progress occurring with more positive transgender representation in the media, this and more transphobic tropes are still very prominent.
Many people still do not recognize when transgender women are used as comedic tools in popular shows and media. In fact, many of us unknowingly laugh along to these “jokes” that appear on TV shows and movies alike.
For example, “Family Guy” has an infamous bit in which a character vomits for many minutes upon learning he has had sex with a trans woman. In “The Hangover Part II,” the character Stu has a drunken affair with a woman who he finds out is transgender. When it is revealed that she is transgender, Stu recoils in disgust while the other characters look to him in concern. Even in “Two and a Half Men,” the writers feature an episode where Chris O’Donnel plays an ex of Charlie, the main character, who had undergone a transition to living as male. The episode was filled with transphobic double entendres, including the name of the episode “An Old Flame With a New Wick”.
There is an obvious problem here. In all three instances, the usage of negative transgender tropes perpetuates the idea that transgender men and women are repellent and unappealing in nature. Since all of these three examples are featured in comedies, there is no consequences in the plot – there is no room to explore a complex portrayal of transgender characters on television that may be shown in dramas. This is extremely dangerous for a countless number of reasons.
While laughter should normally make people more comfortable and relieve tension, using trans characters as bait for mockery and humor does nothing of the sort. In instances like these, where those that are cisgender laugh at the expense of those that are marginalized, this “humor” is quite unfunny and oppressive.
Many of these tropes go unnoticed by the general public and defending these tropes is an act of willful blindness, something that only perpetuates the constant abuse that trans people receive from both media and the general public. It’s no wonder that depression, anxiety and suicide rates are higher among transgender people.
In fact, 41 percent of transgender people said they had attempted suicide, compared with 1.6 percent of the general population, according to a study by Injustice at Every Turn. This risk increased for those who reported bullying, sexual assault and job loss.
When our media is littered with transphobic jokes, we are displaying our unacceptance and furthering the bullying and sexual assault that is already occurring.
While there seems to be an increasing awareness and acceptance of what transgenderism is and the issues transgender people face, there has also been an alarming rise in violence against members of the community. In 2014, there were 12 killings, and this doesn’t compare to the 17 killings of transgender individuals so far this year.
This rising statistic displays the horror behind using transphobic comedy — when we are using transgender people as a device to make others laugh, we’re also stating that their life experiences and their struggles facing bigoted individuals daily are insignificant. More so, we’re creating an environment that makes it more and more acceptable for these killings to occur, as the way media portrays transgender people affects the climate in which we view transgenderism.
Rather than our blatant prejudice and discrimination, the transgender community needs our support. However, the bigotry we see on TV, particularly in comedies, gets in the way of progress for everyone.
This humor is not in step with the direction our society should be headed. While we’re certainly making progress — from celebrities such as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner being in the forefront of media to the United States Air Force announcing that it would no longer discharge recruits who identify as trangender — we still have a long way to go.
Kaanan Raja is a sophomore in LAS.