The appointment of Amanda Simpson by President Obama to the Commerce Department is now making the rounds on the TV show circuit. Interestingly, as revealed last night by Rachel Maddow, she's not the first. Rachel also displayed her usual witty sense of humor in discussing culture war issues, making fun of the people who oppose the appointment despite Ms. Simpson's obvious qualifications for the job. Meanwhile, David Letterman also displayed his retrograde, 1970's, tin-ear sense of humor in using the same prejudice that leads to murderous hate crimes against trans people. Who's funny here?
Humor Rights Watch: Rachel Rocks, Letterman Doesn't
It's not that I don't have a sense of humor. Kudos to Rachel for her humor in parodying the forces of hate. Shame on David Letterman for perpetuating the prejudices that require a Transgender Day of Remembrance every year to count up the dozens and hundreds of transgender people who are murdered because of that kind of thinking.
I was pleased to see the letters sent by GLAAD and HRC to Letterman specifically tying this type of "humor" to the prejudices that lead to hate crimes. Out & Equal's letter mentioned workplace prejudice, which is consistent with their role as workplace advocates, but I think something a bit stronger was called for.
People who are offended by humor are often accused of having no sense of humor. As if being "offended" is some kind of personal failing. Yes, I have a sense of humor. Yes, I am offended sometimes by humor that targets my friends and I who are subject to the sharp end of the stick, rarely experienced by media celebrities. We have to be careful about being ourselves, lest we be assaulted, raped and murdered. We have to accept under-employment as a way of life. We have to tolerate harassment and mocking laughter at work, on the streets, on public transportation, in a police station. Transgender people are targeted for murder in many countries, and the most recent major news story on this from Honduras is barely a month old.
I remember walking down the streets of New York City, not far from where Letterman's show is performed, and having people point at me and laugh, and encourage others to laugh, and having people threaten me with assault for my mere existence. I have had moments of terror where I genuinely thought a potential romantic partner was going to commit murder. I assure you that there was no humor present at these events.
Humor is a weapon. Rachel Maddow used it appropriately to skewer people who think that Amanda Simpson shouldn't have a job with the government because of their 1950s-style prejudices. David Letterman used it to target a vulnerable population with an extraordinarily high murder rate.