Image source: Getty / Handout
Ricky Gervais’ new Netflix special, “SuperNature,” is out this week, and it includes (unsurprisingly, for a Boomer British comedian) a few transphobic jokes.
Namely: “Oh, the women! Not all the women, I mean the old ones. The old-fashioned ones, the ones with wombs. Those fucking dinosaurs. I love the new women. They’re awesome, n’ isn’t it?” The new ones we’ve seen recently. Those with beards and dicks. They are as good as gold, I love them. And now the elders say, “Oh, they want to use our toilets.” “Why wouldn’t they use your toilet?” ‘For ladies!’ “They’re ladies – look at their pronouns! And isn’t that person a lady?” “Well, his penis.” “His penis, you fucking bigot!” “And if he rapes me? “‘What if she rapes you, you fucking TERF?'”
He continues, “You can’t predict what will be offensive in the future. You don’t know who the dominant crowd will be. Like, the worst thing you can say today, getting canceled on Twitter, threats of The worst thing you can say today is, “Women don’t have penises”, right? No one saw it coming. You won’t find a tweet of someone 10 years old saying, ‘Women don’t have penises’. You know why? We didn’t think we had to do it!”
At the end of the special, Gervais explained, “Sure I support trans rights,” adding that “trans rights are human rights.” However, if trans people are to exist, he would prefer that we transition to his standards: “But join me at halfway, ladies: lose the dick. That’s all I’m saying.”
As an exhausted trans man, I have an extremely new idea: what if we didn’t care? Gervais is wrong about a lot of things here. The incidence of trans women raping someone is so rare that it is absurd that transphobes talk about it so often (trans people are much more often victims than aggressors). Bathroom bills are explicitly transphobic and totally unnecessary to protect tanks. Require someone to transition you I want them to transition and look in the direction you want them to watch is self-centered in the extreme, not to mention unrealistic for many – medical transitions are expensive and require insurance, which trans people in the US often don’t have (again, Gervais is British). Oh, and by the way, trans men exist! When will someone make a shocking joke about me? I feel left out.
Still, I’m not sure this is all as deeply offensive as Twitter pundits make it seem. “Old-school women” is honestly a pretty fun way to refer to cis women. And I don’t really see a problem with the kind of confused sentiment behind Gervais’ jokes. He’s right: Public understanding and awareness of trans issues has taken a meandering turn over the past decade, and while the trans community knows we could all use more gender-inclusive language, many cis people didn’t. And this is in addition to the fact that the transition is confusing. The cis people in my life stopped nicknaming me much sooner than the voice inside my own trans brain, so when cis people voice their confusion, I’m not going to personally blame them for it. At least Gervais takes the step of specifying that trans rights are human rights, and that, moreover, trans people are people.
It’s not to defend Gervais. I find these jokes as funny as the rest of his jokes — that is, not at all, for the most part. But treat “SuperNature“ as if it were the new “The Closer” is a false equivalence. Dave Chappelle took the stage and dragged a deceased trans woman through her own psychosexual baggage on trans people, defended the most violent TERF propagandist on the planet, then, at his premiere, complained that he was a victim just minutes after being called out. most influential living comedian. The absurd has awakened the crowd that Gervais evokes is a nonsensical joke, as Chappelle seems convinced that the nonsensical woke mob he talks about in “The Closer” is actually real and, more dangerously, that trans people deserve a backlash and need to be shut down.
In 2018, Gervais tweeted that it’s not the audience, but the actors, who are too sensitive:
Please stop saying “You can’t joke about anything anymore”. You can. You can joke about all you want. And some people won’t like it and they’ll tell you they don’t like it. And then it’s up to you whether you don’t care or not. Etc. It’s a good system.
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) December 31, 2018
If I were to criticize “SuperNature” in Gervais’s face, I would probably tell him that I would have appreciated it if he hadn’t brought almost totally non-existent rape accusations against trans women onto his set, and I could explain everything to him. the winding, exhausting, and all-consuming steps I had to take to make my medical transition a success. It would be his choice whether to care or not, and if he did, I would think he was a jerk.
But in the same way, I can choose whether or not to care about this special and these jokes. Contrary to some opinions circulating on the Internet, I am not sure that it is necessarily harmful for cis artists to express these ideas and their confusion. In Kendrick Lamar’s song “Auntie Diaries” from “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers”, Lamar intentionally switches between dead names and gender errors and correctly names and genders his trans cousin and uncle. The song follows a cis black man learning to adjust his perception of his family members, and it’s moving and beautiful. In Gervais’ case, the joke falls flat because of its inclusion of harmful stereotypes, but it’s not a different sentiment.
Trans people are constantly called out to be outraged by any number or type of current events, whether it’s Governor Greg Abbott punishing trans children and their parents in my old state of Texas, thankfully, or a comedian doing a bad joke. We are pressured to have an opinion; so that this opinion aligns with our “awakened” cis “allied” opinions; to talk about everything; not only caring, but finding a way to love and never speak ill of every other trans person out there. The burden of compassion fatigue often falls on the shoulders of those who need compassion the most: BIPOC, trans, gay, fat, disabled and otherwise marginalized people. We are supposed to not only care whenever our communities are even tangentially or somehow attacked, but also inform and manage the reactions of cis, straight, white, normative people who have more power than us. We don’t have the free time or the mental breaks it takes to accomplish things in our lives other than being marginalized people.
So I will care when all the cis people in my life refuse to give up their affection for She Who Must Not Be Named and the Fascist Boy Wizard Cop she created. I’ll care when the most influential living comedian is lying about trans people. I will care when a law is written to separate trans children from their families or prevent them from playing sports on spurious grounds. I will care when Alex Jones continually pushes the lie that trans people want to surgically alter children and break up families. I will care when the Catholic Church tells its millions of followers to disbelieve and beware of their trans neighbors and push for anti-trans legislation. I will care if the far right claims the US military has been “feminized” by trans inclusion and praises the Russian state and personal violence against trans and queer people. But Gervais’ badly constructed jokes aren’t that important to me, and when my allies know more about Gervais than the above issues, it’s time for them to think about the extent of their alliance.